When I first worked for a wire service, United Press International, in the late 1960s, I had to learn a new language.
Since bureaus communicated via teletype on a message wire – and because every character transmitted cost money – a shorthand was employed.
So, pls adz cvg sap, translated to: please advise coverage as soon as possible. And the reply might be: pblm crew itxd (problem, the staff is drunk).
Now, when email and texts afford unlimited space, and messages are mostly free, people correspond with what we at UPI called hash (garbled copy). OMG!!! TMI!!! WTF!!!
For many, the code is cool. Writing in complete sentences is not. And punctuation is passé, except for exclamation points!!! (Jeb! is one ugly sign of the times.)
My cousin in Manhattan, who is in her seventies and once proudly wore her Phi Beta Kappa key, writes entirely in lower case, without punctuation.
A friend in the San Francisco Bay Area, a retired top executive with a Fortune 500 company, sends emails that conclude: “If this message is incomprehensible, it’s probably been auto-corrected.” His messages are always comprehensible, but his delivery system assumes the worst.
My nephew in suburban New York, who is in his twenties and smart as a whip, pleaded the auto-correct defense after I read his essay about a trip to Europe and discovered he had no grasp of sentence structure, spelling, grammar or punctuation.
I understand much of the messiness is a byproduct of busy people using smartphones on subways, in traffic jams and on the North Face of the Eiger.
The problem is that the hash has become a standard and style deliberately dished daily by those who should know better.
Within hours of the deadly shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the late night limeys on CNN began calling it an AME church.
Most news outlets quickly followed suit, deleting the three words – African, Methodist, Episcopal – that define the church.
When I was growing up, I instantly recognized the men behind the initials FDR. JFK and LBJ.
Why is LBJ in the headlines so often these days? Because some in the media have appropriated the monogram for LeBron James.
Sportscasters similarly yak about CP3, CB4, A-Gon, MadBum and RFed.
Uncommunicative newscasters routinely referred to KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and DSK (Dominique Strauss-Khan).
To add to the media muddle, people and companies have successfully masked their birth names. Who knows Jay Z is Shawn Corey Carter? Or remembers 3M was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing and KFC was Kentucky Fried Chicken?
But that’s the idea – to bury the rap sheet and blind the mind’s eye from images of strip mining or vats of fat.
The manic push to compress words and create abbreviated appellations is often strategic, a corporate craze aimed at misdirection.
Financial institutions operate globally with sanitized passports.
Few recognize HSBC as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and only the most discerning catch the stale odor of Nazi plunder in UBS, the United Bank of Switzerland.
And how many know the P in PNC is for Pittsburgh? Or what happened to the Manhattan in Chase?
In Canada, where I live, all the major banks have compacted and cleansed their brand names in the past decade or so, hiding their places of origin.
TD erased Toronto, BMO did the same to Montreal, RBC renounced its citizenship, as did CIBC. The Bank of Nova Scotia became Scotiabank, preserving an obscure architectural term and slicing the lox.
Most curious is the fashion statement concocted by PwC. For most of my lifetime, Price Waterhouse was known best as the trusted guardian of the envelopes at the Oscars.
When it wed Coopers and Lybrand in 1998, the married name was PricewaterhouseCoopers. A dozen years later, it was rebranded PwC.
Yet there is no accounting for a company scrunching three names into one, while twice downsizing one of its founders, Edwin Waterhouse (1841-1917), to lowercase.
The partners at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, Cutler, Gleason and Chaough played the name game in Season 6 of Mad Men.
Sitting around the boardroom table, Jim Cutler says with a sneer: “This morning I received an envelope addressed to Sterling, Gleason and Price.”
“From who?” asks Roger Sterling.
“It doesn’t matter,” replies Cutler. “They don’t know our name because we don’t know our name.”
“Aren’t we SCDPCGC?” spits Don Draper.
They bicker for a while before tabling the issue, flying off in different directions to make deals and philander, before settling on Sterling Cooper & Partners, or, as Don pronounces it: “S, C, ampersand, P.”
Of course, that was the 1960s. Now, scanning the business pages, try finding a company name with an ampersand – much less a comma.
Instead, capital letters sprout and shout, conveying no clue of who or what a name represents.
I defy anyone without a vested interest in the firm INTL FCStone to decipher who runs it or what it’s selling.
At least when I order a BLT I know what I’m getting.