ASSOCIATES (vol. 2, no. 1, July 1995) -

Table of Contents

                        MASTERING MEMOESE

                             - or -



                          Joanne Leary
                   Access Services Supervisor
                       Engineering Library
                       Cornell University

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

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

               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

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:


"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."

"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

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

           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

generable           trenchant           programmatic
realpolitik         paradigm            dialectic
impetus             poignancy           lucent
prescient           redact              bespoke
avatar              pro forma           distributive
penultimate         effectuate


Parker, Tom.   _Tom Parker's Rules of Thumb_.  Houghton Mifflin.

Petroski, Henry.  _The Evolution of Useful Things_.  Knopf.

Asimov, Isaac.  _Adding a Dimension_.  Lancer Books.  1964.