My bank has an ATM that is accessed by first using your card to enter the small glass-enclosed room affixed to the outside of the building. One then proceeds as expected to the automatic teller itself. But the bank recently made a change to the way transactions are concluded. The final event still results in the receipt emerging from a slot, but now there is audio, a woman’s recorded voice saying thank you, and then the final “I’m here for you 24/7.”
I don’t know when the latter phrase came into common usage, and I don’t care to look into it further than my own recollections. I don’t want to sully my thoughts with any more allusions to it. I have never used it except on occasions in which I am complaining about the use of it.
The recording is triggered when the receipt is removed from the machine. I tried to subvert that by inserting a similarly sized piece of paper above or below the receipt, hoping I could remove my receipt with a soundless result. That didn’t work. I attempted an impossible athletic feat, which was to remove the receipt and then lunge for the door, to exit before the voice offends, but I could not traverse the eight feet and open the door in the half-second I was allotted.
I’m not adverse to such numeronyms making their way from specific professions and industries into the mainstream. As a boy of six, watching Highway Patrol, “10-4” seemed quite exotic when Broderick Crawford would say it into his radio. What a cool job that would be, where you get to say “10-4.” Yet two decades later the phrase made further inroads with the popularity of CB radios, which led to movies, television shows, and a hit song with the line “10-4 good buddy!” The latter phrase didn’t come into everyday usage and the couple extra added words didn’t undermine the original allure of the simple “10-4.” Another numeronym that has become familiar but its use has remained tied to its source is 7-11. If anyone says that and they’re not referring to it being eleven minutes after seven o’clock, then they’re referring to the convenience store that goes by the name. (I was a teenager when the franchise first began popping up around the landscape, and I recall finding it mildly amusing to misinterpret their name’s claim to mean that they’re open seven hours a day for eleven months of the year.)
I was also quite taken with all of the NASA activities in the sixties, and some of those phrases stayed with me. (Though I recognize that my saying “Houston, we’ve got visual” when someone has sneezed is obscure.) Certainly the countdown became a powerful idea to me when it was followed by a rocket blasting off. They didn’t invent the countdown, somebody at NASA was inspired by Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon, but their popular cover version became the one that I think of first.
Given that we’re in an era of shorter attention spans, abbreviations, and acronyms, it’s surprising that a phrase, meant for its visual brevity as the written word, requires more syllables to say than most of its perfectly worthy substitutes. “24/7” is five syllables. “Around the clock” is four, as is “every day” and “always open.” “All the time” is three. “Always” is just two with the open implied. Any of those options work perfectly fine, and draw on a deeper body of knowledge, both social and literary.
Perhaps people are drawn to the forward slash in 24/7, but that’s solely visual and the bothersome nature of the phrase (for me) is its audio presence. Maybe I need to push back by taking up additional conversational time by saying exactly what I see: “two, four, virgule, seven.” One syllable longer would be: “two, four, solidus, seven.” Or, longest of all: “two, four, oblique slanting line, seven.” Nine syllables – I like it!
(Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg