The atmosphere is energetic, the crowd boisterous, the contestant (me) apprehensive. So it comes down to this, I think. I can't let my team down.

But how can you support your team when you don't know what they're talking about?

That was my predicament at the New England Meeting Industry Conference & Exposition in April. Foolishly daring, I had raised my hand to take part in the NEMICE Challenge: A Live Game Show! It was a cross between “The Family Feud” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The point of the Challenge was to teach the audience about meeting and event industry terminology.

As I took my position at the podium, going mano a mano against the rival team's representative, a chilling thought flashed through my head:

CMP? CMM? What was the difference again?

Fachsprache

With only a year of meeting news reporting under my belt, I was no match for my fellow industry professionals. I might as well have been a contestant on a German game show.

“Was populärer weiblicher Fernsehenbuchstabe wurde von einem männlichen Schauspieler geschildert?” asks a smiling host.

“Uh, continental meal plan?” I respond. The audience boos and hisses.

Exasperated, the host says, “Es Ist Lassie! Jeder weiß das. Duh.”

Duh is right. In this industry, you can't pretend to know the language. Take the infamous CMP, which stands for certified meeting professional (a Convention Industry Council designation) and complete meeting package (as found at conference centers). Did you know there are 61 definitions of CMP at www.acronym finder.com? Couldn't they have found some other terms for those things?

Candy Adams, CTSM, CME, CMP, Trade Show Consulting, Carlsbad, Calif., feels the way I do. Early in her career, she received an invoice from an air freight carrier that included the handwritten note “dim wt” in the memo section. For a moment, Adams thought the note was aimed at her and all the simple questions she'd been asking.

“But they weren't calling me ‘dimwit,’” she says. “The note referred to the fact that my bill was computed not by actual weight, but by dimensional weight.”

Rant and Rave

In my year with CMI, I've heard many other industry insiders rail against such balderdash. A recent MIMlist listserv debate centered on the term RFP (that's a Request For Proposal, not a Request For Payment or a Radar Fix Point). Another concentrated on EBITDA (that would be Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization).

It's not just acronyms; plenty of other phrases in our biz have kept me guessing. I've learned that roping is not what a cowboy does to cattle; baby spots are not the result of poorly made diapers; and a waiter parade is not a group of white-gloved servers circling a room, usually with flaming dishes, which they then place on tables with a flourish. Oh no, wait: That is a waiter parade.

So why do we do it? Why do we salt our speech with jargon?

“Every group fashions its own language,” says Geoff Nunberg, a senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, California, consulting professor in the Stanford Department of Linguistics, and chairman of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. (He also has a regular feature about language on National Public Radio's “Fresh Air.”) “Sometimes a group uses jargon because of its peculiar interests — barbers, investment bankers, and molecular biologists all have things they need to say only to each other — and sometimes simply to reinforce group solidarity, in the same way that street gangs or preppies will all arrive at the same hair style. Slang marks us as ‘in’ and marks others as ‘out.’” A good thing or a bad one? I ask. “It depends on who's listening.”

Oh, in case you were wondering: Roping is that velvet rope stuff used to divide areas, and baby spots are small spotlights.

In the Know

Where can a rookie learn the lingo?

The Convention Industry Council's Accepted Practices Exchange's (APEX) Terminology Project (www.conventionindustry.org) defines frequently used industry terms, phrases, and acronyms.

The MIMlist (www.mim.com) — Here you can ask fellow meeting planners and suppliers anything you'd like and learn just by plugging in.

Meeting Professionals International (www.mpiweb.org) — MPI publishes a career guide for the profession.

POP QUIZ: TERMS OF ENDEARMENT

Pick the correct answer

  1. Arrival Pattern

    a) anticipated dates and times of arrival of group members;
    b) the line formed by airplanes approaching an airport;
    3) what quilting-bee contestants call their adversaries' coverlet

  2. Docent

    a) facility staff member who provides special services such as transportation and tour arrangements;
    b) tour guide in a museum, educational facility, or art gallery;
    c) slang for a bad smell — scent — and a person's reaction to it — “Doh!”

  3. Dualing Menus

    a) split (dual) entrées, such as surf and turf;
    b) printing a lunch menu and dinner menu on the same document;
    3) a fight between fast food restaurant staffers

  4. Planagement

    a) term for good management through proper planning;
    b) term for an arboretum's staff members;
    c) one heck of a typo

  5. Squirrel Cage

    a) the area in which a speaker awaits his or her introduction;
    b) Nicolas Cage's little brother;
    c) revolving drum used for raffle tickets



Answers: 1(a); 2(b); 3(a); 4(a); 5(c)

POP QUIZ: WHAT'S THAT YOU'RE WEARING?
Match the type of attire in Column A with its definition in Column B

Column A

A. Business Casual
B. Casual Attire
C. Cocktail Attire
D. Dress Casual
E. Resort Casual

Column B

  1. Men: nothing less formal than a blazer and slacks. Women: dressy pant suits or short, dressier dresses.

  2. Men: attire for warm destinations, including mid- to knee-length shorts; collarless or golf shirts; khakis and sandals. Women: linen sheaths, casual skirts or sundresses.

  3. A style of dress that is less formal than the standard office attire of suit and tie or dress.

  4. Men: collared shirts, sweaters, turtlenecks, blazers, and slacks, such as khakis or corduroys. Women: casual dresses or slacks, sweaters, and blouses. No shorts, jeans, T-shirts, flip-flops, etc.

  5. Men: sport shirt (possibly with jacket). Women: resort wear.



Answers: A3, B5, C1, D4, E2

Source: APEX Terminology Index