« Book Report: Nocturnes | Main | More outliers in the Senate, or rather fewer »

Shabbos Frivolity: Harvey and Sheila

Your Humble Blogger happened to be listening to an Allan Sherman album—actually, the greatest hits album, if you can believe in such a thing—and thinking that it’s too bad that the songs have dated so badly, because my Perfect Non-Reader would enjoy this type of thing, but probably not these songs themselves. Both the subject matter and the song styling are foreign to her; despite my own preference for music that was popular before I was born, she wouldn’t necessarily find any humorous incongruity in a Nelson Riddlish arrangement with the shrill chorus of backup voices and the shlubby guy in front. And of course where Allan Sherman is writing new lyrics to the popular songs of the early 1960s, well, my children may have heard “Downtown”, “A Taste of Honey” and “What Kind of Fool am I”, but they aren’t likely to be amused by references to them.

Of course, it isn’t a problem with the songs, as such. The point of topical humor is to be topical; if you write a song today parodying today’s popular song on a topic of currency, it will very likely not be funny in fifty years. A ten-year-old in 2060 presumably won’t find references to Lost and Jay-Z and Avatar hilarious. Ignorant kids.

Anyway, there I was listening to the great “Harvey and Sheila”, which is of course to the tune of “Hava Nagila” and therefore at least is recognizable. And the gag of the song is that he uses a ton of initialisms. And the thing about initialisms is that once you lose the thing they refer to, they are completely impenetrable; I am hoping, at least, that DADT or DOMA are completely obscure in fifty years’ time. So for my own entertainment and at least conceivably for yours, here is a scoring of the initialisms in “Harvey and Sheila”.

Still in use: IBM is still around, as is MIT, and people still get Ph.D.s. You don’t need a Ph.D. to become a CPA, but you never did. A&P still exists, although they just this year closed all their Connecticut stores, curse them. TV still exists, in a way; it’s where they get stuff to put on hulu. People still call him JFK. Bea and Kay are still plausible (if old-fashioned) baby names, and many school still call their PTO a PTA. As of this morning’s news, the FHA still exists. Swimming pools still use H20. People who become wealthy still move to West L.A., vote GOP and are called VIPs. And the country is still called the USA.

Surprised to find still in use: A PBX was one of those company switchboard thingies, but when it was automated, they still called it a private branch exchange, and evidently they still do, despite there not being a branch, or an exchange, or privacy. True, a woman who works the PBX is now a techie, rather than a receptionist, but there are still women who work the PBX, so that’s all right. BBD&O is evidently not only still around as a company but is doing very well (although they lost their ampersand).

Sort of still in use: There are still used MGs around, of course, but the company doesn’t exist anymore (although there is a Chinese company that bought the name and is selling new MGs, of a kind). RCA went out of business in 1986, when GE bought it, but again there is a company that owns the rights to the name and you can still buy an RCA TV. AT&T lost its crucial ampersand; Macy’s is still very much around but lost the R.H. some time ago.

Not in use: TransWorld Airlines. And HFC is part of Beneficial, which is part of HSBC, which shut down lending from HFC as of about eighteen months ago. I moved this one between categories; the company and the initialism still exist, but Harvey can’t borrow from them any more. Also, for a middle-aged man who has made good financially, buying an XKE is not unheard of, even if it isn’t a new car, but only new to him.

So. Of 26 initialisms, there’s only one that is completely gone, and even that made it into the twenty-first century. After fifty years, the song is as comprehensible as it was at the time. To be honest, I never knew what BBD&O was until I looked it up for this note, and I thought the song was funny when I was ten.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


AT&T lost its ampersand? If I go to http://www.att.com/ it still shows an ampersand.

I was going to ask about that song from Hair, but now I see it only has half a dozen initialisms. Do people still talk about LBJ as LBJ? And is the IRT still an IRT?

Hunh. I thought I remembered American Telephone & Telegraph becoming officially ATT. I guess they officially became AT&T, and I just misremembered it. I think (not that I trust my memory anymore) this was around the time that KFC lost the entucky ried hicken, and FedEx lost the eralpress. But I might be making all this up.

And it seems that people do still refer to the IRT, as referenced in the movie Just Another Girl on the IRT. That was ten years ago, but that's pretty recent—particularly since the Interborough Rapid Transit Company as a separate institution was bought out in 1940 (according to Wikipedia).


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.