Messed Up

In my father’s day, SNAFU, situation normal all fucked up, was the expression of choice when describing truly idiotic bureaucratic messes.

I grew up listening to SNAFU, and its’ close cousin, FUBAR, fouled up beyond any repair, used liberally along with English, Spanish, and the occasional Hungarian curse words. The pungent terms got liberally sprinkled throughout the working language of my father and his compatriots. 

I became familiar with their language from age nine because I worked with my father anytime I wasn’t in school.

When I volunteered for the Navy, I had an opportunity for further education in exciting acronyms, off-color terms, and descriptive language of a type only found among longshoremen and sailors. The one that has stayed with me is BOHEGA; bend over here, it comes again. This term addresses the longsuffering attitude among sailors that not being satisfied with sticking it to us once those in power make it a repetitive activity.

Now performers may have stage fright, others the jitters, but sailors know that the “Brass” has it in for them. Some Chief Petty officers seem to have a sixth sense for when things will go kaput, and our superiors will surprise us with a new SOP, standard operating procedure, that makes our lives FUBAR and all SNAFU’ed. It ain’t pretty.

Years afterward, While working as a practicing anthropologist, my early lessons saved me much agony. For about sixteen years, I labored in the government. I worked as a consultant to the government, on contracts funded by the government, and several times as a government employee. You could say that by then, I was jaded. So little they could do surprised me. Horrified me, yes, surprised me, no.

One final bit, and that’ll be a wrap. Someone once said that we should “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

 Think about this:

  • Next time there is an obscure change in the tax law that makes life hard for you, 
  • The library keeps sending out overdue notices for a book you returned last year – and located for them on the library’s shelves.
  • Or when the bank refuses to remove the overdraft fee on the transaction you did not make.

11 Replies to “Messed Up”

  1. SNAFU and FUBAR are both very familiar to me though I have no idea where I learned them or their origin. It was just normal expressions of things being a mess. I have now been educated. Thank you.

  2. I went to med school in Richmond Virginia at MCV. We had the second highest per capita drive by shooting rate in the country, second only to Washington, DC in the early 1990s. The acronym was STOCMYOB, which is what people said they were doing: I was Standing on The Corner, Minding My Own Business, when he drove by and shot me.” One vascular surgeon muttered, “Musta drove up on the porch, then,” since it was a point blank shotgun to the thigh wound and the patient was on his mother’s porch. In residency I also worked in my third year in a small satellite emergency room. I would be the only doc there at night. We were not supposed to get trauma cases, but the nurses would torture me by saying, “Well, a shooting victim was dumped out of car here LAST week and we USUALLY only get that once a month….” They knew I was a resident and trying hard not to be terrified.

    1. Ohhhhh the fun we used to have with fresh residents! The surgeons loved it when we taught them their “place” by slapping instruments extra hard into their hands after they dared to grab from the sacred Mayo stand. But your description of the point-blank shotgun blast brought back images of a Spaghetti Wrist( pretty much completely severed and hanging on by strands) that was dumped outside of the hospital in Cambridge where I worked. An ad hoc team spent about seven hours putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, and without the residents, it just wouldn’t have worked.
      Of course, Acronyms that were famous in the Boston area in the seventies and eighties were GOMER – Get Out Of My Emergency Room, and LOLINAD- Little Old Lady In No Apparent Distress. These were popularized by Shem when he wrote his book on the BI ( Beth Israel Hospital) called the House of God. While I am sure that he did not originate the acronym for the Mass General Hospital as Man’s Greatest Hospital he certainly helped popularize it.

      1. Not complimentary for patients. I think using it today would be considered tactless at the least, and probably earn you a well-deserved visit to HR.

      2. Very true. I went to medical school at the end of the 1980s, so a long time ago.

      3. Very true. I went to medical school at the end of the 1980s, so a long time ago. I have given all my notes to patients for years. I do occasionally say in a referral note that a patient is interesting and complex, as in the Chinese saying, “May you have an interesting life.”

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