ASSOCIATES (vol. 2, no. 1, July 1995) - associates.ucr.edu
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MASTERING MEMOESE - or - LEARNING TO WRITE LIKE AN ADMINISTRATOR by Joanne Leary Access Services Supervisor Engineering Library Cornell University firstname.lastname@example.org Somebody once quipped that you can be reasonably sure you're dealing with a bureaucrat if that person must dial "9" to get an outside line. I am a bureaucrat, therefore, since I must dial 9 constantly; and I do hold the position of Access Services Supervisor at my unit library, so one might say the label is fitting. But, by the same definition, every employee in our campus library system is a bureaucrat as well, since we are nothing if not 9-dialers. It has always seemed me that this tongue-in-cheek bit of wisdom (which appeared in Tom Parker's _Rules of Thumb_, Houghton Mifflin, 1983) leaves something to be desired as a guiding principle. If one wishes to identify a bureaucrat, I think a far more reliable indicator is the Memo: that singularly stolid form of communication that permeates all strata of management, including that found in libraries. Written in a dialect of English, complete with its own grammar, sentence structure and idioms, the Memo is the hallmark of management. It is not found in any setting other than the office environment, and is not produced by anyone other than a person in a supervisory or managerial position. Although I now hold such a position and am, therefore, one of the Worshipful Company of Memo-Producers, for a number of years I was not a member of the elect and did not produce memos. I read them, though, and studied the form; and as I absorbed the richness of the language, I became adept at reproducing the style. The result is that I am now a part of the Upper Broad-Band Job Classification Continuum (UBBJCC), and have been saved from the tyranny of the timecard. I am a Yummie. Becoming a YUMMIE (Young Upwardly-Mobile Memo-Writer) Most of us have been encouraged from childhood to be sparing and to-the-point with language, lest we bore our audience to tears and be penciled in as insufferable windbags. Throughout our school years, struggles with Sir Walter Scott and other 19th century authors have reinforced, by counter-example, the brief-is-beautiful concept. After having done battle with the likes of _Ivanhoe_, we have taken a sacred oath never to commit to paper any sentence containing more than a dozen words or 25 syllables, whichever comes first. Which is unfortunate. Having entered the office environment and all of its rock-solid hierarchy, those of us who would scale the ladder of success must abandon those useless -- indeed, destructive -- principles of brevity and clarity. We must learn to speak Memoese, the lingua franca of administration. The Road to Success Is Paved with Acronyms Perhaps the first and most important axiom is this: Acronyms Are Key (AAK). Acronyms are the radiocarbon tracers of a genuine Memoese document. One must never use entire groups of words or phrases which name an organization, project, working group, task force, ad-hoc committee, corporate body or even general concept, in place of an acronym. That would be like speaking with spinach between the teeth. It is not done. No free and accepted member of the UBBJCC will take you seriously should you attempt to write out the name of an organization or functional body more than one time per memo group. This is called the Once-Only Principle, or OOP. Note well: the concept here is "memo group". NOT memo. Single memo documents are frequently not the basic unit upon which the OOP operates. In order to avoid grievous linguistic faux-pas and public humiliation, it is vital to recognize in every situation what comprises a memo group, and thus how frequently you may safely use whole words and phrases. For example, let us suppose that you are reporting the minutes of a committee that meets regularly. The first document alone (that is, the minutes of the first meeting) may have the committee's name spelled out. From that point on, it would be bad form to use anything but the acronym for the committee's name. To be sure, this rule has immediate practical value, since most committees are named in accordance with the Extrusion principle (see next section), and it is likely that whole forests can be saved from destruction over the course of a committee's lifetime by the diligent use of acronyms in this regard. The corollary to OOP is WIDD: When In Doubt, Don't. If you're not sure you should spell out Ad-hoc Committee on Hourly Office Operations, play it safe and use AHCHOO. At worst, your readers will not understand what you're talking about, but they will be in no position to question the undefined acronym. Would YOU admit ignorance? Dense, Denser, Densest: The Turgidity Index OK. You're comfortable with acronyms. Now what? You may already suspect that, powerful as acronyms are, they don't make a good memo in and of themselves. And, of course, you are correct. Acronyms are but the skeleton; the memo's viscera must be composed of dense matter, and the closer to solid neutronium the better. Words of abbreviated length and hyposyllabic construct are contra-indicated, as are brief sentences, declarative sentences, Active voice, and all interest-awakening traces of style. To achieve this ideal state of impenetrability, one must pay particularly close attention to three factors: * Hypersyllabification (H), or the preferential choice of words containing the greatest possible number of syllables; * Extrusion (E), or the drawing out of sentences into veritable boa constrictors of thought; * Convolution (C), or the use of auxiliary phrases embedded within the sentence Applied skillfully and liberally, these factors produce a nearly incomprehensible document...your goal. Moreover, it is possible to objectively evaluate your efforts as a memo writer by a simple and straightforward mathematical analysis of your prose. This method, explained below, can be applied to one sentence or to an entire memo. The resulting value is the Turgidity Index, and the higher the value, the better. Proceed as follows: For Hypersyllabification, count the number of syllables. This is the value for H. For Extrusion, count the number of words; this is the value for E. For Convolution, count the number of embedded auxiliary phrases (P) and add one to the total (C =3D P+1). The Density (D) is the number of syllables divided by the number of words, or D =3D H/E. The Turgidity Index (T) is Density multiplied by Convolution. Expressed as an equation, it is: T =3D (H/E)(P + 1), or T =3D DC To repeat, the Turgidity Index can be measured for single sentences, or for entire memos. The most meaningful figure is that determined for the entire memo, but for the purposes of demonstration, we shall find the value of T in the following sentences, taken from contemporary literature. Example 1: "Such activity, manifested in psychological, economic and other social and cultural factors, is what creates the milieu in which novelty appears among continuously evolving artifacts. " (Petroski, p.24) 25 words, 57 syllables. One embedded phrase. Density =3D 57/25 =3D 2.28 Turgidity Index =3D 2.28 x (2) =3D 4.56 Example 2: "It looks as though in the virus we have found our example of a nucleic acid molecule that in itself and by itself behaves as a living organism." (Asimov, p.52) 28 words, 44 syllables, no embedded phrases. Density =3D 44/28 =3D 1.57 Turgidity Index =3D 1.57 x (1) =3D 1.57 As these examples illustrate, sentence #1 is nearly three times as turgid as sentence #2, even though sentence #2 is the longer by three words. Here we can plainly see the power of Hypersyllabification, and the extraordinary muscle of Convolution. Although both men are highly-regarded authors, and both the products of academia, Asimov clearly has far to go as a memo writer. And where are they today? Petroski is on the faculty of Duke University, in the department of Civil Engineering. Asimov is dead. I rest my case. The Fog Rolls In: Passive Voice What could be more soporific than a nice, long, turgid memo on a hot day? You can almost feel your eyelids growing blissfully heavy at the thought, but be advised that you do stand some chance of unintentionally rousing your readers with every appearance of Active voice. To be completely sure you will not rob the memo recipient of some well-deserved shut-eye, all sentences must be in Passive voice. For example: Correct: "The process was described and evaluated for future implementation and the difficulties presented and discussed, taking into consideration the structural dictates of FTP protocol and RLG classification standards." Incorrect: "We described the process and evaluated it for future implementation, and discussed the difficulties in light of the structural dictates of FTP protocol and RLG classification standards." In the first example, you can almost hear the distant, melancholy drone of the foghorn drifting through the mist-shrouded harbor. Ahhhh....rock-a-bye readers.... zzzzzz. The second example, in contrast, has something of the klaxon about it, even though the factual content is the same, and indeed the Turgidity Index only slightly lower than that of the first example. Finishing Touches: Buzzwords and Bangwords Everybody loves buzzwords, those neat little bon mots which require no explanation and instantly identify the user as somebody au courant and part of the group. Buzzwords may be used as freely as Post-It notes. Having no intrinsic informational value, they add bulk to the memo without endangering turgidity. Buzzwords can be verbs, nouns, adjectives, gerunds or phrases. The most versatile words are those that can be either nouns OR verbs. Favorites in this category include: input, access, impact, program, process, and construct. (Note here that verb and noun forms often differ by the placement of stress on the syllables.) Other buzzwords have stand-alone utility, and include: facilitate, resource, parameter, feedback, relevance, hierarchy, priority, systemwide, effective, feasibility, beta-test, communicate, relate, option, and FTP. Note that the last of these gives the highest-octane buzz by nature of being both an acronym AND a buzzword. Watch for these buzzonyms, as they are as valuable as a hotel on Park Place. Buzzwords are not all, however. They will guarantee you a seat at the meeting, but what then? What the true Memomeister aims for is not mere acceptance, but superiority. It's all well and good to be able to insert "outsourcing" at will into any memo, but for true prestige, you need to be a high-roller. You need to use bangwords. Bangwords are those words which would be buzzwords if more people used them but, being too hard to spell or even understand, have escaped common currency. Like any explosive, they must be used sparingly and with caution, since overuse or improper handling may result in permanent injury. You don't want to be thought of as a pompous boor, even if you are. The following list is intended only as an aid in getting started. The best source of both buzzwords and bangwords is, of course, memos. Beyond this, you must be alert to words that appear in academic journals, book reviews, and the NY Times crossword puzzle. generable trenchant programmatic realpolitik paradigm dialectic impetus poignancy lucent prescient redact bespoke avatar pro forma distributive penultimate effectuate SOURCES Parker, Tom. _Tom Parker's Rules of Thumb_. Houghton Mifflin. 1983. Petroski, Henry. _The Evolution of Useful Things_. Knopf. 1992. Asimov, Isaac. _Adding a Dimension_. Lancer Books. 1964.