Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From Greek battles to all-day presentations

One of the VPs where I work is a guy named Scott Guthrie, who's one of those people who seems to be able to pack about 48 hours into a day. In addition to VP-ing, whatever that exactly consists of, he flies around the world giving presentations -- often keynote speeches -- to large and enthusiastic audiences of programmers.

A diversion. At Microsoft (and, I imagine, many other places), the basic algorithm that they use to assign you an email name is first name + last initial. For example, an email alias that's well know at Microsoft is billg. However, if you've got a common name (like Mike, for example), they have to do something else. One possibility is to start adding letters to the last name. As a result, Scott Guthrie's email address is scottgu. Partly because we seem to have so many Scotts in our division, this has led to VP Guthrie being referred to as "Gu" or even "the Gu" (pronounced "goo," of course). Example: "We're meeting tomorrow with the Gu about this."*

And now to wrench the discussion to a new track. Once upon a time there was a battle near the Greek city named Marathon, and a dude named Pheidippides started a trend by supposedly running some insane distance to announce an Athenian victory. (And this before Gatorade.) Now a marathon is a really long race, or by extension, "any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional endurance." Example: dance marathon, sales marathon.

But why use a full name like dance marathon when you can use, so to speak, first name + last bit? The -athon suffix is very productive. Here's just a few of the many, many examples I found:

Almost all the usages I've found use a hyphen to mark either -athon or -a-thon. (The latter spelling suggests that -thon could by itself be the suffix, but I haven't found an example.) The exception is walkathon, which might have become sufficiently established to be thought of as a single word rather than a conscious construction, dunno.

Back to the Gu. I'm not sure how many people use "Gu" as a vocative in Scott's presence, but he's well aware of it. So much so, in fact, that Scott decided to refer to the occasional all-day presentation that he gives as a Guathon. We hope, of course, that this refers only to the "greater than normal length or duration" of the event and not to it "requiring exceptional endurance." :-)

* There is, I'm sure, a study somewhere that examines the phenomenon of referring to people in the third person by their email aliases -- at Microsoft, the once-feared "BillG review" has, AFAIK, no other name.