Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who is Emboff?

I don't quite remember when I encountered the term "Emboff" at an early point in my public-diplomacy Foreign Service career (1981-2003). While on one of my brief tours at USIA (United States Information Agency) Washington headquarters, I was assigned, among other tasks, to read for several weeks cables (telegrams) from the US mission in Paris. In these missives, I kept seeing references to Emboff: what he did, what he thought, what he recommended. Having studied Russian history (my dissertation was on an obscure 18th century Russian nobleman, Andrei Timofeevich Bolotov, arguably his country's first pomologist*), I wondered about the Russian connection of Mr. Emboff, as his name sounded Russian.

Bolotov image from

After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that Emboff's family must have been White Russians who emigrated to France after the Bolshevik Revolution. My reason for believing this was that his Russian-sounding name ended in "ff," the way Russian émigrés traditionally transliterated the Russian letter "в" (sound like "v" in "voice") into French. The common US transliteration, however, is "v" (Embov).

The more I read about Mr. Emboff, the more I was impressed by his multifarious activities. He seemed to be everywhere: at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at meetings with French intellectuals, on a visit to the provinces. I also wondered when his family had moved to the United States.

After too many days, it finally dawned on me, when I realized that no ordinary human being could do as much as Emboff did, that Emboff was an abbreviation for "Embassy Officer," a generic term for US diplomats overseas ...

All of which led me to suspect that my slow-working brain cells were not quite up to the high standards of FSOs (or should I say FSOffs). But, largely thanks to compassionate supervisors, I somehow managed to pull through.


*He also tried to cure his serfs of hemorrhoids by the use of electricity, a experiment Benjamin Franklin never attempted. 

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