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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Acronymicon

Before I go on with the actual post-y content of this post, let me first offer you this link for your surfing enjoyment. The store just went online yesterday; I can't decide whether I think it's absurd or wonderful. Most likely a healthy dose of both. Remember, though, nothing says, "I love you" on Memorial Day like a coffee mug!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled musing already in progress...

Four years ago, when I first started working at a hospital, I was excited to learn all sorts of fancy new medical terms and concepts. I did, but more than that I learned that true medical-speak involves never actually saying any of those fancy terms. I've never been part of a more abbreviation-intensive subculture; almost never are actual medical terms actually said. The medical world would like you to believe that's because we so often deal with situations where those extra fractions of seconds can be life-or-death, but that's nonsense. I'll bet even Chicago emergency rooms aren't nearly as excitement-packed as ER portrays - certainly 99% of the routine in a hospital is, well, pretty routine. My theory is that the abbreviations serve two purposes. They're much faster to write than the full words are - doctors and nurses do a tremendous amount of writing in charts and on flowsheets and on their hands and their scrubs and whatever other surfaces are handy; the sort of time savings one gets by replacing, say, "electroencephalograph" with "EEG" adds up quickly. They're also, unto themselves, meaningless. "Electroencephalograph" has all the sub-word-pieces in it you'd need to figure out more or less what it means - some sort of picture of electrical stuff in the head (or maybe Electric Head Picture, which would be, I think, an outstanding name for a band). "EEG" means nothing unless you already know what it is; if you're not in the know already it offers you no clues. Sometimes they make it harder yet by using abbreviations that use letters not in the original word - "EKG" for "electrocardiogram", for instance (the German word has a k (and probably a lot of ch's and some phlegm) in it; it's not completely random).

Whatever the reason, though, the use of abbreviations is absolutely ubiquitous and becoming comfortable with them is almost like learning a foreign language. Tonight at work, for instance, I wrote this on my clipboard about a particular patient: "CABG pod4 c ioCVA, JP, MT-s. RSW, Uc2, NPO - NGF." Another fellow was, "CADx4, MM, ¯INR, UAL, GD-NAS, GM ac&hs." In fact, looking over my whole clipboard - notes on 16 patients - I see only one word written out. Apparently I don't know the abbreviation for "pneumonia". Whatever I may think about the practice of expressing oneself without using any complete words, I certainly seem to have embraced it, which leads me to thinking about other abbreviations I've used in the past. I can think of three that I think you, Gentle Reader, might be able to productively incorporate into your vocabulary, and in the spirit of e-helpfulness I'll go ahead and tell you about them.

First up is "RSS". This has its own meaning now in the Internet world, but I have no idea what that meaning is (I'm quite sure at least two of you readers could enlighten me, if you were so inclined...). It seems to have something to do with tracing how someone found a particular website, or perhaps with tracking electronic paths back to someone's computer so their credit card information can be easily stolen. Fancier blogs all seem to have RSS feeds, so apparently an RSS is something you feed. It probably even stands for something cool, too, but again I've no idea.

I came up with my own "RSS" acronym back when I was a columnist for the Wartburg College student newspaper. I wanted to conclude my columns with some sort of actual worthwhile information and I thought doing a weekly poll might be fun, but I quickly learned that actually polling people is quite tedious. Plus you generally get a more or less 50-50 split unless your question is designed to create decisive results ("Is it okay to eat live kittens?" for instance). So I decided that instead of doing a regular poll every week I'd develop a whole new style of polling. Thus was born the Rod Simplified Survey, or RSS.

To conduct an RSS, find someone and ask them a question (or, in absence of anyone else, just ask yourself). Then project their response out to a demographic represented by your polling sample. For instance, if a professor expressed his opinion that the Wartburg tradition of Outfly was silly that could be reported as, "This week's RSS reveals that 100% of professors are in favor of doing away with Outfly." That's boring, though - better a result like, "100% of men ages 31-74 are firmly opposed to college students ever having days off," or "All people who live now or have ever lived in the state of Iowa..." or whatever Whatever the result, the key is that the results are 100% conclusive. The RSS allows polls to take a definite stand on something, and they're not, in the strictest sense of the word, inaccurate.

I know I didn't actually make up this system of polling, whatever I may have let myself believe. Professional polling companies have been making the data fit the results for years. It became a popular part of the column, though - people would occasionally stop me on campus and ask if they could be my polling sample for that week. I often think it would be sort of funny to have a little "RSS" link (like those fancy blogs do) on my website, but instead of having it link to whatever technical stuff a real "RSS" link links to, it would instead open up a page full of RSS results. That is to say, polls indicate that 100% of people who've ever used a computer think it would be funny.

Later, in my immediate-post-graduate years, I developed (in conjuction with some friends) the RTI and KFI, both scales for determining how desirable a particular action or event is. The RTI is the "Rod Tastiness Index," a 1-10 scale to determine how tasty ("tasty" in the holistic sense, not just basic food-and-drink yumminess) something is. A 10 would be the Cubs winning the World Series or holding your newborn child for the first time or Airwolf finally coming out on DVD - something of that sort. A 1 would be listening to the lead singer from Rascal Flatts singing opera or having to amputate your own leg or realizing that while you've spent an hour feeling around for the watch you dropped into an outhouse it was in fact just on your other wrist. The usage is to treat it as a verb - things RTI at some number, which can be any real number between 1 and 10. "How was your day at work?" "RTI'd at about a 5.4." Or you can just cite the number: "Didja check out this website?" "Yeah. Maybe a 3.2." Or, to revisit my earlier example, being able to buy CST stuff online RTI's at 8.6, at least.

The KFI is the "Kammerer Far Index," a boolean scale (expressed as either a 0 or a 1) to determine whether or not something's far. Again, this isn't "far" in the strict sense of distance but rather whether it's just too much work to contemplate. Things are either far or almost far, and since there isn't the range of possibilities that there are with an RTI, expressing something's KFI is usually just a matter of saying, "far," (or, in rare cases, "that's far," although the "that's" is generally considered too much extra work) or simply, "eh," (That's a short-e "eh" like in "then" or "den", not the Canadian long-a "eh") if something's KFI is 1 (if it's 0, then you just agree to do whatever task you've just rated). For instance - "Hey, can you help me move all my furniture into my new fourth-floor apartment?" "Sorry - far." Or, "Should we sit down and spend the evening talking about our feelings?" "Eh." Things that are ones on both the RTI and KFI scales are, obviously, about as undesirable as can be.

Movie trivia's coming soon; thanks to everyone who played the comic strip quote game. Now it's time to sleep the day away, which will be at least a 7.9.

Comments:
Ah, Charlie... this blog entry brings me back to the good old college days, when I had friends that spoke in indecipherable acronyms all the time (you being firmly among them). The difference is, now you actually tell me what they mean. Mwah!
 
I was thinking to say something about how this entry is like a commentary on the ways of our modern society, but "eh"...
 
But, Chucky-Keed, you did not mention the CEWOGFBMFW, greatest of all acronyms!
 
I did consider mentioning the CEWOGFBMFW, but geez, man - we've already both posted about how we were the nerds in junior high who spent every open hour in the computer lab trying to be Douglas Adams. I wasn't sure how much the Internet could take.

The old "yato-" game didn't even occur to me until you mentioned it, though, Jess. Which is a little odd, considering how much time I devoted to it once upon a distant past. "Mwah" isn't an acronym, though - it's just a phonetic spelling of a kissy noise that Matt thought would make a cute song title. So thanks, I guess.
 
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