Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Too Early? Too Late? - A Hodgepodge

Here we are at that time of year when, more than any other time, I witness in my work a strange phenomenon.

Well, strange to me, at least. Maybe there’s some sense to it that I’ve yet to divine.

The strangeness is this: I will receive various items for publication in the various sources for which I’m responsible in which the author would inform the reader that such-and-such event will take place on, say, January 6. And for good, albeit strange, measure, he or she will almost invariably tack on “2012.”

Who knows how many 2012s I have lopped off the past four to six weeks? Who knows how many more I will lop off in the next four to six weeks—for the strangeness will continue at least that long.

Not counting those folks who simply cannot write a date without putting the year on it, no matter how far into the year we’ve already come.

I’ve tried to figure out how and why a person might develop such a habit, and I confess to being stumped. Certainly if I am in December 2011 writing about an event that will occur on January 6, I can rely on my reader to understand that I mean the January 6 that will be popping up in a few weeks here, not the January 6 that happened almost a year ago, nor the January 6 that will be happening a little more than a year hence.

Can’t I?

Even keeping in mind what H.L. Mencken had to say about the intelligence of the American public, I am confident that all of the 2012s I blithely fling into the virtual wastebasket will cause no undue distress.

Watch this space in case I turn out to be wrong. I’ll report if someone shows up for any of the events in question a year late. And I’ll certainly report if anyone shows up for something a year early.

Believe me, I’d love for that to happen.

¶ ¶ ¶

On the subject of numbers and people’s odd quirks regarding them:

My late father could never, it seems, write a number without expressing it in both words and numerals. He would never have written, “Grandma went to the store three times last week”; he would instead have written “Grandma went to the store three (3) times last week.”

In his case, I suspect he either developed the habit as a young man climbing the corporate ladder at what was Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, then USWest, then Qwest, now CenturyLink. (Yes, you see a trend there: each name is even less descriptive of the business than the previous name was. CenturyLink is particular is a dumb name, and I’m a little glad Dad didn’t live to see its advent. In fact, CenturyLink sounds like something I would use if I wanted to show up for an event a year too early.) I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that, in his early days there, he and his cohorts were taught that This Is The Way It’s Done, and he never deviated from that path, strange though it seems to me.

Dad also would never use an exclamation point when three (3) could be used. I’m not kidding!!! If he felt inclined toward exclamation, which he often would in his pr/marketing days, he invariably tripled the order. He never used two (2); he never used four (4); he sure as hell never used one (1). It was always and inevitably three (3)!!!

Which may go a ways toward explaining my habit of eschewing them in my own work!!!

¶ ¶ ¶

Back to the subject of dumb names:

This week I received from the Board of Pensions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (in which I still have a few dollars, since they limit the amount one may remove in a calendar year...which reminds me, I have only a few days in which to remove this year’s allotment. So enjoy being restricted from accessing my own money) that it will henceforth no longer be known as the Board of Pensions but rather by the new and exciting name...Portico Benefit Services.


I looked it up, and it has no definition other than the usual one, viz., a covered entrance. A porch.

Yet somehow, according to the letter, whoever comes up with such things believes that “a new name will help people better understand what we do as this church’s provider of health, retirement, disability and survivor benefits and related services.”

Well, it’s possible that “a new name” might do all those things. But “Portico” ain’t it. “Portico” says nothing, at least nothing related to benefits. Unless it has to do with the benefits division of an architectural firm.

It’s curious to me, too, that the new name hops on board what I perceive to be a trend of sorts, namely, obscuring the relationship of a given entity to its religious organization, in this case the ELCA. Nothing in “Portico Benefit Services” points to it being at all connected with any religious body, and certainly not the body it is in fact connected with.

I imagine someone decided that “ELCA Board of Pensions” was a limiting name. Maybe so. To be sure, it handles more than pensions per se. Well, then, how about “ELCA Board of Pensions and Benefits”? Or “ELCA Benefit Services”? Either of those—or any of a dozen other possibilities—would be more descriptive of the entity’s function and purpose than “Portico.”

It seems that there’s some desire to dissociate the agency from its church. I can’t think why, unless there’s a belief that down the road it will serve more than just its church body. Something along the lines of my credit union recently merging with another credit union and adopting a new, unmemorable name (indeed, I would have to go look it up) that seems intentionally designed to separate it from its telephone-industry history.

The ELCA did the same thing some years ago with its now-defunct radio ministry, Lutheran Vespers. Someone decided that, after who knows how many decades, “vespers” had become inaccurate since most radio stations ran it in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday mornings rather than at the close of the day. Okay-fine. They cranked up the task forces, committees, focus groups, and God knows what all else and came up with an exciting new name: Grace Matters. Which, as I said at the time, sounded like an ’80s sitcom starring someone named Grace, if Amazing Grace was already being used.

Again, there seemed a concerted effort to dissociate it from its own history. I never understood why. And keep in mind, I had no dog in the fight, nor have I one now in the Portico fight.

But money, yes. So I need Portico to avoid the fate of Grace Matters for at least another year. 

To avoid confusion, that would be December 20, 2012!!!

1 comment:

Erika said...

I heartily agree with your observations on Portico, etc.. Rumor has it that some of the absurd name changes have been forced by law suits or the threat of them. Lutheran Women Today changed its name to Gather a few months ago, so that non-Lutheran Women might consider subscribing. Never mind that a good chunk of it informs Lutheran women about things relevant only to us.
I write the new year every chance I get, because it takes much effort to wrap my mind around that it is not still 19--.