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Tag Archives: language

If you think acronyms and abbreviations are innocuous, you need to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis, a stark account of  the 2008 subprime mortgage wipeout– especially his analysis of language used by the Wall Street bond market where “terminology was designed less to convey meaning than to bewilder outsiders.” A CDO, or collateralized debt obligation, sounds a whole lot better than a bag of subprime mortgages given to people with no jobs and no intentions of getting jobs. A subprime mortgage bond was called ABS, or asset backed security. Who cares what the asset is, or whether it even is one? Everyone wants to have nice ABS, right? And there were a whole universe of such acronymic “products” available: RMBS, HELs (as in “going to HEL”), HELOCs, Alt-A (which meant an alternative to creditworthy) and they even changed the word to “subprime” to “midprime”. According to Lewis, “any acronym or abbreviation could more clearly be called a ‘subprime loan’, but the bond market didn’t want to be clear. ‘Midprime’ was kind of a triumph of language over truth.” It’s all a Semantic Hallucination Inducing Timebomb.

In reality, this use of language is the kind of re-branding you’d find in basic marketing 101, (if you built a subdivision on a former garbage dump, just call it “Renaissance Valley”) it just happened be used to help mask the greatest unregulated Ponzi scheme in world history. When your language is fraudulent, so is everything behind it. The fact that anyone outside Wall Street would invest in any bond Wall Street has to offer, in the form of an acronym or not, is a mystery to me. Until it is regulated and entirely transparent at the very least and maybe not until the financial sector can no longer buy Washington through lobbyists or direct payment.

If you’re an outsider like me and have an interest in the gory details of how the fraud came undone, read The Big Short. 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson gives a more thorough account of how powerful the Wall Street bankers are right now and some historical context for how it could be dealt with. Teddy Roosevelt once took on the richest Trusts in the nation and broke them up, recognizing that there is no free market when a handful of people own almost everything. Perhaps the same can be done with the banks that are “too big to fail” which really means, even according to Alan Greenspan, “too big to exist”. TBTE!

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Here’s a link to an article from More Intelligent Life that does a nice job on surveying the modern usage of acronyms. I like, in particular, the author’s take on the diminution of God to the letter ‘G’ in OMG. It is reflective of the adolescent instinct to turn powerful words, like ‘awesome’ into ordinary expressions of mundane activity. “OMG the latest episode of ET is so awesome. It’s like about a world without awe and without God. So wicked.”

More Intelligent Life Acronym Article

Forgive the rudeness in the title, a juvenile reference to The Great Outdoors with the Great John Candy. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the contents of a hot dog: lips and assholes. If you haven’t seen it, take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=001dtJ0srBI

Well, in the never-ending corporate quest for dumb buzz acronyms, Sears has come up with LPS (“our Lowest Prices of the Season”). The actual acronym accounts for only three of the six words in the phrase, which gives it a 50% letter accountability rate (percentage of letters in a phrase actually used for the acronym). If they had changed the phrase to Our Lowest Damned Prices Of The Season, they could have had OLD POTS as the acronym which would have a 100% letter accountability rate and about the same level of relevance.

I know this is an irrelevant question, but if you are having a sale, doesn’t the word “sale” indicate that the price you are getting is lower than usual? How often does a price fluctuate in a season anyway? Doesn’t a consumer get more information from a tag like “50% off” or a comparison between the sale price and the regular price (both of which Sears offers on their flyers, by the way)? LPS is a flagrant act of gratuitous acronym usage — the point of it seems solely to include a set of buzz letters in their marketing material regardless of their usefulness…..Never mind… When considering acronyms and hot dogs, its better not to ask what went into making them…

Glad to see that the new school year has brought new acronymic initiatives from the Ministry of Education (MoE, the smartest of the three stooges). It is the all-encompassing K-12 School Effectiveness Framework, which in my initial read is an encyclopedic synthesis of a decade’s worth of educational jargon. You want “accountability”, “evidence-based direction”, “building capacity”, “systems thinking” or “job-embedded and inquiry based professional learning”. It’s all there in the de-motivational tool of the new millennium. It ensures that the last drop of poetry or magic has been wrung out of the language we use to describe education and lays us down in a desert where management theory words blow about us like properly annotated and categorized tumbleweeds. I dare you to find one inspirational word in it anywhere. Here is the link:

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/framework.html

Personally, I will be using this document to talk dirty to my wife. “Hey baby, are my  timely and tiered interventions responding to your individual student learning needs? Because I’ve gathered a variety of valid and reliable assessment data that is informing my instruction and assessment and determining my next steps. Or would you prefer to be supported by a collaborative team approach. Oh baby!”

In an early post, I bemoaned the KFC-ification of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I am happy to say, that while vacationing on the shores of Lake Huron, I stumbled upon one of the last remaining holdouts of non KFC’ed Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. Please see photographic evidence below.

LOOK AT THE BUCKET SIGN! This location, which has avoided the marketing language death of so many other Colonel Sanders’ franchises, is in Port Elgin, Ontario. I’ve heard rumours of another in Owen Sound. Small town Ontarians are fighting a quiet guerrilla war against the death of words in their local mass market fast food operations. LOOK AT THE BUCKET! One of the servers in Port Elgin assured me that when the KFC makeover people come, the first thing they do is REMOVE THE BUCKET. But not in Port Elgin! And not in Owen Sound (….maybe)! And who knows where else the dignity of the word is being upheld…LOOK AT THE BUCKET! Look at Colonel Sanders. It is as if the great Colonel himself, rediscovered his military balls and said, “Forget my secret recipe. Here is where I make my stand! You will not reduce my Kentucky Fried Chicken to 3 letters that sound like a shady Wall Street office trading derivatives! Each word has 11 herbs and spices! Read each one! Linger over the greasy, salty taste of each one!” DON”T FORGET THE BUCKET!!!

By the way, I ordered two 15 piece buckets for the family and it was SENSATIONAL. North America’s Hospitality Dish indeed….

Continuing on with yesterday’s theme of spy agency acronyms, let’s take a look at Canada’s: CSIS, pronounced See-Sis, and standing for Canadian Security Intelligence Services. Is there a single spy agency in the world with a less intimidating acronym than CSIS? It’s strange, because it really is the amalgamation of the letters in two pretty cool acronyms: CSI and SIS. But you jam them together and you get CSIS. You no longer pronounce the individual letters, so you get See Sis, the name of a sissy. “Hey, Csis, it’s time to come in for dinner. And hey, didn’t I tell you to to stop taking pictures of the neighbourhood cougars on your mini spy camera?” “Aw, mom!”

And if a spy agency like MI6 has someone like James Bond working for it, then who does CSIS have? CC My Playmate?

By the way, the current head of CSIS, Richard Fadden, doesn’t have much respect for the first “S” (Secret) in CSIS. He pretty much let’s everybody know what’s going on about how Canadian politicians are influenced by foreign governments (Who would have guessed?). Perhaps it should be the Canadian Divulged Intelligence Department. CanDID?…  sorry….

No one is really surprised that Pakistan’s I.S.I. (Inter-Services Intelligence) was playing on both the American and the Taliban sides. Just look at that acronym. There’s one “I” on one side of the “S” and one “I” on the other. Talk about building double agency and split personality directly into the organization. And what does “Inter-Services” mean anyway? How can you trust an intelligence agency with the prefix “inter” — like INTERstate, and INTERnational, and coitus INTERruptus. You have to know any secrets you share with the ISI are going to be INTERcommunicated with the other “Services” which probably include the Taliban’s Sadistic Human INTERment Teams (SHITs). Anyway, ISI is the least trustworthy spy agency acronym in history.

Look at ISI’s  opposite palindrome acronym, S.I.S., the intelligence service for the United Kingdom. Only one “I”: the Intelligence safely tucked between the Secret and the Service. You never see double agents coming out of England. Just ask Kim Philby.

With the recent RBC Canadian Open, I’ve been thinking about banks and their acronymic tendencies. In Canada, most banks have acronyms: RBC, TD, CIBC. One major exception is Scotiabank. An acronym for the old Bank of Nova Scotia would have been BNS, which may have been too close to BS. Scotiabank sounds alright though. It doesn’t really have anything special to do with Nova Scotia anymore, so who needs the “Nova”? Of course “Scotia” isn’t really anything without the “Nova” but you can’t get rid of it or you’d be left with just “Bank”, acronym, “B” — which is kind of hiphop street gang cool: “Yo, B, let’s dip, I gotta go to the ‘B'”.

Anyway, consider the Bank of Montreal, or BMO. This is an acronym in the J.Lo tradition. It’s easy to understand why the marketers at Bank of Montreal went with this. If you leave out the ‘O’ you’re left with BM, which has certain non-financial connotations. If you include an ‘o’ for ‘of’, something none of the other Canadian banks do, then you get BOM. Again, you could see it in an urban hipster street youth campaign, “Yo, this bank is the BOM.” But really, you would more likely see it in a G20 Black Block campaign, “Yo, let’s bomb the BOM!”

Do we see acronyms in big American banks? Bank of America is usually Bank of America. Otherwise you might see some nifty headlines: B.O.A. is D.O.A. And of course the BOA constrictor that crushes the life out of the mice and other rodents (metaphors for small time investors), and that doesn’t have the down home comfort of Fanny Mae. And  Chase Manhattan is CHASE, which sounds cool but makes you think of a criminal running away with somebody’s money. Chase him!

Anyway, a salute to Carl Petterson who won the RBC Canadian Open, shooting a 60 after drinking 7 beers the night before thinking he didn’t make the cut. He now has 918,000 more dollars to put in the “B” of his choice. Way to go, C.Pe!

Here is another example of flagrant acronym abuse for you to consider:

Just yesterday a radio host in Toronto referred to the Canadian band Great Big Sea as GBS. To me the sole justification for acronym usage is to abbreviate very lengthy sets of words that become tedious with constant repetition. For instance, the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Call them CUPE (kewpee, as in the doll) by all means. But Great Big Sea? The total syllable count is exactly the same as GBS. That’s gratuitous acronym usage, especially when you’re not even writing it down. Compare that to CUPE, which saves 10 syllables of your valuable breath each time you utter it. That’s efficient acronym usage, and strained vocal chords everywhere are thankful. For musicians, there are alternatives. Consider, for a moment, the Bee Gees. They easily could have left it at BGs. But the addition of those four extra “e”s cemented their reputation as a thoughtful and counter-cultural voice in the wilderness of the dying word.

I can’t manage fitting my life into a pre-set acronym template. So, I will present you my life goal and adjust the acronym to fit.

My goal is to become an incandescent light of joy streaking across the universe for eternity.

It is specific. It is measurable. It is, I admit, unattainable. Unrealistic, yes. Timeless, absolutely. SMUUT. Which is Finnish for SMUT. What can I say? I’ve always had a dirty mind.