Government abbreviations in one word: NOMO!

As an Ottawa naming and brand strategy consultant, order I once thought the technology industry was the world’s biggest offender in the realm of unhelpful abbreviations. But then I started working with the Canadian federal government…. alphabet soup everywhere. My answer in one word: NOMO!


The problem with acronyms / abbreviations / initialisms / alphabet soup

So there it was: “Governments MIA when it comes to good acronyms” – one of my biggest PPPs (Personal Pet Peeves) being addressed right on the front page of yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen. The article is a useful introduction to the importance of, doctor and hair-pulling frustration involved with, sick unhelpful abbreviations and insider short-hand in government.

The article even shows awareness at the political level from the same party that once called itself CCRAP. But it doesn’t go far enough.

As a taxpayer, I’ve had enough trouble navigating my way through the small range of government services I actually use. But as a consultant whose job it is to help fix brand communication problems, I’ve been right in the middle of the tangled thicket of jargon and shorthand.

Client: Your CV is impressive: PMRA, TBS, PWGSC…
Me: Great! so we can work together?
Client: Maybe, but the DG and the ADM might RFP, so PMO, PCO, and TBS are Cc-ed. CRA, DND, and PHAC as well…
Me: Uh, right.
Client: So as an SME SP without SC…
Me: I’m SOL?

And that’s before we actually get to work. Once I do, my consulting task is usually to explain existing services and programs in plain language, as I’ve done with Public Works and Government Services Canada (TPSGC-PWGSC), Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS-SCT),  Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA-ARLA), and others. But I can’t do that until I’ve gone through the lengthy process of myself figuring out the thing I’m supposed to be explaining, (so the PMBB isn’t the same as the NMAO?) and then making sure that my clients can in turn understand and explain it in the simplest possible terms – without shorthand.

At other times, I’ve actually had the joyous opportunity to name, or better yet un-name or re-name, a government entity. For example, a few years ago, I helped Industry Canada launch a new coast-to-coast service for business, which we called simply “Canada Business”. A boring name perhaps, but the intent couldn’t be plainer, and even better, doesn’t need to be abbreviated (“CanBiz” and “CB” were rejected early in the process).

Why the terms don’t help

But in trying to talk about this problem, the word “acronym” itself is one of the problems. So is“initialism”. So is “abbreviation”. I’ve tried sorting through this with a glossary at But I apologize if it’s still confusing.

And to technically-minded bureaucrats, these words have such specific definitions, and are so widely abused, that the debate always gets gleefully sidetracked into the debate over which term applies to which unhelpful short-form. Is FINTRAC an initialism? Is PHAC an acronym? Should we name our new program CANPAPHTHPT?

The average citizen says: “WTHC” (Who The Heck Cares)?

My modest proposal:

So I say we short-circuit the debate with one new word that describes the whole range of unwieldy shortenings:

NOMONYM: (NOUN) any unhelpful short-form, nickname, abbreviation, acronym, initialism, jargon, or insider buzz-term.

I created the word by (helpfully) abbreviating the phrase “NO More Obscure Nomenclature!” Although “NO-MOre-NYMs” works just as well.

In common usage, I recommend that this term be further shortened to “NOMO” and shouted loudly at government seminars, workshops, and brainstorming sessions.

Usage examples for “NOMO”:

  • Scenario 1: CRA needs a TTB from the WTH before you get an XYZ.
  • Response: all the people shout “NOMO!”
  • Scenario 2: government announces BPH moves RPHCAN to TLA.
  • Response: all the people shout “NOMO!”
  • Scenario 3: the DND/CF CEFCOM JTF-Afg and TFK BGen of ISAF, launches Operation ROOB, UNYIP, JANOOBI (I’m not making that up)
  • Response: all the people shout “NOMO!”

Use NOMO as a noun, a verb, an adjective, whatever you like. But shout it loudly, so it is heard throughout government boardrooms, corridors, brainstorming sessions – anywhere a NOMO might rear its ugly head.

And as the movement spreads, we go through the whole portfolio of government agencies, services, and terminology, weeding out NOMOs wherever we find them.

Perhaps then government can do the one thing that citizens need most:


The whole NOMO series:

Pizza Hut drops the pizza… again

Beg to Differ notices that Pizza Hut – the iconic American sit-down-fast-food restaurant and purveyors of pizza pies around the world – have been tinkering with their brand again. And the result? Sorry guys. This one’s been in the oven way too long. That smell could be your brand equity burning.


(image above from the blog Brand New)

“The Hut” branding – half baked or over-done?

Well here we are one short year after the silly and risky-to-brand-trust-levels publicity stunt pretending to rebrand in the UK under the name “Pasta Hut”, ( mixed reaction here from Brand Republic TheHut_200x267Magazine) then revealing that was just a way of drawing attention to their non-pizza offerings (tee hee). But it seems the Hut-people are at it again, in the USA this time. And what do you know? They found another way to drop the pizza (in all senses of the term).

Their glorious Big Idea:

On their new chain-wide pizza boxes and on a growing number of stores, Pizza Hut is introducing an alternate logo and name: “The Hut”, which for the moment is intended to co-exist with the Pizza Hut brand.

The rationale? Here’s what “the Hut” has to say:

And yes, we’re also introducing another vocabulary word with Pizza Hut, which is’The Hut.’ That ties in nicely with (today’s) texting generation. We wanted to make sure that Pizza Hut and ‘The Hut’ become common vernacular for our brand. Pizza Hut CMO Brian Niccol in BrandWeek

Ah, got it. Trying to create “common vernacular” – a term which incidentally, is also a big hit with “today’s texting generation.”

Now I’m not sure what Jabba & co. make of this – or if the idea actually came from the SpaceBalls character “Pizza the Hut“, but I’m thinking it’s a really bad idea. It’s one thing to try to introduce a new nick-name (and this one isn’t totally implausible). But it’s quite another to spring the nickname on people in such a way that you create brand confusion and cause people to question your commitment to core product.

And I’m not alone:

It’s a mystery to me why just a year after the whole Pasta Hut rebrand the company would now start a whole new renaming mission by introducing The Hut. Having spent 12 months being either Pizza Hut or Pasta Hut, the business seems to be testing out a third name. Wed, 17 Jun 2009 | By Ruth Mortimer | Marketing Week UK

My take: My recommendation would be to start slow and go organic. Use “The Hut” in a tagline. As in: “Pizza Hut – Get Pizza and More at the Hut”. Then IF IT STICKS start using it more and more until eventually you can claim a name change about by popular demand.

More reaction (from abroad):

Jabba Reacts - med2

Thanks to Brand New for the tip-off and design blog idsgn for analysis and the before / after image above.

Am I being too harsh? Comment away!

Brand Brief: Trident loses intensity

Trident “Less Intense” – both a sign of changing times and a spectacular positioning error.

The Trident "More Flavour / Less Intense" positioning statement - along with the "Intense" tag used by competitor Dentyne.
The Trident "More Flavour / Less Intense" positioning statement - along with the "Intense" tag used by competitor Dentyne.

All right brand geeks, viagra 60mg have a go at this one.

As a life-long gum addict, doctor (full disclosure – Excel is my brand) I’m always interested in the contortions gum-makers go to to get my attention in a crowded brandfield. But this one really jumped out as both a sign of changing times and a spectacular positioning error.

Changing Times:

It seems like the “Extreme” superlatives and the “Intense” flavour / fashion / lifestyle experiences pushed by advertisers in the mid 00’s are pulling back a bit under the weight of recession. I remeber being stumped a bit why my anti-perspirant Degree started pushing new scents like “EXTREME BLAST” a few years back — which seems to me to be the LAST thing you want eminating from your armpits…

But increasingly, the consumer branding pitch seems to be less about trying new things and getting back to fundamentals. Witness the sheepish positioning line “Less Intense”.

Positioning Errors:

1) Apologetic Subtext: Sorry everybody, we didn’t mean to offend you with our intense taste for the last few decades…

2) Confusing juxtaposition: of “Now more flavour…” and “LESS INTENSE!!!!!!!!” (puncuation added) Huh?!?! I’m a bit slow on my flavour-industry jargon, but isn’t that a bit like saying about a new painting “It’s more beautiful, BUT YOU WON’T BE OVERWHELMED BY THAT ANNNOYING BEAUTY LIKE BEFORE!!!!!!”

Okay, I’m done. Any thoughts? Join the converstation!