Thursday, June 16, 2016

Non-Acronym of the day: “Jason”

The saga of Jason and the Argonauts  has spun off some delightful dubbings.  One, the “Argo” escapade, we discussed here.   Another was the secret elite group of physicists called Jason.  

An intrepid historian of science  ran down the true etymology, after an initial (indeed, “initials”) red-herring:

I asked my husband’s physicist-colleagues  “What’s Jason?” and collected the following:  Jason is an acronym fof July-August-September-October-November, the months this group of academic physicists   met secretly to solve the problems  the Defense Department couldn’t.
-- Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons (2006), p.  xii

That suggestion quickly dissolves  in the universal solvent of Common Sense:

These stories I didn’t elieve.  An acronym for months sounded silly.  [But more tellingly:] Academics couldn’t meet that long during the school year because they had instituional responsibilities.
-- id.

Another false-lead was the assertion that Jason was named after one of the members’ family dog.   Not.  The true story she tells on pages 39-40:  the wife of one of the members chose it, after the Greek myth -- most appropriate for a group that was going after the scientific equivalent of Golden Fleece.

The author adds some linguistic details:

“Jason is both a collective and a proper noun:  if you belong to Jason, you are a Jason.” (p. xiv)

Jason is usually capitalized [completely],  JASON, as though it were an acronym.  I have no idea why -- maybe because, written like a name [with only the first letter a capital], it might be taken to be a personal name.  I shall not capitalize it.
(p. xxviii)

Another reason it was initially written all-caps is that DoD and the IC often so style cover-terms.


The choice of Jason as a group name  is typical of the playfulness of physicists.  When DoD does the dubbing, the result is likely to be humdrum. As,

The task force was called the Defense Communications Planning Group, or DCPG, a name chosen for its meaninglessness.  (p. 77)

When a secret project does get a lexical designation, this may be chosen precisely to throw off anyone to whom the term might get leaked.  Thus, the Manhattan Project:  so named because it had nothing to do with Manhatten, and indeed was centered at locations far from any city.  One of the things they worked on (my Dad did, for one) was called “Tube-alloy”, a nicely misleading alias for uranium (which is an element, not an alloy).

No comments:

Post a Comment