Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Time off in Looe

Today's title is brought to you by courtesy of TiredPunsus (Inc.)

Milles zexcuses, as they used to say in the FRENCH notes file ...

(Notes files were a collaborative tool used in the world-wide DECnet network [of, in its heyday, more than 100,000 users], and one of my favourites was FRENCH – which gave me access to thousands of Francophones [not unlike Twitter in some  respects, only 25 years earlier and with no limit on character count]. For further information on Notes files, a feature of my work life in the '80s and '90s [when recreational notes files were stamped out by the bean counters], see here. )

...for the recent radio silence. Deadlines have been crowding together. Yesterday I  submitted my entry for the Stephen Spender Prize ("for Poetry in Translation" to give its old, useful name, now suppressed for unknown [and probably unfathomable] reasons). And this morning I had mail from the organisers of the John Dryden Translation Competition, announcing the latest in a series of Covid-related judging delays. So my cup will run over in September, when both sets of results are due, although the submissions were five months apart. (The also-rans  get to hear later but  a fellow can dream).

A word that has come into its own recently (Covid-assisted via the NHS app), and which I've been thinking about for some time, is PING.

In the late '80s I came across UNIX (an operating system) – or more specifically ULTRIX (the flavour of UNIX designed to run on DEC systems). I was not a heavy user of UNIX, but its online help was delivered by way of something called a MANPAGE(I imagine this was just an abbreviation for "manual pages" as they were really simple text files), and I had to understand UNIX enough to produce MANPAGEs and get them to display appropriately. So I found myself fairly close to the coining of a backronym that has now been in use in the computing world for nearly forty years; and I suspect it may have influenced the spread of a non-digital ...

(by which I mean "having nothing to do with computers"; but computers and IT people and their jargon are never far from modern business – and if one  IT person says to another "I'll ping you" [meaning "I'll test the network between our machines using the PING protocol"] it's not impossible that a computer virgin might have overheard it and assumed it was just a cool synonym for "make contact with"...

To take  another example of  technical jargon leaking into business-speak I remember my first sighting of "Can we take this offline?" – meaning "Let's discuss this later" – delivered by a besuited man [whose main use of IT was to use a batch-job...

In the VMS world, a batch-job was a way of automating a repetitive  process

... {written by a tame engineer} to read his mail and print it all out every half hour]. Of course, he seldom got round to reading it, and the print room was consequently full of his arrangements to "do lunch". And this was in the days of fan-fold paper and line-printers, so we are talking serious pollution.


... homonym in the business world

PING was named,according to its writer, after  an analogy to his student work on sonar systems: 

From my point of view PING is not an acronym standing for Packet InterNet Grouper, it's a sonar analogy. 
Horse's mouth

 But a backronym was soon formed; according to  that source (who ought to know, having invented it). It was Packet InterNet Grouper. In Wikipedia's account, even the original word Grouper [sic] didn't survive: it is the Packet InterNet Groper. I have no idea what "Grouper" means in  this context; it might even be a typo for "Groper". But Groper strikes me as irrelevant, and pretty lame even for an IT-related backronym (a rich field, headed by SPAM).

 But having spent the afternoon dodging the showers...

(which reminds me of some Knowles juvenilia, probably dating from the time when I thought Cyril Fletcher  (of Odd Odes fame) was the Rat's Pyjamas:

Be they ne'er so scattered met
Are yet
As wet


...while deploying a lawn mower (or rotary cat-sh1t distributor) I must go and get on with Stuff.


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