Thursday, October 27, 2011

I can C you now

Had one of those moments. Yesterday evening my wife was looking at the cover of one of her nursing magazines, which had an article titled "Nurses in the C-Suite." "What does that mean?", she asked me. My articulate reply: "Huh?"

Then today I was glancing at someone's resume, which said this: "Highly effective external and internal communication from C-level to consumer." Same term, basically, twice within 24 hours. What the heck?

Apparently I've been out of touch with the terms C-suite and C-level. It's all over Google (> 1 million) hits, as if the evidence of seeing it on the cover of a magazine weren't enough evidence that it's widely known. Wikipedia has a nice explanation in its entry for Corporate title:

The highest level executives are usually called "C-level" or part of the "C-suite", referring to the 3-letter initials starting with "C" and ending with "O" (for "Chief __________ Officer"); the traditional offices are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), and Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Chief administrative officer and Chief risk officer positions are often found in banking, insurance, and other financial services companies. Technology companies (including telecom and semi-conductor) tend to have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), while companies with a strong Information Technology (IT) presence have a Chief Information Officer (CIO). In creative/design companies (such as film studios, a comics company or a web design company), there is sometimes a Chief Creative Officer (CCO), responsible for keeping the overall look and feel of different products, otherwise headed by different teams, constant throughout a brand.

I take a very small comfort that the terms C-level and C-office don't appear (yet) in general-purpose dictionaries (including the OED, as far as I can tell). The Investopedia site has a definition that refers to C-suite as "widely used slang." That seems right.

I'm curious how long the terms have been around; they seem widespread enough to seem pretty established. Paul McFedries finds a citation from 1997 for CxO (Chief [Whatever] Officer), and his entry (tho not the citation) talks about C-suite and C-level.

I tried a Google n-gram search, but the hyphen is treated as a token by itself and I don't know how to get around that just yet.

Anyway, there you go: one of those moments. A term (two terms) that I've apparently been surrounded by for a decade or more and would have sworn I'd never heard before. I suppose it's evidence that I my own self will not soon be achieving any sort of C-level.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why a Duck?

Back in July, a section of [the] 405 in Los Angeles was closed for repair. The anticipation of the traffic mess that this was going to make spawned the term carmageddon. (In the end, that whole project went pretty smoothly, possibly due to the extreme publicity and people's efforts to "use alternate routes.")

In Seattle, the venerable Alaskan Way Viaduct that runs along the downtown waterfront — a stretch of State Route 99 — has been shut down. This is the first phase of a project in which the old viaduct will be replaced with a tunnel. The viaduct is old (1953) and was damaged during a 2001 earthquake. Everyone feared a repeat of the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in San Francisco, and the state DOT (cleverly?) posted a video that showed a simulation of what might happen to the viaduct in an earthquake.

All this led to a, um, Seattle-style debate about how to replace it, and here we are, a decade later, finally getting around to actually doing something. As of Friday October 21, the viaduct will be shut for 10 days while they do some preliminary work.

The problem is that the viaduct carries about 100,000 cars a day and that the only other major north-south route in Seattle is I-5. Closing off this route is, as with the L.A. closure of I-405, many people's worst traffic nightmare.

Ok! So what to call it? Carmageddon is sort of already claimed.

An early term that the MSM seems to favor is Viaduct Crunch. Adequate, but lacking that certain something.

Let's see what's shaking on Twitter! One hashtag on Twitter that has some traction is #viacondios. Cute, but to my mind a bit of a stretch.

It's looking like people are converging around #viadoom. It's all over Twitter, of course, and the term has gotten enough traction that it's showing up (albeit in quotation marks) in media reports — for example, in a Reuters article.

I do suspect that cute names for this little diversion are going to wear thin very quickly. L.A.'s carmageddon lasted one weekend. Viadoom is going to last 10 days, and there's years' worth of construction still to come. Perhaps when the tunnel boring starts in earnest, we'll get another term for that particular mess.

PS Should you not recognize the title of this entry, have a gander at this video.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just throw some text at it

We've mused here before about the interesting "up" particle that can be added to so many verbs (man up, whip up, bulk up, eat it up, new up).* In Dilbert today, another appearance of the interesting "up":

This usage is not, I believe, the "up of completeness" -- eat up, drink it up. Rather, it's the "up" of "conjure [up]" -- whip (something) up, maybe even draw (a contract) up and make (something) up (?). There are subtle gradations of meaning here that might or might not all be the same.

Anyway, I like this a lot. Perhaps because there's been more than one time when I was indeed called upon to "word something up."

* And not just here; see also Fritinancy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Hello, World"

Over on my main blog, I have a piece on how Dennis Ritchie's influential book The C Programming Language introduced the phrase "Hello, World" to represent the starting point for pretty much any learning experience. Check it out:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let's (cohort) party down

A friend of mine recently sent me email in which he said he'd been standing in an elevator with some young people who were talking about a "cohort party" and did I know what that was? Not me. To my surprise, searching around revealed many uses of cohort in casual ways that suggested people were familiar with the term:
  • If anyone is interested in having a cohort party, feel free to suggest some possible ideas. […] On friday, Melanie was saying something about a get together on December 15th, which is the day after we finish our practicum [#]

  • Some girls from my Elementary Education cohort decided to have a couples party. [#]

  • Each intake is split into cohorts. Each cohort divides into clusters. And each cluster… well, it’s just a cluster. So a lot of socialising happens at the cohort level. Like last night at the Irish pub in Rittenhouse Square, where the INSEAD group crashed a two-cohort party. We were told to ask the cohort of whomever we spoke to before they had a chance to ask ours. If they said “cohort E”, we were to pretend to be from “cohort I”. If they said “cohort I”, we were naturally from “cohort E” [#]

  • We have had the chance to meet many members of Cohort 10 as they’ve joined us for classes and speaker series over the past few months […] Now we are all anxiously awaiting the Baltimore Study Group-sponsored cohort party in January. [#]

And so on. But no actual definitions, as in "a cohort party is ...," really sprang out. My kids are college age and not un-hip; when I queried them, my son did note that he understood the term cohort in its, what, sociological sense: "a group of people having approximately the same age." But the term cohort party rang no bells with him.

I have to conclude two things. Thing one: I'm an old guy and the term cohort seems sort of quasi-technical to me (when I hear it, I think "academic paper"), but for younger people, it's a normal word that they're used to hearing in descriptions of their class/group/work unit. I asked Ben Zimmer about this whole thing, and he noted that he only started hearing cohort when he got to grad school, where it was used to describe what I might have termed his "graduating class." An n-gram for cohort provides a bit of evidence that use of the term has been rising since about 1970 or so:

Thing two is that a cohort party is nothing more than a party that your cohort -- your school class, whatever -- is throwing. And the reason that this seems strange to us oldsters is that cohort is just not a term we were brought up with.

If anyone knows something more specific than this, I'd sure love to hear it.