Robert McBryde Author: “Acronyms are a plague at the best of times, but given that the word salad generated by the Quebec education bureaucracy stems from French while its acronyms are applied in the English-language system, the inevitable acronymonius muddification is exponentially fuzzified.”

Acronyms, Quebec history, Quebec politics, CGEP system, satire, CBC radio, literary non-fiction, vignettes and sketches, immigrant experience, living in Quebec and in France, childhood and animal stories, creative memoirs, autobiography, family relations, raising children, aging, travel, social commentary, love and marriage, driving lessons, self-deprecation, Dijon France, condiments, translation: English-French; French-English

Publisher’s Note: Funny, manic, and wistful… self-deprecating creative nonfiction…The author, Robert McBryde, a professional translator, has been compared to David Sedaris for the sometimes-snarky autobiographical satire characterizing his literary sketches. Many of the stories in his new book, titled My Time with You Has Been Short but Very Funny, have been featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio network.

Author Robert McBryde


Author’s Note:
I’ve written a new book of creative non-fiction titled My Time with You Has Been Short but Very Funny, recently published and now on the market. The book is based on stories that I told over the years as a writer/ broadcaster and host on CBC radio based in Quebec City, Canada.
The book is available via my website. The purchase links are at the bottom of the home page. Please note that the Indigo platform has now been activated. 
I will post two blogs per week, normally Wednesday and Friday afternoons at around 4:30 p.m. (Eastern Time). Stay tuned!

Today’s posting is a satiric look at acronyms gleaned from 34 years of teaching in the acronym heavy Quebec college system. This text is offered as a belated birthday gift in reply to a request by a friend and former colleague and will appear in a future book titled It’s all in the condiments.

ACRONYMONIOUS…or adrift in a sea of alphabet soup
For Lisa Birch

“The search for meaning is as meaningless as the meaning itself.”
― Abhaidev, The Meaninglessness of Meaning

“I think my life is of great importance, but I also think it is meaningless.”
― Albert Camus

An avuncular yet harried voice boomed through the telephone receiver on that fateful Thursday afternoon in late August 1978. The caller identified himself as Ed Murphy, campus director at St. Lawrence College, which he described as a CEGEP (see the glossary of acronyms at the end of this text, if you dare) located in a place called Sainte-Foy, Quebec. I had never heard of Sainte-Foy, but the acronym CEGEP rang a faint bell. It was a sort of junior college belonging to the Quebec provincial school system, which differed distinctly from the system of neighboring Ontario, where I resided. As a doctoral student with “only” a thesis to complete, I had spent many summer hours sending off handwritten letters of application to every college in Canada and some parts of the United States, on an employment fishing expedition that had just yielded a first nibble.

The disembodied voice informed me that, if anointed by the selection committee after an interview to be held the very next day, I would begin teaching on Monday morning “with 50% CI if approved by the CRT and the PC.” So began my descent into the Stygian depths of Quebec acronyms.

Now acronyms and abbreviations* are a plague at the best of times, but given that the word salad generated by the Quebec education bureaucracy stems from French while its acronyms are applied in the English-language system, the inevitable acronymonius muddification is exponentially fuzzified.

A few days after my hiring, I was summoned to something called the Faculty Assembly (FA), which turned out to be an august gathering of “all members of the St. Lawrence community.” The chair and various administrative potentates had obviously fired up the acronym bazooka before the meeting, and all members of the congregation, whether initiates or novitiates, were peppered with a bewildering barrage of alphabet bombs. I inferred that the PC was not the local communist party, but rather the pedagogical committee, whose members were both feared and held in the highest esteem. The various “interventions” of Faculty Assembly members focused on the AEC versus DEC debate; whether there was room for a DEP after a DES; and whether the evil DG could be somehow deposed or circumvented. Something called PD was a subject of great concern and importance, with members of the PD Committee being both pandered to and vilified. I also had my first exposure to the Board of Governors, a.k.a. The BOG or The Board, which initially sounded like an entity from a John Grisham novel, but which I later mistook for bored of governors, the conversations about their machinations being such a soporific. The FA was definitely enveloped in a BOG fog. During the assembly, we were offered the services of PERFORMA, which sounded like a rival for Viagra specially designed for male college teachers, the gender that dominated the faculty, administration, and staff in those distant days of yore.

Staggering out of this semasiological initiation ritual, I thought that the depths of bureaucratic acronymic turpitude had been well and truly plumbed, but it soon became apparent that this was just the initial volley in a Kafkaesque war on sense and sensibility. A couple of days later came the first meeting of the CRCSLCTU (FNEQ-CSN, soon to be renamed FNEEQ-CSN), our local teachers’ union, an acronymonius realm that trumped all others.

The author Stephen King invented an acronym for what I was experiencing in the first days of my CEGEP career: SSDD…Same Sh**, Different Day.

As a member of FNEQ, soon to be FNEEQ, I discovered that I was meant to disparage the FAC and the FEC as a bunch of splitters who had Fecked or Facked off and formed their own union. And that a special place in hell was reserved for the Fédé, which I later learned was the employer’s association of college administrations. A whole pile of “F words” to master for a novice instructor still soaking wet behind the ears!

Another revelation was that I would one day be a beneficiary of RREGOP, which sounded like a particularly nasty belch emitted by a drunken amphibian, but was actually our pension plan, and that upon entering the Valhalla of retirement, I would belong to AREF, pronounced like the barking of a senescent canine and referring to the union alumni retiree support group.

Early in my illustrious career, storm clouds loomed on the union horizon. The PQ government, hitherto beholden to the working stiff, or at least to the massive union agglomeration known as the Common Front, decided to go all in for austerity.

In February of 1983, we literally found ourselves out in the cold (-20 °C) on the picket line and threatened with a major workload increase along with a 20% cut in pay, eventually topped up with monster fines and even jail sentences for union leaders if back to work orders weren’t promptly obeyed.

During this tumultuous time, I found myself in a dreadful pickle: as the junior teacher of the junior college, I was destined to be let go, job security, i.e. tenure, notwithstanding. The prospect of unemployment led to a bout of Bell’s palsy, with the whole left side of my face becoming frozen in a preposterous rictus resembling that of future Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and to a case of disfiguring hives.


It was during those dark days that I became a St. Lawrence pioneer, more precisely the institution’s very first MED.

MED…an acronym that strikes terror into the heart of any CEGEP teacher. I first heard the term when the campus director informed me that with the government cutbacks and imposed workload increases “my PES was insufficient and that I would not have an FTE.” PES didn’t refer to those little candies we used to gobble out of a dispenser during childhood, but rather to the fact that I wouldn’t be allocated enough students per week to achieve the status of a full-time equivalent (FTE) instructor. Thus I was about to become a MED, i.e. mise en disponibilité, or in plain franglais I would be out of work, if not quite out on my ass.



So it was that I founded St. Lawrence’s Club MED, with a membership of one forlorn and baffled soul, to wit, me.
As a MED, I was slated to lose 50% of a salary that was also being cut by 20%.
However, my fellow teachers kindly concocted a plan to release me from the vice-like grip of Club MED penury. A group of unMED brothers suggested that I be appointed union president to profit from what they called “release time,” which conjured images of Engelbert Humperdinck singing “Please Release Me, Let Me Go” but actually referred to a remunerated workload equivalent for union duties.

So I spent one glorious year as union president, being inundated by another tsunami of acronyms and choking on acrid cigarette smoke during interminable meetings attended by FNEEQ union representatives and other hirsute CSN worthies who handed out reams of documents and pamphlets and bellowed the French equivalent of slogans such as “Down with the evil capitalists, say I.”

Like the American actor Natasha Lyonne, I see absurdity in most situations. It’s my experience of how life works, as it is hers.

I just couldn’t take all the jargon and all the pamphleteering seriously. I felt like the participants had to be joking.

Wading through all the pamphlets and papers, and listening to all the speeches and posturing, made me giddy. I experienced what the Czech author, Milan Kundera, referred to as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a sensation that one’s life is devoid of inherent meaning or significance.

And the rest of my 34-year career immersion in a turbulent sea of acronyms did nothing to dispel the sensation of drowning without a cause. As is the case today, I sought refuge from the weirdness of those times by writing my first book, titled State of Disunion, a satiric compilation and explanation of the alphabet soup that had become our daily CGEP broth.

For years, the book was printed by the union and given to new teachers who arrived in the cuckoo land of CEGEP acronymity. It has since disappeared, evanescing like those antique days of faculty assemblies and union meetings that predated the advent of the computer.

It was often suggested that the book be updated or rewritten to include such gems as IPESA, IPEP, IPESL, and IMAP, products of the CEEC, an employer body dealing with quality assurance mechanisms within the college sector. Also vying for inclusion would be weird and wonderful acronyms linked to the 21st century internal messaging system OMNIVOX, a terrifyingly portentous entity adrift in cyberspace that spawned the anthropomorphic horrors of LÉA, CLARA, and MIO, all linked to the LMS (Learning Management System).

But the solicited update never materialized; until today.

This short vignette, a little slice of St. Lawrence folklore, is dedicated to all those who have navigated the system, and those who are immersed in it still.

Remember “You can’t take over the world without a good acronym.”
― C.S. Woolley


*An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word used in place of the full word (e.g., Inc.). An acronym is a word formed from the first letters of each of the words in a phrase or name (e.g., NREL or DOE). A distinction without a difference.


“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” – Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley