October 18, 2012

Office bullshit

Before the days of "synergies," "solutions," "leveraging," and "skill sets" there was plenty of office bullshit.

I've been doing some research on the history of commercial correspondence--letter-writing in the days before phone calls, faxes, and the telex--and have found many instances of "favor" to mean "letter."  It occurs especially in the locution "your favor(s)," as in "We beg to acknowledge receipt of your favor of May 24th . . ." as late as 1912 (Eleanora Banks, Correct Business and Legal Forms).  OED finds "favor" meaning "letter" as early as 1645, and by the time its letter F came out in 1895 OED editors labeled it "Now, at least in England, confined to commercial correspondence."  However, simultaneous American authorities label it "hackneyed" (Edward Hall Gardner, Effective Business Letters (1920); (Hotchkiss and Burnett, Advanced Business Correspondence (1920)).  The clunking respectfulness of "favor" could be made even more absurd:

"Gentlemen--We are in receipt of your esteemed favor of the 17th, ordering five car-loads of our best pine . . ." (O. R. Palmer, Type-Writing and Business Correspondence, 1891).

An example of another common feature from these old books: " Your favor of the 3d inst. is at hand, and we are surprised to learn that the books forwarded February 11th, by freight, have not been received.” (Thomas R. Browne and Edmond C. Browne, Miscellaneous Correspondence: Commercial and Legal Forms (Part I, 1907), p. 3.)   "Inst." ("instant") refers to a letter of the third day of the month in which the response is written; "your favor of the 3d ult." or "ultimo" would refer to a letter of the preceding month.

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