Are you an Oink? A Timat? Or just a Dimp?
Yuppie is the best known, Sinbad the latest. But there's an acronym for everyone.
Thursday 29 April 1999
Even if you don't believe that, you have to admit it's one of the best acronyms we've seen in a while. It's long, it's timely, and, best of all, it spells out a guy's name. Somewhere deep in the bowels of a demographic think-tank, a former crossword puzzle setter is smiling a little self- congratulatory smile.
Not since the arrival of Lombard (Loads of money but a right dickhead) in the Eighties have we seen an acronym that dares to co-opt a proper name, in the case of Lombard risking potential confusion between City boys in ill-fitting suits and a kingdom overthrown by Charlemagne in 773. Normally, social acronyms are content to sound merely silly, but the rise of Sinbad may set a new precedent for using names exclusively, or perhaps only names of sailors. Soon we could be speaking of Jasons (Japanese art students on nights) or Ulysses (University lecturer [Yorkshire] seeking service elsewhere sedulously), even if it turns out there are no such people.
The history of the socio-economic and/ or socio-political acronym has never been satisfactorily explored. A claim that certain disenfranchised members of Norman Britain were referred to in the Domesday Book as Nisps (No income, some plague) proved to be an elaborate hoax, as did a report that Cro-Magnon Man knew Neanderthal Man simply as Nesath (Nice eyes, shame about the hairline). Several linguists have suggested that the practice may have begun in the East, specifically in the foothills of the Himalayas, but this idea seems to be based largely on the belief that the word "Sherpa" stands for something, which it doesn't. No, if we seek are to look for the true origins of the social acronym, we must look to the New World.
The incisive pocket biographies that form the base of sociological acronyms such as Sinbad were probably first developed by American Indians. Thanks to the celebrated American historian Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves is perhaps the best-known example of the Native American tradition of name-as-CV, but there were many others. I am reminded of the famous story of the great Lakotan chief Works Well With Others, who tried to prevent his daughter Can't Cook Won't Cook from falling in love with the troubled young brave Keeps Himself To Himself, insisting she instead confer her attentions on the noble and sensible Good With Children. She might have listened, if only these descriptive tribal names were a bit shorter and catchier, but unfortunately the Lakota had no concept of initials. It was to take the arrival of the white man to bring the acronym to America.
Despite its reputation as a veritable hotbed of acronymic coinage, in its first 200 years as a republic, the United States of America produced very little in the way of social acronyms, apart from VIP (Very important person). Even then people were suspicious of the idea and most refused to pronounce it as "Vip", preferring instead to enunciate each individual initial. Little changed until the early Sixties, when Wasp burst on to the scene to widespread acclaim. So satisfied was the American public with this clever insect name for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, that the demographers of the day seemed content to rest on their laurels. Wasp remained unchallenged until sometime in the mid-Eighties, when the term Yuppie first appeared.
Most of us think of Yuppie (Young urban professional person in employment) as the first real social acronym. The term clearly owes little to its immediate predecessor, Wasp. Yuppie is probably a direct descendant of "Yippie", referring to hippie activists of the Sixties, and coined from the initials of Abbie Hoffman's Youth International Party. Yippie itself seemed to be the etymological bastard child of Vip and jazz-age terms such as junkie, groupie and, of course, hippie. But wherever Yuppie came from, it came to stay. Perhaps because for so many young urban professionals becoming a Yuppie represented something of a promotion, the term was happily adopted by those it was coined to ridicule. Dictionary editors, looking for ways to pad out their sparse "Y" sections, were quick to include Yuppie, and, Pinocchio-like, this little wooden acronym became a real word.
From Yuppie came Buppie and Guppie (Black and Gay urban professional people in employment, respectively). It didn't take long for people to realise this would work with anyone or anything. Coming up with a local version - Chuppie, Wuppie, Luppie, Huppie, Nuppie, Sluppie - was a favourite joke among unfunny people until they all suddenly gave it up in favour of finding new M-words to replace the "menstrual" in PMT, coining hilarities such as Pre-millennium tension and Pre-marital tension. They were dark days indeed. Meanwhile, on the sociological front, something was stirring.
Some bright spark - rumour has it the same man who invented "brunch" - had come up with Dink (Double income, no kids), a pretty piece of shorthand to describe a specific sort of yuppie household. Dinkie inevitably evolved from Dink, but it soon came to be spelt Dinky (Double income, no kids yet). Clearly some thought was going into this. After Dinks there came Dimps (Dual income, money problems) Oinks, (One income, no kids), Lips (Low income, parents supporting), Timats (Treble income menage a trois), Sincs (Single income, nine cats) and many other permutations.
If it sometimes seemed that unscrupulous journalists were just making these up as they went along, we must not forget that it was this pioneering work that led to the development of Sinbad, perhaps the finest social acronym we have had to date.
Another strand of acronymic thinking was running parallel to this profligate coinage of socio-economic resumes, one whose roots lay in the spoken word. Nimby, an acronym for Not in my back yard, has been around for a while, giving rise to the noun Nimbyism, used to describe the type of selfish, backward thinking that has delayed the construction of so many important toxic waste dumps. Further development in this area has been slow in coming, with little variation beyond Nimfy (Not in my front yard, and Nimsy (Not in my side yard), both of which encapsulate a similar political sentiment. Oimby (Only in my back yard) represents a possible antithesis, but for the time being it remains an acronym in search of a constituency. However, there is still considerable potential for acronyms derived from the sort of crazy things people say.
How many of us have been threatened by an atmosphere of Waylayism (from What are you looking at, you?), or harried by the current climate of Dyharcism (Do you have a reward card?) which prevails in our supermarkets? We should not expect immediate results. These sorts of acronyms are by their nature much harder work, and the chances of hitting on the name of a famous sailor are at best slim. For now we must be content with more complex variations on Yuppie, such as Frumpies (Formerly radical upwardly mobile person), Huffies (Heavy users of fast food), and pointless initialisations of common expressions (eg Motco, for Man on the Clapham omnibus) until someone, somewhere, stumbles across the next Sinbad. We must, at the very least, keep going until we find a funny one.
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