Mystics

In every cult, there are people who try to set their group aside from the rest of the population with language — in other words, creating a shorthand that only the initiates or insiders know, which (I guess) makes them feel superior to outsiders. Many times, this language is made up of abbreviations or (my particular bête noir) acronyms that create a level of inscrutability to the casual reader or onlooker and render the simplest of statements completely opaque to the uninitiated. (I’ll talk another time about academic language, which shuns abbreviation and acronym in favor of dense, elliptical words and phrases used as a shorthand among fellow academics and gives the users a veneer of erudition, usually false.)

The Mrs., who spent her entire life trying to undo the nonsense these people were spouting, referred to them as “mystics” — categorizing them as identical to the priests or priestesses at the various ancient oracles, who spoke in impenetrable riddles and then acted as translators of their allusions to the (paying) populace.

Until recently, the most egregious sinners were people in the information technology (IT) industry, with their MTBF (mean time between failures, a quality control — QA — measurement), AOP (aspect-oriented programming, which has no meaning to me at all), and so on. Go here, and if your eyes don’t start to bleed in a few seconds, you’re a better man than I am.

Don’t get me started on doctors, who have turned simple explanations of illness into jargon-ridden ur-Latinate Rosetta Stones of gobbledegook (e.g. a blood clot on the brain became a “cranial embolism”, a heart attack became a “myocardial infarction”, and so on). I’m sure it works just fine between doctors discussing a patient’s condition among themselves, but for us ordinary folks, it might as well be in Esperanto — which is probably the jargon’s intent: to make doctors sound wiser and more learned than non-medical people. (I can actually understand some of this bullshit better than most people only by dint of having studied Latin for over seven years.)

Incidentally, I am as guilty of this behavior as any of the above tools, because I am multilingual and often use foreign words or (especially Latin) abbreviations because to me, those expressions work better than their often-clumsy English equivalents. The German word Weltanschauung, for example, literally means “worldview” or “perspective on life”, but using it also gives a clue to its source, i.e. from Germanic philosophy. And I just used “i.e.” (id est, or, “that is [to say]”) in the previous sentence simply because I’ve always used the term and its use is universal, even though most people have no idea what the acronym stands for. I caught myself using Latin egregiously the other day, for instance, when I used the word sic (“thus”) twice in a row, but instead of leaving the thing alone, my brain translated the second sic into sic etiam (“also thus”) to show that there were two discrete applications involved. The philosopher Albert Jay Nock was probably the worst offender of this kind because his encyclopedic erudition caused him to scatter not only (Attic) Greek, Latin, French or German words throughout his writing, but sometimes entire paragraphs were written thus, probably because they described (in his mind) the situation or concept better than could be done in English, in the same way that most people use the Latin abbreviation “etc.” (et cetera, “and the rest”). Everybody knows, thought Nock, what it is that I’m describing, except of course that we don’t and have to rely on a translator to get his meaning. It’s ironic, of course, because while Nock’s philosophy has nigh-universal application, Nock aimed his writing purely at the Remnant, whom he assumed had equal erudition to his. (For an explanation of the Remnant, see Isaiah’s Job. Be careful: it may change your entire life, as it did both mine and that of The Mrs.)

I can only say I’ll try to do better, but I can make no promises.

All this pales into insignificance by comparison to people who toss off expressions like “This beta orbiter tried to neg the AMOG in front of the SHB to increase his SMV.” Allow me to translate: “This weakling who hangs around pretty women trying to curry favor with them tried to cut down a charismatic man in front of a beautiful woman, in order to make himself more attractive to her.” (AMOG = Alpha Male Of [the] Group or Alpha Male Other Guy, SHB = Smokin’ Hot Babe [sometimes V(very)H(ot)B(abe), and SMV = Sexual Market Value.)

I speak here, of course, of the PUA (pick-up artist) community, in which the High Priests have created this entire glossary of acronyms to show that, yes, they are the gate-keepers of knowledge which, if you buy their training manuals or pay to attend their seminars, you too, Mr. Sad Beta Male, can unlock the secrets of access to SHB pudenda (Latin alert) and become a “notch collector” similar to these skilled exponents of the art.

It’s bad enough when used in a sentence, but when used graphically or in a chart to illustrate a concept or theory, it becomes completely opaque. Here’s a beauty which attempts to show the correlation between a woman’s looks and the likelihood of her being bitchy:

VHB10 -> BQ 0
HB9 -> BQ 0-1
HB8 -> BQ 1-2
PJ7 -> BQ 3-4
PJ6 -> BQ 5-7
PJ5 -> BQ 6-10
PJ4 -> BQ 4-10
UG3 -> BQ 1-8
UG2 -> BQ 1-4
UG1 -> BQ 0-3
VUG0 -> BQ 0-1

VHB = Very Hot Babe, HB = Hot Babe, PJ = Plain Jane, UG = Ugly Girl, VUG = Very Ugly Girl, and the numeric qualifiers 1-10 are the common delimiters on the Female Hotness Scale (FHS). BQ, by the way, is Bitchiness Quotient, and the numeric qualifiers there are the levels thereof.

Note that this is presented as a scientific analysis or model, when in fact it’s no such thing: it’s a creation solely of the writer’s observation or theory and not supported by actual, you know, data — but creating acronyms gives it quasi-scientific gravitas — damn it, another Latin word, but you know what I mean, right? It’s kind of a pity, because the author at Chateau Heartiste has an excellent way with the English language, when he’s not talking utter bullshit like the above. (Credit where it’s due, though: he also called Trump for the overwhelming electoral victory long before anyone else did, so he’s a more-insightful observer of trends than most mainstream media pundits.)

What amuses me is that most of these PUA aficionados (whoops, Spanish, thank God for Hemingway) are or were themselves Beta males at one point in their lives — true Alpha males don’t need a process to seduce women: it’s completely intuitive or subconscious behavior on their part.

None of this should be taken to mean that I’m being at all dismissive of these Millennial Mystics, by the way. In terms of scoring with the chicks, it’s far better (and cheaper) than plying your would-be conquests with booze, although I note that anecdotally at least, most pick-up artistry takes place in bars because a.) that’s where the younger women hang out and b.) pick-up techniques work better on drunken women, apparently, which kind of undercuts the whole ethos (damn, now it’s the Greeks’ turn; this is getting tricky). But the most amusing part of this whole PUA thing is that as more and more dweebs adopt the practices, the more women are starting to identify the techniques and throwing them back into the hapless would-be seducers’ faces.

But back to the mystics in general. I refuse to be swallowed up by their bullshit, nor do I allow myself to feel in any way inferior to their apparent greater knowledge. I once listened to some consultant describe a proposed change, and the description was filled with consultant-jargon — oh yes, they too have to impress clients with their insider language — and when he was done, I said, as succinctly as I could: “I didn’t understand a single thing you just said. Could you restate it, but in plain English this time?”
“Oh,” he stammered, “I simply meant that we need to streamline the process to shorten our product’s time-to-market.”
“You mean, the time between the thing’s production and its appearance on the retailer’s shelf?”
“Yes.”
Then why didn’t you just say  that, instead of having me waste all our time by getting you to explain it to me?

Roger Moore put it best, I think: “The point of language is to communicate your thoughts in the shortest possible time and in the clearest possible way.” My corollary to that excellent sentiment is, “And if somebody is not doing that, he’s either pursuing a different agenda or has something he wishes to disguise.”

And finally, I should point out that Moore’s “clarity” does not equal “simplistic” (I nearly wrote simplisme, but you guys would have chased me from the room, and justifiably so).

Semper claritas should be your guiding principle.

20 comments

  1. I once came across Professor Irwin Corey in a Las Vegas hotel elevator with a beautiful showgirl on each arm. The four of us were the only ones in the elevator and he began to assault me with his trademark gobbledygook I was still drunk from the night before and gave no indication that I knew who he was. When the elevator doors opened at the ground floor lobby, he stopped his routine and looked to me for a response. I said “I concur, Professor.” He chuckled and we departed our separate ways. On a sad note, Irwin Corey passed last month at the ripe age of 102.

  2. Many years ago I had a co-worker who belonged to Mensa, and he absolutely LOVED to tell jokes that went over people’s heads, I think he relished the dumb looks. One notable time he got me was when he told a joke involving a play on words using a Medieval French stringed instrument. He never heard that it’s really not a joke if you have to explain it.

    Acronyms and buzzwords CAN be efficient means of communications IF all involved parties understand the language. So when my manager calls me up and says “SWRPT720 abended with CC SB37, update the JCL and do an OCF” I know exactly what happened and what he wants me to do. (For the records, he’s telling me that Stars (the name of the system I work on, itself an acronym for Summons Tracking And Reporting System) Weekly RePorT number 720 had an ABnormal Ending with a Completion Code of SB37 (signifying that an output file required more disk space than was allocated to it), and to update the Job Control Language (where the space allocation is specified) and to an Operations Change Form (the electronic form we use to track software changes). See? Efficient)

    In other cases, people are just making stuff up, because if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, you overwhelm them with BS.

    1. In my job, acronyms are common, but I usually do the classic trick of spelling it out first, add the acronym in parentheses, and then use it from there. E.g.: Full Container Load (FCL).

      1. A fairly standard practice on Wikipedia. Though not always followed – a lot of my edits include tweaks to make an article follow it.

  3. What amuses me is that most of these PUA aficionados (whoops, Spanish, thank God for Hemingway) are or were themselves Beta males at one point in their lives — true Alpha males don’t need a process to seduce women: it’s completely intuitive or subconscious behavior on their part.

    In all fairness, CH has said this explicitly many times. He’s stressed over and over that Naturals don’t bother with all this theory because it is all instinct (a la Trump.)

  4. Once upon a time I was an Engineering Instructor at a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power has its own language, replete with abbreviations and acronyms, and we speak it as naturally as American English. It was very difficult for new engineers to understand what was being presented in a presentation, for two reasons: the (usually experienced) presenter spoke “The Language” and didn’t bother to explain the abbreviations/acronyms in the presentation; and new engineers would rather die than raise their hand to ask a question. Having a flash of inspiration, I developed a “Nuclear to English” handout which I would include at the beginning of each training session. When I retired, in 2012, there were over 300 entries.

    I present to you the “Guy Rule”: OKD = (A / 2) + 7
    OKD = OK to Date
    A = your age

    Mystics, indeed.

    1. I’ve always heard, or read, that your OKD was actually an OKM. Ok to Marry. For just dating, anything over the local age of consent (if not too brainless to endure) would be acceptable.

  5. I’ve always thought the degree titles of BS and MS should be switched.
    Undergrads master a subject.
    Masters Degree people learn to speak bullshitese.

  6. IT is pretty awful; however, so is telecommunications. For a little while I worked for an internet communications company…so you could imagine that the acronym combinations were pretty horrendous.

    To be fair, IT abbreviations typically start out with a definition of something specific but descriptive, but because it can be a pain to continually refer to the descriptive name, inevitably there comes a need to shorten it. I can live with that.

    In mathematics, sometimes you’ll have a healthy dose of acronyms, weird symbols, odd definitions, and theorems named after mathematicians…and this is what you get *after* the ideas have been simplified! (I’m particularly thinking about algebraic geometry, where things called “schemes” and “varieties” were introduced to make things a lot clearer. I had a professor who explained that when he was a graduate student, he had a fellow graduate student who was trying to learn algebraic geometry before these weird things were introduced. Apparently the poor soul would wander around the hallways muttering to himself…) Sometimes the ideas you are working with really are difficult to wrap your head around, no matter how you slice things.

    I would be willing to tolerate medical jargon, though, if the terms are more clear, and more specific, than the common terms for the same things, or if there were several conflicting common terms for the same thing. Being specific, non-ambiguous, and clear can mean the difference between life and death. But more often than not, though, this doesn’t seem to be the case…

    1. Some computer terms must have been conceived late at night. TWAIN for Technology Without An Interesting Name.

      And I always liked TASER for Thomas A Swift Electric Rifle.

  7. I think you are getting it wrong, and I think that’s due to a wrong basic assumption: You believe that common words have a common meaning. They rarely do (similar to the adage that common sense is not common). Ask anyone around here what “gun owner” means and the answers will differ from answers, say, the common Californian will give. Or ask a feminist, a LGBT++ activist and a member of the olympic committee what a “man” is.

    Framing (applying different terms for the same thing, say “baby killers” vs. “abortion proponents” vs. “free choicers”) does this, too, but the more effective strategy is changing the meaning of common words.

    Counterintuitively, specialist terms usually have a common meaning. Aforementioned AOP will get you a similar response everywhere (if they bother to explain it instead of getting the thousand yard stare while muttering “cross-cutting concerns”). Usually it is more precise: A cranial embolism does not describe only a blood clot in the brain, but a blockage caused by any kind of tissue (aside from blood, there is calcified material, too).

    Issues arise where people want to use specialised terms without knowledge of said specialised area. The famous “barrel shroud / shoulder thing that goes up” story might be illustrative here. Or when people forget that they are not talking to people within their field. Medical doctors are terrible at that.

    1. “Or when people forget that they are not talking to people within their field.”

      And THAT’S what I’m complaining about. When it’s just careless, I get irritated. When it’s deliberate — as it often is — I get homicidal.

      1. Hey, considering my personal distaste for most people, I support any reason you find to get homicidal 😉

        More seriously though: I think deliberate use of this is rare. To me, it is just a side effect of the internet, the long tail and it becoming much easier for people to stay within their groups for most of their life.

        Footnote: I myself am usually very aware of different backgrounds and tend to explain things rather explicitly… turns out that is mansplaining in a lot of cases ^^

  8. Specialized language speeds and clarifies communication between its users. The polite user uses more, but plainer, words to speak to the non-initiated.

    But what I really want to comment about: You and The Mrs. introduced me to Nock and inspired me to read a lot of his writing. I’m eternally grateful for that. It takes reflection when reading him, but it’s worth it.

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