Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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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: Apr 18th, 2018
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He’s no tiger…

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On a recent trip to LA I was struck by the sheer brilliance not only of the sunshine but also of much of the communication. Our American friends seem to revel in clear lively English. Whether that’s shedding light on age-old tar pits…

goo

 

 

 

 

 

 

tiger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

or discouraging cars from driving down dusty ol’ cowboy towns…

hoofs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a confidence and playfulness in words we can all enjoy and draw inspiration from.

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  • Published: Nov 4th, 2016
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Private…

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While wandering the magical Cass Sculpture Foundation, I noticed this notice:

private-home-crop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No high walls or barbed wire. No blunt “Private Property – Keep Out”.

Just a quiet statement: private home. Not property, not house, but home.

It’s a neat reminder of how just one word can make a world of difference.

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  • Published: Oct 10th, 2016
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Three funny sounding words…

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Never Knowingly Undersold. These “three funny sounding words”, as John Lewis calls them in their current crop of print ads, sum up the retailer’s unchanging price promise to customers. It’s a promise they’ve stuck to since 1925 and one they maintain they’ll always honour. Indeed why wouldn’t they – good value never goes out of fashion.

But are they really that funny sounding? There’s certainly a distinctive character to them, which is an undoubted plus. A more straightforward trio such as Always Good Value would also be more forgettable.

Funny or not, there’s a lot to be said for the power of three, for example in adding melody and memorability to your writing, and in creating a groundbreaking way to give everyone, everywhere a simple address.

So in distilling your story and/or articulating your promise, it’s no bad thing to go for three distinctive words. Funny sounding optional.

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  • Published: Feb 12th, 2016
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Hugs with lobby…

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Put my postcode into what3words and out pop these three words: hugs.with.lobby

This poetic threesome rubs shoulders with other equally arresting triumvirates such as manual moon skills, tonic twig town, insist gold level. Although randomly generated, like astrologers’ predictions, they invite you to attach to them much meaning. This is a happy by-product of the core ambition of the business: to create the simplest way to communicate location by giving every 3m x 3m square of the planet its own unique trio of words. So for example, 10 Downing Street has slurs this shark for its three, while the White House has improving enjoy buddy. Read into those what you will.

According to What3Words, 75% of the world’s population has no address, but now we can all let everyone else know where we are no matter where in the world that is. A new take on triangulation employing our eminently lovable language – like all great breakthroughs, it’s both brilliantly simple and simply brilliant.

Applause all round.

 

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  • Published: Dec 31st, 2015
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From commuovere to komorebi…

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By way of an end of year sign-off, recommended reading for the new year: the delightful Lost In Translation, An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. It’s a treasure trove of lovable language – from commuovere (to be moved to tears by a story) to komorebi (the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees).

As author Ella Frances Sanders says in her introduction: “In our highly connected and communicative world, we have more ways than ever to express ourselves, to tell others how we feel, and to explain the importance or insignificance of our days. The speed and frequency of our exchanges leave just enough room for misunderstandings, though, and now perhaps more than ever before, what we actually mean to say gets lost in translation. The ability to communicate more frequently and faster hasn’t eliminated the potential for leaving gaps between meaning and interpretation, and emotions and intentions are misread all too often. The words in this book may be answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask, and perhaps some you did. They might pinpoint emotions and experiences that seemed elusive and indescribable, or they may cause you to remember a person you’d long forgotten. If you take something away from this book other than some brilliant conversation starters, let it be the realisation (or affirmation) that you are human, that you are fundamentally, intrinsically bound to every single person on the planet with language and with feelings. As much as we like to differentiate ourselves, to feel like individuals and rave on about expression and freedom and the experiences that are unique to each one of us, we are all made of the same stuff. We laugh and cry in much the same way, we learn words and then forget them, we meet people from places and cultures different from our own and yet somehow we understand the lives they are living. Language wraps its understanding and punctuation around us all, tempting us to cross boundaries and helping us to comprehend the impossibly difficult questions that life relentlessly throws at us.”

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2016, one and all.

 

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  • Published: Aug 26th, 2015
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Nobody likes a tailgater…

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Driving back to London along the M1 after a wonderful week in Wales climbing mountains, canoeing lakes and chomping chips, we slowed down along a sustained stretch of 50mph roadworks.

Nothing new there for anyone familiar with the UK’s motorway network, except for the unusually characterful traffic signs. Gone were the standard blunt and bland commands to keep your speed down. In their place, conversational messages: “Nobody likes a tailgater”, “Let’s all get home safely”, “Our Dad works here”…

With their refreshingly friendly tone, they certainly caught the eye and according to a Highways England spokesman have been developed with the help of psychologists “to improve the customer experience through roadworks”. I’m not sure it’s about improving the customer experience so much as making safety messages clearer and more compelling. On that score, the ones I saw worked well. Nobody does like a tailgater, for example – not even the tailgater themselves, when they stop and think about how dumb and dangerous they have been.

But then came a message that stood out by virtue of its worrying ambiguity: “You may not always see us”. Did it mean that the road workers were not always there? We know that already – how many times have you driven along a stretch of motorway roadworks with not a worker in sight! Or did it mean that we were not allowed always to see the road workers? A rather rude mind-your-own-business message. Or did it mean that sometimes the road workers were difficult to see. Yes, but that in turn raised another question: Why aren’t road workers more visible? Worse, this sign was on the central reservation, rather than on the left by the hard shoulder – the natural home for such signs. It was all rather distracting and disconcerting – the last thing you want when driving along a motorway – and made me hanker for a much simpler old-style “drive carefully”.

So, when revamping motorway messages or indeed any other communication, it always pays to pay attention to keeping clarity while adding character.

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  • Published: Apr 10th, 2015
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Rewilding the language…

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On reading Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks, his father observed that he was “rewilding the language” with words ancient and local in danger of being lost forever. Words like slomp: to walk heavily, noisily (Essex). And droxy: decayed wood (Cotswolds). Eminently lovable words as rare and rich as truffles under English oak.

“This book has been coming for as long as I’ve been writing,” says Macfarlane. “I have been collecting these words for a decade or more, in the same way you might pick up pebbles on the beach. It’s been a long time in the walking and the writing.”

And well worth the waiting.

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  • Published: Mar 14th, 2015
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Vive the free flow of words…

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Good to see France’s culture minister Fleur Pellerin advocating greater acceptance of foreign words into the traditionally insular French language. “French is not in danger and my responsibility as minister is not to put up useless barriers against other languages but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on… Certain languages, like English today and Italian in the past, have shown themselves particularly generous in offering French hundreds of new words.”

To support les mots justes from all corners of the linguistic globe – this is quite a volte-face for the home of the Académie Française. But it’s a wise and welcome one, for in languages as in all forms of human exchange – from stocks and shares to stanzas and stories – protectionism is rarely the best long-term strategy.

Vive the free flow of words.

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  • Published: Feb 5th, 2015
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The economics of clarity…

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In an article exploring the heavily analysed utterances of central bankers, CNBC’s UK business editor Helia Ebrahimi highlights the importance and trickiness of “making words perform the exact meaning one wants”.

Yes, words are slippery eels, especially when it comes to trying to synch what you want to get across with what people understand by what you say. Just what does Mario Draghi mean by “whatever it takes”? The phrase gains different currency as, for example, events in Greece unfold, and these events in turn are open to multiple interpretations.

Meanings, like markets, move. But that does not create a get-out clause for clarity. Helia Ebrahimi quotes former US Fed chairman Alan Greenspan: “If I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.” A neat turn of phrase, but one which makes light of always striving to be clear no matter how complex the issues.

After all, a little more clarity back in 2007/8 could well have meant a lot less crisis.

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