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24/7 ALL CATCHPHRASE, ALL THE TIME

Chicago Tribune October 20, 2000

24/7
ALL CATCHPHRASE, ALL THE TIME

Author: Marja Mills, Tribune Staff Writer.

Edition: Chicago Sports Final
Section: Tempo
Page: 1

Every era has slang that barges its way into pop culture. Think "yuppie" from the 1980s. Traveling at warp speed, it went from amusing little word to cultural force
-- slang that hit the mark and stuck.

The more-than-faintly derogatory label for brie-eating strivers captured the times. And that, say language sleuths who study these things, might be the secret of
success for another topical term to hit the linguistic big time lately: 24/7.

Maybe you remember the first time you heard it. It took a moment to catch the reference. 24/7? Oh, right. 24/7, as in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A way to say "all the time," but hipper. Younger. More urgent.

(Quicker to write too. Just three lean numerals and a slash; none of those cumbersome, old-fashioned letters.)

Now, appropriately enough in this rush-rush, hyper-wired world, 24/7 is everywhere, all the time. Or at least it can seem that way.

There it is on the Web. Businesses called 24/7 Media, 24/7 Technologies, even 24-7wrestling.com, news for wrestling fans.

Ameritrade's pitch, in a current TV ad, is, "We respond 24/7."

Of course, all self-respecting dot.coms promise to deliver 24/7. E-mail them anytime, any day, a.m., p.m. Go ahead. Fire off your order, your question, your
complaint. They're on the job 24/7.

And woe to them if they aren't. Those legions of yuppies want what they want when they want it. And they want it now. That's the beauty, and the tyranny, of an
Internet marketplace that never closes.

There it is on the bookshelves too. New this month: "CNBC 24/7 Trading: Around the Clock, Around the World." That's a business book in a hurry, from a cable
news channel in a hurry. Much like the never-sleep world of global finance it covers.

Also hitting the shelves this month is the paperback version of last year's "24/7: Living It Up and Doubling Down in the New Las Vegas," one writer's chronicle of
the always-cooking neon city in the desert.

There it is, prominently, on television, on ads, on sitcoms, on dramas. The title of a recent six-part ABC News series? "Hopkins 24/7," a crisp designation for a
documentary about Johns Hopkins, the Baltimore medical center.

Or how about this snippet of dialogue from a recent episode of the HBO show "Arliss,": high-priced sports agent Arliss Michaels promises a prospective client that
his associate "will be at your service 24/7."

Not long ago, presidential candidate Al Gore put a playful twist on 24/7 on "The Late Show with David Letterman." Borrowing the format of Letterman's humorous
Top Ten lists, Gore reeled off an imaginary catalogue of rejected Gore-Lieberman campaign slogans. One was a reference to running mate Joe Lieberman's
undeviating observation of the Jewish sabbath. "Vote for us," said Gore. "We're going to work 24/6."

And now, for the first time, 24/7 is in the American Heritage Dictionary, to wit, the fourth edition, which was published last month, updating the previous edition,
which came out in 1992.

"Many more new words are coined than we can put in the dictionary," said Joseph Pickett, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary.

But Pickett and his colleagues knew 24/7 was in wide enough circulation to go in the revised edition. "When it starts to be used in these big institutional publications
like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, then we really consider putting it in the dictionary," he said.

What Pickett and his cohorts had to think harder about was whether to write it out or keep it to those three slim numbers with a slash.

They decided on the numbers. "Numerals is an unusual thing but we've had a couple of them," Pickett said. "401(k)" won a place in the dictionary. So did "411,"
slang for inside information, the real scoop on something.

24/7 has its variations, including "24/seven," "24/7/365" and "24-7." But 24/7 rules.

A greater question to be resolved is why it caught on at all. It isn't one of those words that spring up by necessity to describe a new invention, a new technology. It
has time-honored synonyms, more or less. People latched onto it anyway."We already have words -- `continuously,' `constantly' -- that express this idea perfectly
clearly . . .," Pickett said.

"One of the mysteries of language is why this term got picked up by everybody and not some other terms," he said. "Some just stay in slang. There is no one who
can tell you why."

But in truth, 24/7 means more than old stalwarts such as "continuously." Like "yuppie," 24/7 evokes a particular, modern mentality.

"It's a word of the times, there's no question of that," Pickett said. "We live in a very, very fast-paced society in which work has kind of blended into free time.
Leisure time is not the same thing it used to be with people talking on cell phones and doing e-mail from home and things like that."

Harder than figuring out why some words are embraced is identifying where they originated. Pickett said 24/7 probably grew out of what linguists call
African-American vernacular English, or simply street talk. Slang watchers took note of it in 1994, and perhaps earlier. Hip-hop incorporated it early, with
musicians sprinkling the term through their lyrics.

Wherever and whenever it started, the term began bouncing all over pop culture in recent years. The Internet, the essence of 24/7, proved a powerful catalyst.
Hard-charging business types picked up on it. TV shows and commercials, those great amplifiers of catch phrases, picked up on it. Suburban teens considered it
cool, at least for a while.

"It's a good example of a slang term that originated in a corner of our society and was adopted by the broader culture," Pickett said.

Of course, stardom comes at a price, even for slang. It gets overexposed. 24/7 is starting to feel that heat, even as wordsmiths predict it will be one of those elite
slang expressions to have staying power.

This year, the term was a shoo-in for a Michigan college's semi-serious annual list of pop cliches to be axed: "Words Banished from the Queen's English for
Mis-Use, Over-use and General Uselessness."

People from around the country wrote letters and e-mailed Lake Superior State University to nominate 24/7 for the Jan. 1, 2000 list. They vented their frustration
about how often it is used, and the mindset it represents.

"24/7 is designed to make stressed people feel even more stressed," Californian Kate Rabe Forgach wrote in her nomination.

"Although it sounds somewhat biblical, 24/7 refers instead to consumer demand for full service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said, "something only a
newborn should be allowed to request."

Copyright 2000, Chicago Tribune

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