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Impenetrable acronyms

As the guests arrive, Mother pulls us kids aside. “There’s plenty of ice-cream”, she says, “but FHB on the strawberries, okay?”

Back in the present day, a phone-call from a close colleague: “Are you up for an HEC this week? I could do Friday.”

Whether family, community or business, every group seems to develop its own special jargon, terms and catch-phrases. It’s part of how we each identify as a member of that group: to know what something means, we need to be ‘in the know’.

And sometimes the phrases are intentionally obscure – such as in those seemingly-impenetrable acronyms above.

FHB? It meant ‘family hold back’: she knew all too well how greedy we kids were, so wanted to make sure that our guests had a chance for at least some of those so-special strawberries! A stern “FHB!” across the meal-table would remind an erring child to hold back before the damage was done – and, we would hope, without the guests being any the wiser about what was actually going on.

And HEC? The archetypal English ‘ham egg and chips’: it’s what we both so often order, at our meal-time meetups, that it’s become a kind of code for the meeting itself – and to ‘outsiders’ makes the planned meeting seem much more serious and formal than it actually is.

Which all works well for those at the time, of course. Yet if we’re collecting stories for our story-bank, it can make things a lot more difficult – especially in family-history and community-history, where memory fades over time, and there’s a real risk that the meaning will be lost.

So in your Zahmoo story-bank, it’s often worthwhile to maintain one or more distinct ‘jargon-pages’:

  • create a story-record with an appropriate title such as ‘Jargon’, ‘Thesaurus’ or ‘Special Meanings’ – a title that doesn’t look like any of the usual story-titles, so that it’s easier to find amidst the crowd
  • assign a tag such as ‘jargon’ to the jargon-page

Then, as you add new stories to your story-bank, if a story contains jargon or acronyms or other special meanings:

  • attach the respective jargon-tag to the story-record, and/or link to the respective jargon-page
  • if need be, update the jargon-page to explain the acronym or other special-meaning

And as you capture the story, watch out for any jargon or special-meanings in the midst of the story. If you’re doing this in real-time – capturing it on the spot with a voice-recorder, for example – don’t interrupt the flow of the story, of course. But do remember to ask the interviewee afterwards about any special terms whose meaning wasn’t clear – or whose meaning may become less clear over time, or to ‘outsiders’.

If it’s an old family story, or community story, ask around: with any luck, there’ll still be someone who can remember what that phrase meant. But don’t miss this step – otherwise that special meaning may well be lost forever.

Image credit: Strawberries by Asha Susan under a Creative Commons BY-ND-2.0 licence.

July 25th, 2012 by Zahmoo
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family, How to
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Zahmoo is a story bank for collecting and sharing your family and business stories.