Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Do you know the code?

I’ve been coding reports. Yes, I know. I’m an RN and a writer. Not a techie. But, you do what you must to make your way in the universe.

So in between these manic episodes of staring at really weird stuff for way too many hours trying to decide if it will wrest the correct data from the evil system lords who hold sway over all metrics, I get up and shake off the dust. And lately, when I do this, I think about how each world I’ve been a part of has it’s own special code. In language, we’d call them expressions, perhaps colloquialisms, or words or phrases that hold deep meaning specific to the environment in which they’re used. Some of them are really entertaining. And when you go beyond trying to understand them and can use them unconsciously in speech, it is one of the markers that you have undergone rites of passage and gained entry to that specific world. It’s also a way to recognize a true denizen of your particular realm over a poser, or, a tourist.

I think the Army by far, had some of the most interesting turns of phrase. A few come to mind:

Get down and beat your face: Place your body in the front lean and rest position and execute numerous push ups until the drill sergeant gets tired of looking at you, or becomes distracted by the antics of another idiot in their line of sight.

Deuce and a ½: a 2 and ½ ton truck, in camo, green, or desert beige, with a standard transmission. It doesn’t sound like much, but nothing can rock and roll over hard terrain at unsafe speeds quite like one of these babies.

Read you Lima Charlie: I hear you loud and clear. Most times used sarcastically if in conversation. If used during Radio Telephone procedures, it’s okay.

FUBAR: Used like “this s&*t is FUBAR!”. F#$ked Up Beyond All Recognition.

Hurry up and wait:
what you do any time you have to do anything involving the government, not just federal, not just army.

Ate Up: I love this one. It’s full use is “Ate up from the feet up”, but is normally used “this s%$t is ate up” or “private, you’re ate up”. It’s a more polite way of saying something is screwed up or messy, or some combination there of. I hear it started in California but this remains unconfirmed.

Case of the Ass: My personal favorite. Used “I’ve got a case of the ass about that schmuck”, or, “she’s got a case of the ass”. It means someone is pissed off about someone or something, enough to hold a grudge, and use that grudge to grind and axe and make that someone or group of someones pay for what ever it is that caused ‘the ass’ in the first place.

You’ve got to be smarter than your equipment: The first time I heard this used, I laughed so hard, I was immediately ordered to ‘beat my face’. We were pmcs’ing a radio set up that included slaving off a power line vs. a battery: (PMCS = preventative maintenance checks and service.) Anyway, one of the testing station teams couldn’t figure out what was wrong with their radio set up. The instructor had unplugged the set up. So, nothing other than no power. One of the team just couldn’t get it so the instructor, in frustration, told him he needed to be ‘smarter than his equipment’.

Corporate speak, damn, I could write volumes about that. It changes frequently, and you can tell what meetings and projects someone is in by the code phrases that inject themselves into daily speak. For the big projects, you all start to use the lingo because it identifies you with the project ‘tribe’. Other phrases and words are more universal to the company, or, the corporate mission of the day.

Lately my personal favorite is ‘leverage’. Used like “we’re going to leverage our resources to do x, y, or z.” OR “We’re going to leverage our unique perspective to gain market share”. Archimedes said “give me a lever and I can move the world” (At least I think it was him. Which is strange, because isn’t he the guy that officially discovered ‘volume’? Perhaps it was another one of the Greeks. The same guys who stole geometry from the Egyptians (who got it from the Atlanteans who came from outer space) and then claimed it as their own.) So in the corporate sense, leverage has now acquired additional meaning beyond a physics equation of mass, and motion, and is now equal in value to (or synonymous with) ‘use’. But ‘use’ doesn’t sound sexy. That’s why cars owned by someone else and sold again to another person are no longer used but ‘pre-owned’. I see leverage lately in a lot of adds, mostly print, or press releases, from a variety of companies big and small. Someone in marketing used their thesaurus, and it caught on like an STD in a port town.

One of the phrases I like to use when what I really want to say “You have no idea about what we’re dealing with, what we’re doing, what we just discussed, what you’ll need to do in response to this, do you?” or, when someone is bald face lying about something is “let me level set”. This is then followed by a bullet point iteration of the straight facts. I picked that up from a very assertive Vice President. It reminded me of in Le Femme Nikita, when she’s trained to use a nonsense sentence to mask the fact that she’s completely appalled but what’s just happened around her. Her sentence was “I never did mind about the little things” and was said in a smooth, yet firm manner, and followed by a bland, non-committal smile. Mine is “let me level set”.

Another key phrase along the same lines that really means “WTF are you talking about?” is “Help me to understand”. This is used in meetings where someone has gone off the deep end and is just about to start taking in tongues, or puking green vomit. You can’t really get a fix on what it is they want, or what they want is completely insane, so you’re trying to reel them in and figure out WTF is going on in their head.

“Talk me/him/her/them/off the ledge.” It’s what you do to your fellow workers when the pressure is too much, the higher brain functions kick off, and monkey brain takes over. They become all impulse, usually fueled by rage and frustration. You usually do this to them before they do something along the lines of committing career suicide.

And, let's not forget the gastroenterology department, where I learned such usable phrases as:

Code Brown. Used, “I’m calling a code brown” – meaning that what is happening or being said is a load of ‘guess what’? Or, that you have a code brown, meaning the bed pan is too damn late.

FOS. Many things in medical short hand are pared down to three letters. CHF – congestive heart failure. RAD – reactive airway disease. LFT – Liver Function Test. SOB – Short of Breath. And, there is FOS – Full of s@#t.

How many worlds have you been a part of enough to learn the code? I bet if you sat down, you’d be surprised. As an author, I think you can use this to enhance character. Even for a fantasy, or, space opera world – in these cases you’d create your own code specific to the characters. I think it’s this sub-text that shows authenticity, that there is more to the world you've built than just the bright facade. I recall a TV show called Space where they'd nick named the aliens "Chigs". That was world code and it worked. How many codes have you learned in your life time, how many worlds have you lived in? How might you use code to add layers to your writing, a way to further enmesh the reader in the 'ass in the grass' experience. (Ass in the grass, military, Viet Nam era. Meant you were on the ground, in the thick of it, getting the job done, so to speak.)

1 comment:

Alice said...

(I thought I'd leave a comment here, for a change!) Thanks for cracking me up first thing in the morning. As far as I can tell, you've lived more lives than I have, and in less time (and yours, for the most part, have been more reputable). Fortunately, no one ever made me beat my face, although it couldn't have hurt! I'll probably spend a lot of time today trying to remember some of the language peculiar to my "lives"! (At the moment, I can only remember some rather sick little in-jokes. Cabrini Hospital, for example, was "Pneumoncystis Cabrinii," and the song "What Do You Get When You Fall in Love?" took on a meaning clearly not intended by Burt Bacharach. Sometimes you just need to have a sense of humor about things, as you know...)