Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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  • Published: Apr 2nd, 2019
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Foolish slang…

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I recently picked up a well-thumbed copy of Ward Lock & Co’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language.

Standard dictionary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in 1925 and priced, as it says in the introduction, “within the means of all” at 6d (about £1 in today’s money), it “sought to give the general reader and the student an up-to-date and entirely trustworthy work of reference…allowing its due weight to modernity, and omitting no word used frequently”.

Accordingly, it defines words “as tersely and briefly as possible…because to the average reader brevity often conveys clearly what wordiness obscures”. Its definition of cognac is a case in point. Aficionados may appreciate knowing that cognac has to be double-distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais, but to the everyday reader (or drinker), cognac is indeed simply “France’s finest brandy”.

On slang it is similarly precise and practical. “The slang that expresses clearly what without it cannot be expressed at all [is] welcomed as the idiom of tomorrow”. “The foolish slang that merely expresses badly what classical English can convey better [is] ignored”.

Clear, concise, confident – this great little dog-eared guide is everything you could wish for from a dictionary for all. Well worth the 6d back in 1925 and an absolute bargain for me today – I’d gladly have paid £1 or so but in the event it didn’t cost me a penny.

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  • Published: Mar 1st, 2019
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To go…to testify…

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To the Wellcome Collection, to see an excellent exhibition on Living with Buildings. It features Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ winning work on the Doctors of the World Global Clinic. Designed to be constructed in one day by doctors and nurses in the field, the clinic is a big step on from the tents and shipping containers the international health charity usually has to turn to when providing critical medical care in often far flung places around the world.

From initial ideas…

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to finished version…

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…the clinic is a plywood wonder.

And Doctors of the World is a wonder, too. Formed in 1980 to help the many Vietnamese refugees who had fled the country after the Vietnam War, its aim is “to go where others will not, to testify to the intolerable, and to volunteer.” In an age when it’s increasingly fashionable and indeed good for every organisation to have a purpose, this one really strikes home and sticks in the mind. I reckon it’s that great phrase in the middle: to testify to the intolerable. Meaningful and memorable – it makes it clear that Doctors of the World not only brings help but also bears witness. A mighty fine combination.

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  • Published: Feb 4th, 2019
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Something delicious…

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“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story,” wrote Beatrix Potter. “You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

As the creator of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and countless other classic tales points out, stories are adventures. And like all adventures, if you don’t depart you’re never going to have one. So pick up your pen and head off across the page. Who knows where you’ll end up. Perhaps Beirut. Potentially Gallipoli. Maybe even both places at once – after all, anything’s possible in the wonderful world of stories.

 

 

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  • Published: Jan 13th, 2019
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Natural brilliance…

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For lovers of brilliant simplicity, a block of wood that lights up when you touch it, giving you a lovely way into your online world:

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“Humans are designed to interact with nature,” says Mui Lab’s Kazunori Oki. “So we put a natural material between you and the information. So you can get a natural feeling rather than touching or talking with plastic keys.”

A great example of the ‘truly good and beautiful’, it is due to go on sale later this year. Add it to your 2019 Christmas list.

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  • Published: Dec 4th, 2018
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The long why…

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In Japan, home to more centenarians than any other country, the island of Okinawa is known as “land of the immortals”. It’s where over 1,000 people aged over 100 live.

How come so many Okinawans live so long? Having a reason for living makes a big difference. According to longevity expert Dan Buettner, focusing on your purpose can add up to seven years to your life. So it’s no surprise that on Okinawa people set up friendship groups known as ‘moai’, which means ‘meeting for a common purpose’. Across Japan there’s a rather lovely word for this purposeful way of living: ‘ikigai’ – ‘the reason you get up in the morning’.

For people, and for companies, the secret of a long life is to have a strong why. So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution as we head towards 2019, why not find and/or fine tune your ikigai. Here’s to a long and happy life for all.

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  • Published: Nov 2nd, 2018
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The noise words make…

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Sorting through various family papers, I came across a letter the poet P J Kavanagh had written to my mum back in 1980. In it he says that “what distinguishes verse from prose is a tune. Not necessarily an obvious one but some sort of pleasing noise nevertheless… If you re-read one of your favourite poems, with this in mind, you will discover that a large part of what makes you like it and remember it is the noise it makes.”

Robert Macfarlane picks up the theme while bringing prose into poetry’s soundworld: “We think a lot about rhythm in poetry but we don’t talk about it so much in prose. But I’ve always felt that rhythm in language speaks to the backbone, to the back of the scalp. It’s what makes the head tingle if you get it right, and it does a form of communication that propositional language doesn’t. And so when I’m writing prose, as much as I can I work on the rhythms. And the very last thing I do with any book, and I’ve just done it with 130,000 words of Underland, is I speak it back out to myself, on my own.”

So whether it’s 130,000 words or 130 – make your words not only ring true but sing, too.

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  • Published: Oct 7th, 2018
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And on the moon…

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Situated all too briefly in Trafalgar Square, Es Devlin’s brilliant Please Feed the Lions generated a crowd-sourced collective poem which now lives online here, care of Google Arts & Culture. It’s a rich source of lovable language that cries out to be explored, relished and indeed remixed. I encourage everyone to dive in and craft their own combinations. Here’s one I made earlier:

And on the moon

The sun and sun and night with bright array

Breathe the infinite worlds away

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  • Published: Sep 3rd, 2018
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The loving product of silence and slow time…

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Towards the tail end of the 1950s, Laurie Lee wrote lyrically and longingly On Craftsmen:

“We are a starved society living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.

If we look at objects fashioned by the hands of craftsmen, we instinctively recognise something we need, something we may almost have forgotten existed any more – something designed to keep us human. For the handmade object is one of the last visible defences of humanism left to us, and the craftsman ministers to our most basic spiritual needs.

The materials he works in – wood, stone, clay, iron, living wools and natural hides – are still those divine materials of the earth for which there are many substitutes today, but no replacements. His products are the result not of the juddering steel press, die-stamp and reeking chemical synthesis of mass production, but of human skills and judgements which have filtered down into these pages, into this moment, through unbroken generations of eyes and hands.

It is this we are in danger of losing forever – the virtue of the handmade object, whose making yields to no factory speed-up, but is the loving product of the master craftsman, of silence and slow time. In robbing man of the use of his hands, mechanisation mutilates his spirit also.”

Zoom forward some sixty or so years, pause briefly to doff your cap to the current fascination with all things primitive tech, and linger awhile here – with a 2018 take on the enduring importance and appeal of craft, courtesy of iA’s Oliver Reichenstein. As Oliver says, “We know that what is truly good is somehow beautiful, and what is truly beautiful is somehow good”.

So long live craft, and the long-lasting loveliness it creates.

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  • Published: Aug 5th, 2018
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Calm clarity…

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Having recently returned from North Wales with another pebble for my collection…

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…I was pleased to see Robert Macfarlane singing the praises of Clarence Ellis’s The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide. He highlights the book’s “calm clarity… Ellis’s prose is lucid, patient in its explanations, and hospitable to all-comers. He relishes his subject across its aspects: this is an expert talking to amateurs, but also an enthusiast seeking to ignite enthusiasm in others.”

Taking the time to make things clear to all-comers, relishing your subject, not just explaining but sharing your enthusiasm – all fine principles for companies to take to heart when communicating.

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  • Published: Jul 18th, 2018
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Emotional ways…

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“Once you have a language, it’s about using it and applying it in emotional ways. That’s what makes the difference.”

Wise words from brilliant musician Jacob Collier during the course of explaining the concept of harmony in five levels of increasing complexity.

Whether words on a page or melodies in the ear, lovable language is emotional language.

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