I saw an old friend recently who reminded me about a woman with whom we both used to work. The three of us, along with a handful of other new hires, spent six months attending trainings of various sorts. Every couple of weeks or so we would emerge from our respective departments and meet in a training classroom for day-long orientation sessions that inspired — to varying degrees — early-onset brain death. To these trainings this woman — of whom a kind description would be, simply, awkward — would bring sweet treats that she would set, individually, on the desks in front of her colleagues. I never knew whether these treats were homemade or store bought, and I never got to inspect (much less eat) one of them because, for whatever reason, she never gave one to me. She would circulate the room, dispensing these turd-like blobs of sticky chocolate goo (I guess), and would ceremoniously skip me every time. I had blocked this out of my memory until, like I said, I ran into my old friend who not only had attended these trainings with me but who also was the repeated recipient of what I began calling “doodie balls.” What I loved most about his memory of these events was the nickname that I created for this woman, who I called DBNG, which was an acronym that stood for Doodie Ball Non Giver. As recollection dawned, two things came to mind: 1) how hilariously stupid; and 2) thank you for reminding me.
I had sort of blocked this woman out of my mind; it’s been years since I’ve seen or thought about her, but when I was reminded that I used to call her DBNG, it all came rushing back. I was never offended that she skipped me, but truly it was a mystery. Had I done something to offend her? Was I somehow invisible to her? Did she just not like me? I mean, she never gave me any sinister glares to make me think she was skipping me on purpose. But time after time, she would show up to these meetings and dole out these brown blobs — a doodie ball for everyone, except me.
Remembering DBNG got me thinking about other acronyms I’ve used over the years. Anyone who has ever worked in an office of any sort has likely encountered a roster of institutional acronyms that are the bane of any new hire’s existence. But acronyms are remarkably versatile. Some can be pronounced phonetically, while others require each letter to be said aloud. I have learned that the best ones are used for two reasons primarily: because what they stand for is either a) too lengthy to say repeatedly or b) too inappropriate to say out loud. Once all my work friends knew what DBNG stood for, it was easy for me to ceremoniously announce her arrival in the cafeteria or issue a warning that she was lurking next to the break-room sink.
Shortly before graduating from college Randa and I spent a weekend working in a textiles emporium to earn some extra cash before walking across the stage and heading off into our respective states of post-baccalaureate poverty. It was during this weekend that acronym-speak was truly born. Speaking to each other in acronyms was both a matter of necessity and tact. It was a matter of logistics. We had no time to talk as we raced past one another hauling bolts of fabric away from cutting stations and back to their homes among the other Alexander Henrys or Timeless Treasures. In order to picture these events, all I can say is imagine a Costco Sized Warehouse jammed full of fabric, and you’ll begin to have the slightest idea about the place where we were working. During our 10-12 hour shifts, you can imagine that lots went on. There were so many amazing observations about which I was dying to tell Randa. But only catching brief glimpses of her every 20-30 minutes, we had to be concise. No time! So on our morning break the first day, we created a glossary of acronyms that would help facilitate meaningful snippets of conversation as we careered past one another on our routes through the warehouse. For instance we, ourselves, were FHs (Fabric Haulers). There were many other FHs working that weekend, so this acronym was versatile in that we could customize it for greater detail — PFH was Pentecostal Fabric Hauler; LFH was Lesbian Fabric Hauler; PTFH was Pony Tail Fabric Hauler, etc.
We referred to the leader of the FHs as FT, or Fabric Tyrant. FCs were Fabric Cutters, and they were in a whole different class by themselves.
Periodically, when the tiny staples on the end of a bolt would come unfastened we would receive FPs, or Fabric Punctures. We were able to caution one another about the locations of FFPs, Freaky Fabric Pooters. This became a useful warning system to steer one or the other of us away from the Moda, Benartex, or Koda Bay aisles due to an unpredictable FFP episode. During especially quick encounters we might shout, simply, ILY! Or, if feeling baudy, ILYSFM! We have been known to sign emails with that acronym even today.
Other acronyms have proven useful over the years, as well. VTMSB had a short life during a period of time when several of us were intrigued by Very Tall Mystery Sciences Boy, a guy who worked on another floor who was cute but about whom we knew nothing. Once we met him the mystery was lost and we moved on. Aunt Bubba’s HKFCB (Hurling Kentucky Fried Chicken Birthday) also had a good life during the years following Randa’s Aunt Bubba’s birthday dinner at KFC, after which Aunt Bubba, perhaps unsurprisingly, blew chunks.
At various points I’ve gotten use out of BBTD (Big Bad Trav Daddy), LFKIA (Lif-key-ah, or Little Fatty Know It All) and, naturally, NPBandGWRtheB (Non Profit Boys and Girls Who Ride the Bus).
In the daily context of work, institutional acronyms are by and large boring and kind of a pain in the ass. But I love them still. I may be past the days of full-on acronym-speak, but there is nonetheless a lovely versatility to acronyms. If explored enough, I dare say there is also an art.