To the bathroom and beyond, one abbreviation at at a time

When I saw this headline on Delicious Popular last month, all I could think about was toilets.

Strange, yes, but worth thinking about.

No, not me and toilets but headlines and toilets.

Because “VC” sent me on an odyssey that eventually led back to “BC,” and both “VC” and “BC” have a lesson to offer.

Let’s start with “VC.”

I grew up in the Vietnam War era, so when I see “VC,” I think “Viet Cong.” That made utterly no sense:

“A Viet Cong’s Advice on How to Pitch Viet Cong.”

I thought of the drug Vicodin, of visual communication, of “Vaya Con Dios.” Pretty soon I was listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford sing on YouTube. I needed help.

Delicious trends tech heavy, so I asked Anthony, the tech guru across the hall, what he thought “VC” might be. He puzzled for a minute and came up with “videoconference.”

“A Videoconference’s Advice on How to Pitch Videoconferences.”

Interesting, but wrong.

I asked my 12-year-old twins sons. One of them, Ethan, came up with “vice chairman.”

“A Vice Chairman’s Advice on How to Pitch Vice Chairmen.”

I liked the visual possibilities of that one, especially after all the shenanigans in the financial world.

It was still wrong.

Most people I asked simply shrugged. No one could come up with the right answer: “venture capitalist.” Then again, I don’t run in those circles, so my chances of finding someone who knew a venture capitalist or thought in terms of “VCs” was small.

Abbreviations and acronyms usually have an insider quality to them. There’s nothing particularly bad about “VC.” It’s just that when it shows up in someplace where non-VCs read about it, those non-VCs start to think about Viet Cong and videoconferences and vice chairmen doing un-vice chairmenly things, and somehow end up on YouTube listening to the 1953 Hit Parade.

It reminds me of an old joke about a Baptist Church being mistaken for a toilet, all because a genteel woman couldn’t bring herself to write “toilet” in a letter to a campground manager. (You wondered how I was going to get around to that toilet, didn’t you?) Instead, she shortened the old-fashioned term “bathroom commode” into “BC” and asked whether the campground had a BC.

It’s an old story that I use in my editing class to emphasize the importance of clarity. (Here’s one version.)

Now I can add the VC to the story of the BC.

And if I call the VC C.W. and have him lose his CV in a BC at an AC/DC concert in D.C., then C.W. the VC’s only hope might be to find a PC in D.C. so he can print a new CV before an a.m. meeting with VC VIPs in NW D.C. Otherwise, he might have to send an SOS on a CB to the VP of the VC VIPs. If that happens, though, all his hopes have probably gone down the BC.

The moral of the story: Never assume someone knows what you mean.

The moral of the story (part 2): All obscure references eventually lead to YouTube.

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