On Nicknaming

Or, the unbelievable cluelessness of terrible bosses.

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My boss is standing on the other side of my desk credenza at 9:30 in the morning and saying in a rather animated way, “E to the D to the ER. You are the Eeee-derrrr.” And I know he believes this name — E to the D to the ER — mitigates the fact that he’s an absolute bastard to me in e-mails and when he is having a bad day, but it doesn’t. Unmoved by our shared moment, I lean further toward my computer screen as if I need to concentrate on something important and have not just Googled my own name again only to learn the results are no different today than they were yesterday. “Joseph, I put some mail on your desk,” I tell him. I hope my tone sounds beat down and disinterested because that’s exactly how I feel.

I have a nickname for him, too, but I only use it when he is absent and in e-mails and conversations I have about him that are completely devoid of anything professional. Example: “ALL CAPS is getting a total boner over his new SHRED stamp” or “ALL CAPS just sent Vicky in Records an embarrassingly elaborate emoticon, then explained it was winking, at a party and smoking a cigar, before throwing in LOL for good measure.”

If you are curious as to the genesis of the name ALL CAPS, look no further than my daily e-mail correspondence with him, which goes like this: “PRINT FOR ME. STAPLE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER. BRING TO ME ASAP!!!” Imagine, if you will, the tone of Microsoft Outlook’s high-pitched alert notification going off when you open the attachment from the e-mail, only to learn that this urgent document is a spam flyer about homeowner’s insurance. Furthermore, understand that you were not confused about where to staple the document — you are young for your department but this does not make you a mental infant; at no point were you going to staple junk mail for homeowner’s insurance in the middle of the page, or at the bottom of the page, or anywhere aside from the upper left-hand corner of the page. However, now having his direction on this, it is worth noting that my professional life is a diet of rewarding work and respect.

To be honest, while I understand that highly successful people are frequently odd little birds with brutal Type A personalities that bring a special OCD quality to any situation, this doesn’t make me like him any more, and frankly, his nickname E to the D to the ERthe Eeee-derrrr — makes me lose respect for him. First of all, combining the initials of one’s name isn’t exactly genius or personal.  It’s lazy and impersonal and underscores my theory that he has a subpar personality. I know this because my colleague Steve is walking into his office and right now is greeted loudly with this exchange, “S to the T to EEVE….STEEEEEVVVVEEEEE.”

It annoys me that my boss and I are both known for our capacity to come up with nicknames. I find it irritating that someone I can’t even have a basic conversation with — beyond a few extremely contrived and generic sentiments awash in blah, blah, blah — shares my reputation of being a nicknamer. His nicknaming is not a gift, I assure you. His nicknames are the sloppy combination of a couple of vowels and consonants.

The nicknames I give, on the other hand, are a combination of linguistic flare and personality flaws that others wish might be forgotten or at least not exploited. My friend Kevin is called Tater Tot for his love of the fried potato snack and his short stature. My boyfriend is called Fivehead for his abundance of forehead. My coworker who always wears the ill fittingly tight corduroys is called Yeast Infection because that’s what a pair of tight pants can do and because it seems particularly cruel to call a grown man Yeast Infection. And, if I were going to nickname myself, I would go by Lazy Hygiene or Unfortunate Female Moustache or Awkwardly Bold Hair.

I watch as S to the T to the EEVE is dismissed from ALL CAPS’ office and sent on his way. Then I’m interrupted by the high-pitched beeping of an urgent message. It is actually addressed to S to the T to the EEVE but I am cc’ed on it so that if ALL CAPS ever needs to find this e-mail, this specific e-mail in which he asks S to the T to the EEVE to CHANGE TOMORROW’S LUNCH RESERVATION TO PLUS ONE MORE, I will be able to find it for him. For the gift of carbon-copied e-mails, I will be able to find any electronic exchange from the past no matter how trivial or demeaning to others.

ALL CAPS once asked me what he could do to make my job easier, “Let’s have an open line of communication,” he said. “Let’s talk about how I can help The Team.” That’s what I one day came to understand was his nickname for us, for ALL CAPS and the E to the D to the ER. The Team. This nickname made me feel weird as the word team evoked pleasant memories of high school tennis, camaraderie, and fun. I felt disoriented, confused, the way I imagined I would feel if he didn’t write, STAPLE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER on all of his emails.

“You could quit sending me e-mails in capital letters,” I told him. I didn’t mention that while he’s at it, he could insert the words “please” and “thank you,” or a disclaimer that read: “It is to my great advantage that you have adopted a disaffected nature that cannot be disrupted by my passive aggressive behavior.” “It’s kind of off-putting,” I tell him, not sure about my mouth’s inclusion of the words “kind of.”

“I know,” he said, leaning back. “People have said as much to me before. Have said they find it not that great.” He shook his head. “I just, you know, I get so busy, I just don’t really have time to…” His voice trailed off. I can certainly understand why: The Team has asked a lot.

“That is busy,” I said. He shrugged. The Team divides into ALL CAPS and the E to the D to the ER that afternoon. No longer defined by our combined efforts, by The Team, we are both free now to pursue what we are both born to do: E-MAILING and STAPLING UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER. • 3 November 2009

Erin Denver lives in Denver, where the bulk of her day is spent fielding elementary Facebook questions from her mother and unintentionally killing plants. Her work has appeared in You and Me Magazine, Skirt!, Underwired, Twixt, and Road Junky.

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