Opinion Columns & Blogs

The ABCs of bureaucratese for job seekers

Are you thinking of applying for a government job?

Oh, sure, I know they’re hard to find these days, but the job scene will turn around sooner or later. When it does, I want you to be prepared.

So I’m donning my News You Can Use — Public Service hat this week, in order to let you know that if and when you go to work for the feds, state, county or city, you will have a leg up if you speak a second language.

No, not Spanish, French, or Mandarin, or even Arabic.

You need to speak Gobbledygook.

I mention this because of a missive from county Supervisor Adam Hill, who expressed surprise at discovering that one of the boards he sits on actually has an acronyms list.

That organization is SLOCOG, itself an acronym for the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments. In addition to being an abbreviation, SLOCOG is a county clearinghouse for highway and other federal and state money.

“There is no steeper learning curve than the one for SLOCOG’s acronyms,” Hill wrote The Tribune. “At our meetings, I sometimes I wish I had one of those translation headphones that they use at the United Nations.”

The supervisor has a point.

After all, when you’re reading through a document and see HBRRP, what are you supposed to think? Is someone giving you the raspberry?

It certainly looks that way. But as it turns out, HBRRP merely means Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program.

There are 21 pages of these, and they do send the eyebrows skyward. What is OWP, for example? A sound you make when you stub your toe? Nope — it’s Overall Work Program. FONSI is Finding of No Significant Impact, not Richie’s leather-jacketed pal.

What about EEM? Is that the noise that escapes your lips as you work your way through the acronyms list? Not hardly — it’s Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation.

Not all the acronyms are mystifying. CHP is on the list, for example.

Obscure or not, SLOCOG has them all covered, from AADT to VMT.

All this is in addition to other abuses of language engaged in by all government agencies; offenses such as turning nouns into verbs by adding “ize” (prioritize, legitimize), or coughing up euphemisms (“protective reaction,” which means starting a war).

­Nevertheless, I suppose SLOCOG’s glossary of acronyms is necessary, as ghastly an admission as that might be. After all, there has to be some guide to help the earnest office holder or bureaucrat differentiate among TIP, ITIP, STIP, RTIP, RTP, RIP, MTIP, FTIP, and … oh, never mind.

And so, I repeat my advice: Learn this stuff. If you can explain the difference between FAH and FWAH at your government job interview, you’ll impress the be-jeezus out of your interrogators.

Although I do worry a bit about the effect on those who try to get up to speed too quickly (uptospeedify?). Here is Hill again:

“After a meeting, there’s a hangover effect as I spend the rest of the day seeking to speak to everyone in a weirdly abbreviated manner,” he laments. “‘HWYD,’ I ask my wife. ‘How Was Your Day?’”

Maybe someone should start a support group. “Hi — MNIA (My Name Is Adam), and I speak in capital letters.”


Reach BC at 781-7909 or bcuddy@thetribunenews.com.