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.


Jonathon said...

It only shows up in Mark Davies' COCA in 2006, so I'd guess it's pretty new.

Crystal said...

The terms "C-level exec", "CXO", and "C suite" are very commonly used in business communications. In my office, it's taken for granted that you know what they're referring to - took me a minute to figure it out at first.

WordzGuy said...

@Jonathon -- Awesome tool! Thanks for that research.

@Crystal -- I know, right? I mean, I do work at a large company, you'd think I would have heard these terms before now. All the more surprising to me. But anyway, I sure know them now. :-)

Adrian said...

I'll leave you alone after this I promise, but here's another example of the Ghit problem. I can see 474 Ghits for C-suite and 459 for C-level. As I explained on the other post, these numbers are probably not accurate, but they're much closer to the truth than ">1 million".