Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 9, 2010

Which Part of Zero is That?

I parked next to a car that had a small decal on the rear driver’s side window. It read, “PZEV.” We all play the Acronym Game — trying to decipher what a given acronym signifies — and I couldn’t resist: Plenty Zippy Economy Vehicle; Pretty Zoned-out Every Vednesday?

I looked closer and under it was the caption, “Partial Zero Emission Vehicle.”

What? “Partial Zero?” Well, what part of an indivisible and impossible-to-measure entity like zero could there be? I’m not a mathematician, but I know that zero is a special case: it has no value (except in certain relative scales, like temperature, in which a zero temperature in the Celsius scale can be measured as 32 in Fahrenheit and another temperature in Kelvin).

They certainly must be kidding someone. No, that’s not right. They must be insane. What could be “partial” about this car’s emissions? Maybe they mean that only part of the car — the engine — is emitting hydrocarbons, while the rest of the car — dashboard, upholstery, sheet metal — is emitting none. After years of reading bureaucratic doodah, I suspected that this was some bit of semantic legerdemain by some corporate or government entity attempting to dodge accountability through obscure, confusing and downright incorrect language.

On I found an article explaining — well, outlining — PZEV and it stated, in part:

While it was thought that battery electric vehicles would be numerous on roads by now, problems from cost to range–and even marketing issues–led to a modification of the ZEV mandate that gave birth to the PZEV, the partial zero emissions vehicle which allows automakers to meet their quotas through partial zero credits.

Sure enough, it’s a dodge. And a Toyota and a Honda and a Chevy, too. The poor carmakers can’t come up with a way to meet the standards, and so rather than change their behavior (viz., making less than a certain profit margin) they rewrite the rule to include a logical impossibility like “partial zero.”

Look for this to spread. Don’t be surprised if your next job is “partial full-time employment” or, more threatening, your next paycheck consists of “partial full compensation.” Closer to the spirit of partial zero, though, might be your next visit to the doctor, in which she assures you that there is a partial zero likelihood of complications arising from the treatment she’s proposing.

What a language!


  1. Great commentary. Totally reflective of the world we live in today.


  2. can we then pay partial zero taxes on our partial income? I still like semi-boneless ham myself.


    • The current acronym is PZBH: Partial Zero Bone Ham.


  3. “Sure enough, it’s a dodge. And a Toyota and a Honda and a Chevy, too.”

    sigh – being overseas it took me a few seconds and a re-read to get that one.


  4. How prophetic George Orwell was! Double-speek spreadeth from the govt agencies to the corporations (that are now effectively the govt, but that are lacking the Constitutionally mandated restraints that have been placed on our govt).


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