Why do Microsoft customer records use the abbreviation "cx" for customer?


As is common in many industries, Microsoft customer service records employ abbreviations for many commonly-used words. In the travel industry, for example, pax is used as an abbreviation for passenger. The term appears to have spread to the hotel industry, even though people who stay at a hotel aren’t technically passengers. (Well, unless you think that with the outrageous prices charged by the hotels, the people are being taken for a ride.)

For a time, the standard abbreviation for customer in Microsoft’s customer service records was cu. This changed, however, when it was pointed out to the people in charge of such things that cu is a swear word in Portuguese. The standard abbreviation was therefore changed to cx.

If you’re reading through old customer records and you know Portuguese and you see the word cu, please understand that we are not calling the customer a rude name.

The person who introduced me to this abbreviation added, “I just spell out the word. It’s not that much more work, and it’s a lot easier to read.”

Some years ago, I was asked to review a technical book, and one of the items of feedback I returned was that the comments in the code fragments were full of mysterious abbreviations. “Sgnl evt before lv cs.” I suggested that the words be spelled out or, if you really want to use abbreviations, at least have somewhere in the text where the abbreviations are explained.

If I had wanted to demonstrate the social skills of a thermonuclear device, my feedback might have read “unls wrtg pzl bk, avd unxplnd n unnec abbvs.”

Comments (40)
  1. John says:

    Hmmm.  I wonder if these records go far enough back to mention a "cu"stomer having problems with windows "nt".

  2. Chris Long says:

    The 'x' suffix seems very common across many areas of life – pilots use 'wx' for weather, radio people use 'rx' and 'tx' for receive and transmit (and related words) respectively.  I've always wondered where it all started.

  3. Chris B says:

    I've never really understood the affinity for abbreviations in code, and it seems especially oxymoronic to do so in comments.  I think some of that affinity comes from reading algorithm descriptions where variables like i, p, and q are to be fairly common.  There is a false economy in increasing code density this way. The reduction in characters will have no impact on efficiency, and will almost certainly cause confusion later.

  4. Gustavo says:

    As a native Brazilian, I'd say reading "cu" in an official document would be rather funny (while still being offensive, of course).

  5. Falcon says:

    Compression fail – they shortened "signal" and "event" by only two letters, but missed the opportunity to take four out of "before"!

  6. jmac the man says:

    @Chris:

    In the military, PAX stands for Personnel and Accessories, and it's used as a measure of capacity. For example, a 15 PAX van can carry 15 Soldiers and their equipment. In this sense, PAX for the capacity of a hotel room can make sense. In fact, I bet that's what it refers to in terms of number of passengers (and their luggage) on an airplane.

    The capacity of a 747 is apparently 366 PAX, but you can apparently cram 1122 passengers with no luggage in a 747 during an evacuation. (Provided you count when the plane lands, as two children were born during the flight. Source for both figures is Wikipedia.)

  7. Joshua Ganes says:

    I have a serious axe to grind with people who are overzealous with their abbreviations. If something is used on a daily basis and is overly cumbersome to write or say over and over again, that is the only case where abbreviations should be used. Clear communication is key in almost any environment. Why make anything more confusing than it needs to be?

  8. pete.d says:

    I am amused at the relatively low bar that lately apparently qualifies an action for being a "thermonuclear option" or demonstrates "social skills of a thermonuclear device".  First the simple act of throwing stuff away after guests have left, and now a little bit of sarcastic code reviewing?

    Truly going nuclear should be bigger than that.  You don't just throw old, unwanted food away.  You package it up and mail it, unrefrigerated, C.O.D. to your relatives.  Or just truck it to their house and dump it on their lawn.  Or you gain access to and delete all of the new code with the bad comments in it and tell the person to go write it all over again.  Or you grab a big stick or baseball bat and smash their computer.

    Those are nuclear options.

    Acting beholden to people who have no business sticking their noses into your household, never mind have any sort of right to mandate household policy, and refraining from even the simplest sarcasm in the face of seriously poor decisions in code-comment authoring, that's just outright political correctness, and only in the bad way (I grant there's a time and place for being P.C. but these aren't it).

  9. D-Coder says:

    The "-x" abbreviation goes back to medieval Latin. Note that the abbrev for "prescription" (Latin "recipe", "take this") is Rx.

    en.wikipedia.org/…/Medical_prescription

  10. Gabe says:

    Not only is "prescription" Rx, but in the medical industry "history" is "Hx" and "diagnosis" is "Dx".

    In the restaurant industry, you often see "chicken" abbreviated as "chx" or "chix".

  11. Cesar says:

    To help those who do not know Portuguese swearwords, and in the interest of keeping this blog polite (at least in English), let me just provide a link to the word's definition at Wiktionary: en.wiktionary.org/…/cu

  12. Sean Stapleton says:

    @jmac the man

    It may have started that way in aviation–i don't know–but it has certainly spread to a much broader interpretation. Pax records, pax miles, pax/year, etc…

  13. spork says:

    Re: "pax" and hotels — remember that many of today's reservation systems started out managing airline reservations and were later extended to also manage hotel booking.  pax = number of travelers = common data element that makes sense to share with the other accomodation providers.  Well, that's just my 2 cx…

  14. spork says:

    At a previous job, one of our partners did a lot of business with airlines, so the "x" suffix pervaded their comms. For example, we would be told "Called the end user, left a vmx".

  15. No One says:

    I would assume that the -x suffix to form an abbreviation is because it's highly unlikely that that abbreviation would be a legitimate word, curse or otherwise, thus preventing confusion when it is used.

  16. Jaanus says:

    I work in financial software, one of the most common abbreviations is "txn" (but not "tx") for "transaction". Our internal lingo and code is full of it, but we go to great lengths to never expose this to the end user.

  17. Bob says:

    Because Microsoft is using Hungarian notation and referring to the x coordinate of their center of mass.

  18. Gabe says:

    I find it somewhat puzzling that Medinoc was able to figure out every word except "pzl".

    Anyway, I just remembered that "abx" is a common medical abbreviation for "antibiotics".

  19. Abbreviated says:

    "unls wrtg pzl bk, avd unxplnd n unnec abbvs."

    Unless writing a puzzle book, avoid unexplained and unnecessary abbreiviations.

  20. Alex says:

    Why won't you do the same for "FIM 2010" – Forefront Identify Manager, which in Portuguese means "the end".. final…

  21. Mark says:

    And putting a line through a letter (as in "Rx") is just one of many ways of signifying abbreviations in Latin manuscripts.  Some nice examples at en.wikipedia.org/…/Scribal_abbreviation

  22. Earlier this week I found myself needing some deliberately opaque 'abbreviations' for five different modes. (Testing some image processing code in a blind trial: it looks as if the five modes will be labelled P, Q, R, S and T, to avoid obvious problems like having A/B/C or "new improved algorithm v 1" – this way, if the surgeons conclude mode Q is better than mode T for operating with, there's probably a good reason for that.)

  23. Tanghisx says:

    cx is a swear word in Piemonteis.

    We speakers of Piemonteis find it insulting.

    Please change again.

  24. Ceras says:

    "cx is a swear word in Piemonteis."

    Haha, microsoft fails yet again to do a simple search before deciding on something, sad and disappointing.

    "unls wrtg pzl bk, avd unxplnd n unnec abbvs."

    So whats the translation of this than or is it just garbage for demonstration ?

  25. hankdane says:

    Chris B: +1

    Ceras: You fail the sarcasm and reading comprehension test.  "Abbreviated" already translated the term for you.

  26. Dave says:

    "unls wrtg pzl bk, avd unxplnd n unnec abbvs."

    >

    So whats the translation of this than or is it just garbage for demonstration ?

    Oh good grief, doesn't anyone have at least a basic working knowledge of Sumerian?  It's quite obvious really, but to help out those at the back it may be translated into latin approximately as follows:

    Intendum feror cupidine partium magnarum Europae vincendarum.

  27. Medinoc says:

    I *think* I understood them all, except for "pzl". What does that one mean?

  28. Drak says:

    Without doing any research, I'd say the 'x' means "ommitted letters here", when there cannot be any confusion to what is meant. A bit like when you are hand-writing a long text and start to 'slur' by just adding lines between 'tall' letters and hope that you will remember what the word is afterwards.

  29. SuperKoko says:

    In French, cu pronunciation is the same as a word which means bottom back in a crude way.

    So, it's swearing in Portugese and French.

  30. GWO says:

    Does this mean that in Portuguese a "Cutie" is the equivalent of an "Asshat".

  31. Danny says:

    Transmitting X amount of data = TX.

    Receiving X amount of data = RX.

    Simple enough, no big deal..we all learn the X at math in school, don't we?

  32. Pondering says:

    @GWO:

    A cutie mark is then a giant sign on someone that says "LOSER"?

  33. Don Reba says:

    @pete.d

    If you look at the spectrum between being perfectly courteous and actually using a thermonclear device, there is not a big gap between your examples and Raimond's.

  34. No One says:

    Tanghisx: I hate to bite on this one but, according to Wikipedia, the Piedmontese (Piemontèis) language lacks the letter "x".

  35. SvenG says:

    Chris B: "I've never really understood the affinity for abbreviations in code, and it seems especially oxymoronic to do so in comments."

    Perhaps the author started out with languages that have a line length restriction, like Fortran77?

  36. Nick says:

    Pondering:

    And now with MLP on ONT I'll say WTF and be on my way :)

  37. Daniel says:

    It comes from mathematics.  A=πr² instead of area=pi*radius**2.

  38. Drak says:

    @Chris B: You mean you didn't start out on a 1k (or 4k in my case) home computer in basic? You wanted as small a code a possible, so a$, b$, c$, t etc…

  39. Renan Sousa says:

    CX sounds almost like "sex" to my ears. Are the people in Redmond really taking it seriously with these abbreviations?

  40. Let's hope MSFT don't have any goat customers?

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