October 31, 2005

Buckingham Browne and Nichols

Daniel Barkalow mails me with the story of another piece of awkward coordinative nomenclature resulting from a merger of schools in my current city of residence. There's a fairly well-known private school in Cambridge called "Buckingham Browne & Nichols", abbreviated as BB&N. The interesting oddity, Daniel points out, is that the name doesn't have any commas in it. (It contrasts, coincidentally, with another Cambridge institution, the research company Bolt, Beranek and Newman, abbreviated BBN, named by a ternary coordination.) BB&N was formed by a binary merger of the Buckingham school (for girls) and the Browne & Nichols school (for boys). When they agreed to merge, it is said, they wanted to avoid undervaluing either of the component schools, and they chose to signal this by just writing the names together, without any conjunction or punctuation. (This is common in the corporate world, of course, and there is an epidemic of it in publishing.) Daniel suggests that the effect is the opposite of what they wanted, making "Buckingham" look like a mere attributive modifier of "Browne & Nichols". I agree that the effect is not quite right, but I am not sure I agree about why. For me, the ampersand is salient enough to suggest that it marks the major break — that the first part is "Buckingham Browne" and the second part is "Nichols". In fact the effect is so strong that I can see Buckingham Browne in my mind's eye, his bow tie prominent against his bright pink shirt, his expensive suit impeccably unrumpled as he steps out of his Rolls Royce: "Hello; Buckingham Browne at your service. Mr Nichols, I presume?"

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 31, 2005 11:38 AM