Adrian Williams: Metadynamic

(Minor Effort To Announce Dubious Yarns Neatly Allowing More Ideological Commentary)

In IC25 (p3) appears a reference to a BBC job carrying the title Engineering Information and Electrical Installation Officer, giving the abbreviation EIEIO; a newspaper article is quoted as the source of information.

That job title is inherently suspicious, for there is no obvious connection between engineering information (administrative or library work) and electrical installation (technical work); but it could reasonably be held that those of us who don’t work for the BBC can’t be familiar with its internal workings. The report comes to seem more certainly a joke when one recalls that a few years ago a Civil Service post was reported with the title Engineering Industries Export Intelligence Officer, giving the same abbreviation. Another variation on the same theme was the report that the last incumbent of this alleged post, presumably within the Department of Trade and Industry, resigned because he could not face announcing himself over the telephone as the EIEIO.

All this set me thinking; which comes first, the name or the abbreviation? It seems reasonable to assume that originally names were created for organisations without concern for abbreviations, these being used or not as convenient. Experience of abbreviations which formed recognisable words, or sets of letters that could be pronounced as words, led to a gradual increase in the practice of creating names to form a memorable set of initials rather than just taking what arose naturally. The practice is now common and few organisations use names that form awkward abbreviations. This effect has gone, so far that the National Association for Mental Health uses not NAME but the dummy acronym MIND.

The generation of names for organisations has thus become a process of convergence; thinking of a name or an abbreviation and then modifying both or either to reach an acceptable result. Jokes can be generated about the name, the abbreviation, or both.

It is perhaps not going too far to suggest there may be an ideological facet to all this. Taking an abbreviation as it comes is the simplest approach, suggesting a connection with the protostatic. After that things get complicated. The epistatic attitude to abbreviations places restrictions on what may and may not be used as an abbreviation, and this leads back to limit the names that get used for organisations. For example, nobody accepting the conventions is likely to introduce a title giving as its most obvious abbreviation a widely-used swear-word. The County of Dorset did use BF for its first series of vehicle registration numbers early in this century, but protests from the owners (at that date mostly rich and well-connected) quickly led to replacement of these letters by FX. Many three-letter combinations which might occur in registration numbers are much more suggestive, but these seem to be quietly omitted from the numbers issued. But epistatic restrictions have fuzzy edges; FU2 has been sighted on an E-type Jaguar.

To accept the restrictions and work out abbreviations calculated to comply with them, names and abbreviations interacting to reach an acceptable combination, would be to use the parastatic approach. This is an oscillatory process of convergence, either one or the other being under consideration at a time. There is here no sense of the dialectical relationships to be expected at an eidodynamic level.

An eidodynamic approach to abbreviations does not appear at all clearly; the nearest approach seems to be the deliberate use of abbreviations intended to flout epistatic conventions as a way of attracting not only attention but also, it is hoped, support. In practice this proves unreliable, embarrassing more people than it attracts, but that would hardly bother its dedicated practitioners. The nearest to it that I have encountered is the Architects’ Revolutionary Socialist Enclave. The name sounds somewhat artificial but the abbreviation is an acronym to attract attention, in the south of England if nowhere else. This organisation was reputed to exist in the late 1960s but has not been heard of lately. It never had many members, but that will not suprise regular readers of IC, who would not expect to find many revolutionary socialists among architects. It was not the abbreviation which put them off joining.

For a more positive eidodynamic approach to abbreviations, it is necessary to think in terms of an organisation changing during its life as its aims are realised and developed. Over a period of time, then, one might expect the organisation to change its name to match its new aims. The changed name might have a different abbreviation or not, depending on the motivations of the people controlling it. An example of retaining the same abbreviation is the CPRE, formerly the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural Engand, which changed to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, to show that it was not trying to achieve the impossible but recognised a variety of threats (farming practices, road-building etc.) which necessitated its continued efforts.

A possible future candidate for this sort of change is the industrial giant, ICI. Since the 1920s this abbreviation has stood for Imperial Chemical Inudstries, but in a post-imperial age a likely new name is International Chemical Industries. However, there are other factors which could affect the issue. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to reduce the names of big organisations to their initials, the abbreviation becoming the official name. An example is Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, now 3M. Possible losses from such a change can be tested for in advance to some extent by market research, and the results of such enquiries show that people remember and use the names of organisations more if they are short so, whether as a name or as an abbreviation, 3M is well fitted to its purpose. Research of this sort can give an impression of scientific respectability, but it is not science in the parastatic sense because there is no theory behind it and no progression of increasing detail within the current model (paradigm) of what is happening. What the researchers are doing is to ask for and summarise as many of people’s (protostatic) judgements as they can gather in the time available. This can be graced with the name of empiricism but it is hardly science. It may not matter as far as the organisations are concerned, but the attitude to the abbreviations is eidostatic. To adopt an eidodynamic approach to the abbreviations one would have to include consideration of the abbreviation(s) in plans for the changes of aims and name of the organisation. This is a case of more work for doubtful benefits. I am not aware of it ever having been done. Perhaps it is too much to ask anyone struggling to achieve social change to add another bit of nitpicking thinking to their self-imposed workload. The full procedure means using the parastatic approach outlined earlier and accepting epistatic restrictions, but doing it all in advance of planned changes in the organisation.

To try a far-fetched example of thinking ahead about abbreviations, let me return to the example of EIEIO. In Great Britain this set of initials carries, as far as I know, no denotations, but it connotes farmers who may or may not be elderly and called McDonald. It would be quite possible for an eidodynamic group in Scotland, involved in trying to change farming practices or land-uses, to use that set of initials to abbreviate a name explaining their aims and to think of alternative sets of names using the same abbreviation for future use.

In the absence of any confirmed use of the letters EIEIO as an abbreviation I continue to treat the combination as a joke. Sometime in the future, when the value of systematic ideology is more widely appreciated, there will be enough people involved to form an Institute of Systematic Ideology. At a later stage the Institute will have an Eidodynamic Ideologies Education and Information Officer. (I’ll apply for the job myself as soon as someone finances it, in spite of having to refer to myself as the EIEIO). Even if there never is such a job there will be jokes about it or something like it. Seriously, I don’t believe there is or ever has been a job in Britain with the abbreviation EIEIO. I now invite the readers of IC to find one and provide some evidence. Newspaper articles are not acceptable since I believe these to be rehashes of jokes in various organisations’ in-house papers. £10 (my money, not IC‘s) to the first person to provide evidence of the existence of such
a job in the form of title of job and organisation, address, room number, etc. I propose to check the evidence before I pay up.

[This article has been expurgated by the author at our request; IC does not repudiate all epistatic restrictions. – GW]

from Ideological Commentary 30, November 1987.