[Updated original post from April 16. Update is at the bottom of this article.]
So I’m originally from Wisconsin, and other than my tendency to store extra fat in the winter and an unfortunate affinity for drawing out my vowels in words like “mom” and “bagel,” you wouldn’t really know it. I moved to California fairly young, hence why I’m more likely to say “hella” than “uffda” (though both hold a special place in my heart). Side note: If you haven’t seen it, the New York Times dialect quiz is a pretty interesting test of how the way you speak reflects where you are from. Soda gang unite! Anyhoo …
People from Wisconsin have a special name for their neighbors to the south in Illinois: FIB. On its own, FIB appears pretty innocuous but it actually stands for Fucking Illinois Bastard which, now that I think about it, really isn’t all that creative, but what can you expect, Wisconsinites are frozen solid for four to five months out of the year.
That’s the thing with acronyms. Sometimes what they stand for is offensive, and sometimes the acronym itself is a problem. That’s exactly what’s happened with the “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,” which has been around longer than I’ve been alive (just barely):
The term comprehensive annual financial report was established in GAAP in 1979 by National Council on Governmental Accounting (NCGA) Statement, Governmental Accounting and Financial Reporting Principals. NCGA Statement subsequently was carried over in force in 1984 by GASB Statement No. 1, Authoritative Status of NCGA Pronouncements and AICPA Industry Audit Guide. It is now woven throughout GAAP and widespread in practice.
As it turns out, “CAFR” when spoken aloud sounds an awful lot like “kaffir,” a word much like “FIB” in that most people wouldn’t think twice about possibly offending someone by saying it (unless that someone is a jackass speeding down I-90/94 but I digress) but one that carries highly racist overtones for Black South Africans.
In South Africa, the term kaffir is basically their N-word, and in fact this 2014 Georgia Straight article uses “K-word” to refer to it. A bit of background if you’re interested:
An Encyclopedia of Swearing by Geoffrey Hughes notes the original meaning of the K-word is derived from the Arabic kafir, which means an unbeliever of Islam, also known as an infidel. It was used by Arab traders to refer to the indigenous peoples of Africa, then taken up by Portuguese sailors and subsequently picked up by Dutch and British colonists, especially in South Africa. By the 1800s, it was viewed as a racial slur and became increasingly taboo, and by 1976 the K-word was actionable in court in South Africa as crimen injuria. Some readers may recall that apartheid only ended in 1994, so the fact that this term was considered an affront to a person’s dignity prior to the abolition of apartheid should give cause for pause. Food writer Mick Vann has explained that the K-word was linked to the lime because the non-white workers used this lime in their cooking.
“Some may argue that this lime’s name in North America is unrelated to its racist meanings in South Africa, but I disagree,” writes Veronica Vinje. “Material culture studies by academics may wish to describe this as a matter of social dualism, where the physical lime has no bearing on the issues of racism, colonialism, slavery, class, ethnicity, and economics that the K-lime’s name comes wrapped up in, but I do not accept that it is okay to use a term that is offensive, insulting, and derogatory just because ‘I don’t mean it that way.'”
Realizing this, GASB has not simply brushed it off as modern oversensitivity and instead is undertaking a project to rename the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report to the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. While the change would make no impact on the reporting itself, GASB notes in its project report that it will involve updating a whole bunch of documentation:
Replacing the term would have no impact on the effort required to prepare, audit, or use GAAP-based financial statements. It should be noted, however, that because the terminology is ingrained in the AICPA’s auditing standards, the Blue Book, textbooks, and other professional literature, changing it would have a secondary impact as those publications are updated to reflect the change. There would not be any direct benefit to stakeholders in terms of making decisions or assessing accountability, but it can be asserted that demonstrating a willingness to make the effort necessary to avoid inadvertently giving offense would be beneficial in other ways to the GASB and its stakeholders.
“When you pronounce the acronym, it is a highly offensive racial slur directed toward Black South Africans,” GASB Chair Joel Black said in a media advisory. “As we and our stakeholders are part of a global community, we do not wish to be offensive to anyone, so we have undertaken the project to address this.”
Has anyone double-checked that ACFR isn’t potentially offensive? Better safe than sorry.
UPDATE: The GASB officially changed the name to Annual Comprehensive Financial Report on Oct. 19. Statement No. 98, The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, establishes the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report and ACFR in GAAP for state and local governments and gets rid of the previous report name and offensive acronym. No changes were made to the report’s structure or content, according to the GASB.