The Perils of New Terminology

The 90s brought a new set of common terms to the business world. There was “reorganization” and “downsizing” instead of “lay-offs.” There was also a new term for good office manners. “Politically correct” or “PC” for short (or should I say vertically challenged). PC became a major focus and many companies required PC training. American Airlines required that everyone attend a four-hour class on PC behavior. In the class, we were issued nationally popular curriculum that taught us to say “comb-free” rather than bald, “utensil sanitizer” instead of dishwasher, “morally challenged” instead of criminal, and “spatially perplexed” for drunk. For the first time in my career, but not the last, I felt as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole and Kansas was nowhere in sight. For this Texas girl, the most humorous, excuse me, smile provoking item on the list of terms was cowboy – bovine control officer. Some of the instruction text read similar to “Do not touch any coworker, man or woman, on any body part without permission. Do not touch any body parts between the collarbone and knees even with permission. Do not engage in suggestive talk, references to personal hygiene, inappropriate gesturing, or suggestive eye movement. We had a blast at lunch demonstrating suggestive eye movement. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of good manners and respect in the workplace, but the way it was described in the textbook of the 90s was pretty funny.

Advances in technology brought a brand new way to create, access, and present information. It was the world wide web which became known as “the web,” and soon after “the internet.” Fax machines began to gather dust as everyone marveled at the speed at which things could be sent by “email.” Larger companies developed an intranet for internal communication. I soon found myself creating and maintaining intranet sites for various American Airlines departments. I learned a tag language called HTML to create pages that looked very text bookish – no pretty fonts, nice colors and professional pictures.

Along with the new business terms, there were other terms fashioned by the pop culture of the day that I missed somewhere along the way of managing a household, mothering two children, and working full time. This was evidenced in a somewhat embarrassing manner when I agreed to assist my friend Cathy Lovellette in locating a particular toy for her son. This was a toy for which she searched but could not find within driving distance of her home in the cornfields of Iowa. Toy Story fever was sweeping the country at the time and Burger Kings across the land were giving character dolls from the movie as the “prize” in kid meals. There was Buzz Lightyear, Jesse, Potato Head, Slinky Dog, and others. The most popular, of course, was Woody. Burger King was distributing a large and small version of this character. Cathy informed me one day, via email, that she had every character for Sean except the larger Woody doll. She explained that they only had one Burger King in her area and asked if I would mind trying to find it at one of our local Whopper vendors. Loving a challenge, I pulled out the phone book to locate a list of local Burger Kings. Yes, we had the internet but Google was still a creation of the future. I began working through the list right there in my office using my desk phone. As each call was answered I asked “Do you have the Big Woody? He is the only character missing from my collection and I really need him, that’s the Big Woody, I have the little one.” I got very confusing responses such as “not yet” or, let’s just say very confusing responses. In the midst of my effort, Jon came by and dropped into my office chair to wait for me to finish my call. He began to laugh. I turned to him and hissed “Be quiet! What is so funny?” “Listen to yourself!” he insisted. When I finished talking with yet another person who possessed not one Big Woody, I asked Jon what in the world he was talking about. He said “Don’t you know what that means?” Until that moment, I truly did not. I am, however, pretty quick on the uptake and immediately suspected the alternate meaning of the name of the Toy Story cowboy. I cringed as I remembered the calls I made and some of the responses. Red-faced and horrified, I shooed Jon from my office and called Cathy to tell her what happened. “What? You DID NOT say that!” she whispered. We did not find the doll, but Cathy is still laughing.

Even after the Burger King incident, Jon continued to take me out. He got to know the kids and slowly came to the realization that chaos ruled at my house and that the best laid plans were subject to change due to fevers, missing dogs, hamsters in need of burial, or any one of the long list of potential calamities in a house with children. These things were a challenge for a man accustomed to always finding something exactly where he left it. Nevertheless, he proposed. “I come as package of three, love me, love my babies.” I replied. “I know that, and I do” he said. “In that case,” I said, “the answer is yes.” We married on November 20, 1993. Susan and Stephen stood up with us and we lit the unity candle together. It was something good.

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