the power of words

The new language of tennis

Aside from John McEnroe’s relentless mispronunciation of players’ names (Jokeavitch, del Porcho) another element seems to have crept into the language of tennis this Wimbledon. War terminology.

I know it’s been there for a while in lots of sports but somehow it seems more prevalent at this year’s Championships. This player uses his big serve as ‘ammunition’. Another uses her forehand as a ‘weapon of choice’. I even heard one commentator describe Steffi Graff’s serve as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’.

Other words of war that have been banded around the commentary box this week include ‘firepower’ and ‘big guns’ – used to describe a big serve.

Maybe I’m being oversensitive but I don’t like it. Neither war terminology in business either – I particularly loathe ‘mission critical’.

The language of war has become very sanitised over the years, disguising to a large extent what’s really going on. Pretty much like a lot of business-speak – probably why it’s attractive.

War is unpleasant: people get killed and injured. Sport is entertainment, and while it gets tough at times, and players do get injured, it’s rarely life threatening. Same with business.

Business people in particular seem to think they need to use what they imagine are ‘dynamic’ or ‘strong’ words to give themselves credibility. Many end up sounding like incoherent idiots.

At a time when service men and women are in genuinely dangerous situations, receiving horrific injuries, some losing their lives, using the language of war in sport and business seems wrong. It devalues the true meaning of these words so they no longer have the impact they should. We no longer think about the horrors they really describe.

To quote Boris Becker after he lost in the second round at the 1987 Wimbledon Championships, “Of course I am disappointed, but I didn’t lose a war. There is no one dead. It was just a tennis match.”

 

A copywriting lesson from a children’s book

I bought the most beautiful book the other day – ‘On a Beam of Light – A Story of Albert Einstein’. It’s by Jennifer Berne  with pictures by Vladimir Radunksy.

It’s that lovely combination of just the right words set against gorgeous illustrations that make the best children’s books so enchanting and memorable.

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So you think English is complex? Try getting to grips with regional dialects

“Could a new phonetic alphabet promote world peace?” asked a recent BBC online article. Apparently backers of the idea believe it will ‘make pronunciation easy and foster international understanding.’

Well,l I don’t know that simplifying language would promote world peace but I’d be the first to admit that the English language can be a nightmare. I have no idea how people from other countries ever get to grips with its quirkiness and complexity. And then there’s our rich and varied regional dialects…

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Cut-out quotes: beautiful papercut art from Ant Design

If you’ve visited my blog before you’ll know I like images created with words:  I’ve written about several artists who work in this way.

I discovered Ant Design’s papercuts the other day and I love them. I know Ant Design as a graphic design agency founded and run by the very talented Kashmira Jhaveri. I also knew that, as well designing materials for corporate clients, Ant Design also has a gift range  but I’d no idea these lovely delicate pieces had been added.

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Client of the month: The Green Cornwall

OK. I admit it. Client of the month isn’t an original idea. I’ve pinched it from friend and frequent collaborator, Robert Games of Padmedia.  Thanks Rob!

I think it’s a great way to let you know what I do, and at the same time, tell you about some of the lovely, inspiring people I work with. And no prizes for guessing how often I’ll be posting it ..

First up is The Green Cornwall - luxury house and holiday cottages on the edge of Bodmin Moor.

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A cornucopia of collective nouns

I love Woop Studio’s collective noun posters.

These limited edition prints are visual depictions of some of the wonderful terms we use to name groups of things. They’re beautiful to look at as well as revealing quite often charming and evocative words such as:
a zeal of zebras
a blessing of unicorns (which I’m convinced are real by the way. I mean, why bother giving them a collective noun if they don’t exist?)
an aurora of polar bears (yes, really!)
a murder of crows
a murmuration of starlings (what a lovely word!). And my favourite if only because I’ve was privileged to see two of these rare Cornish birds in flight: a chattering or clattering of choughs

I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll just direct you to Woop’s website so you can become obsessed too.


Woop Studios was founded by Miraphora Mina, Eduardo Lima, Harriet Logan, and Mark Faulkner. United by a love of graphic design, words and images they set up Woop to showcase the fascinating and quirky world of collective nouns.

They aim to be the definitive website for anyone who shares their fascination, and who enjoy words, images and learning.

I hope you enjoy them too.

We’ve been truly dashelled today! Having fun with Forgotten English

Day five of Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English page a day calendar, is particularly apt. Today’s word is ‘dashelled’ which means ‘beaten about and wetted by bad weather.’

I was given the calendar for Christmas, and I’m looking forward to unveiling a long forgotten word each day throughout 2012.

I’ve already discovered such gems as ‘toad-under-a-harrow’. Apparently it means a man whose wife not only henpecks, but makes sure the entire world witnesses the indignities he suffers at her hands. And I’ve leapt ahead to the weekend where I found ‘gubbertushed’ – used to describe someone with projecting teeth.

It’s funny how words from long ago seem so much more expressive somehow!

Jeffrey Kacirk was brought up in San Diego. He became fascinated by the dialog and ‘general antiquity’ of Shakespeare’s plays, which he saw performed at the nearby Old Globe Theater. In college he became, “intrigued with European and American social history, especially the languages, activities, and customs.”

He’s included these longtime interests in several books and calendars which you can find on his website, Forgotten English.

His book of the same name contains recipe terms such as dilligrout, and uzzle-pye. Mmm, they both sound frighteningly like descriptions of something I might serve up…

 

 

Fur flies as Tories get caught in cat-flap – but is it a catastrophe?

If you don’t like puns, or cats for that matter, step away from this blog post now. Home Secretary, Theresa May’s blunder at the Tory party conference yesterday unleashed a flurry of cat related comments from the media who have been in pun heaven.

‘Clarke mocks May as catfight over human rights dogs the Tories,’ taunts today’s Guardian on page eight. While the headline on page 10 of the Independent states, ‘Fur flies between Clarke and May as cat tale starts immigration row’. And last night’s BBC news programmes purr-sued the story with similar glee (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Can’t you just imagine the Cheshire Cat sized grins on journalists’ faces as they opened their laptops after May’s speech?

She couldn’t have given them a better pet to play with. There are lots of purrfect cat-related terms to use in ameowsing headlines for this sorry tale. And so many of our words are prefixed with cat

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What’s the origin of Indian Summer?

 

 

Old Scotney Castle

There I was tootling along the M25 yesterday, on my way to Scotney Castle in Kent to meet a friend. It was a beautiful day and given the wet summer we’ve had, the glorious sunshine came as a welcome surprise. “Perhaps we’ll have an Indian Summer,” I said to myself. Then I started to wonder where the term comes from.

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Household words* – what our language owes to Shakespeare

The Yvonne Arnaud's striking Macbeth poster

I went to see a production of Macbeth on Tuesday night by the Icarus Theatre Collective at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford.

The staging was stark, dark and fabulous, and sitting there watching some excellent performances from the small cast of seven, I was reminded how much our language owes to Shakespeare.

OK. I know you Bard haters and detractors will disagree but so many of his phrases are still commonplace in our language almost four centuries after his death. 

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. And speaking of useful - scroll down and take a look at the Oxford Dictionaries tool.

Click here to find out a bit more about me.

Word Alchemy Blog