Go with a smile!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Alphabet soup.

I have found that Singaporeans love alphabets. Back in 1987, when we were building a subway system and we had to name it, we called it the MRT. Now it is true that many different countries have different names for a subway. The US calls it the subway, France calls it the metro, the UK calls it the tube or the underground. We’re stuck with a terribly geeky and unhip “am ar tee”. People have tried to vowelise it into the “mert”, but we’re still stuck with a mouthful of 3 letters.

To make things even more awkward, the LTA (land transport authority) has mandated that there is competition between transport operators – probably giving them different lines to run is their boneheaded idea of “competition”. The net result is that while SMRT runs all the other MRT lines, you have SBS (Singapore Bus Service) running the northeast line. The plot thickens. SMRT also runs buses, especially the routes of northern bus interchanges like Woodlands and Yishun and the surrounding terminals. (Note: in Singapore terminology, a bus terminal is a small terminal, and a large one is an interchange.) And so you have SMRT running buses. So there are SBS MRT trains and SMRT buses. Guess who put the “moron” in the oxymoron?

The funny thing is that the Chinese name for subway seems to be universal. It is di tie. Underground metal. Graphic, easy to understand, universal. I would call that a good name.

I don’t know why we call something SMS when we could have called it text. Why we call it GST when we can call it sales tax. When I tell people that I am an ADWS in the air force, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not as clear as if I were to say I’m an air defence sergeant.

Take an example, at a company, the job title for somebody who drives trucks is “container handling specialist”. Then the job title for somebody who operates container cranes is “container equipment specialist”. The person who came up with such names should be taken out and shot.

Contrast this with what happens in the US. Consider FHLMC. A whole bunch of letters, very ugly. But at least they try to humanise the body by calling it Freddie Mac. Then FNMA is Fannie Mae. GNMA is Ginnie Mae. What would our institutions sound like if we did this to them? HDB would be HarDBoy? CPF would be Capoof?

Schools and universities in Singapore also have a lot of acronyms, although to be fair, the acronyms are often used whenever there’s confusion when you use a full word. Therefore you use RGS, RJC, RI, RGPS to distinguish schools with the Raffles name in it. When you can get away with names, and they are unambiguous, like St Pat’s, Chinese High, those names will be used.

Which is a shame when you consider the names of universities. When they have a name, it personalises the places and makes them sound more hospitable. Stanford. Cornell. Oxford. Notre Dame. Even though when they have a state name, it makes them less hospitable: Florida State. Penn State. Even U-Penn. The most egregious example is MIT – well they are so famous they don’t need branding. But elsewhere – even California Institute of Technology tries to use full words, like Caltech.

So much that is great about universities comes from their perceived character. That is such a large part of the branding of universities. So why are our university names so drab? NUS. NTU. SMU. I think they want to depersonalise universities. If universities are seen as a second home, they could pose a political threat. Like the old Nantah?

I suppose the difficulty in our culture is that Chinese people don’t like naming things after people. So it’s difficult to name schools after people. The only counter-example is LKY school of public policy – and he’s still living, unless there’s something I don’t know.


Blogger Nat said...

The new school is SU (Singapore University of Technology and Design). I recall they wanted to call it SUTD. I bet STUD would have been a better choice or even STD, but SU???

10:48 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

So what are they going to call Fudan University? FU?

11:23 AM


Post a Comment