Blog in 11 2012.
So the word of the year is omnishambles. Also on the shortlist were medal (as a verb), Mobot, eurogeddon and YOLO (you only live once).
Usually this announcement elicits a barrage of moans from language ‘purists’. So rather than wait for them to moan, we’ve decided to pre-empt them.
A quick bit of Google research tells me haircare, screenshot, gridlock, frizzy, dead leg, geek and panini only got into the OED in the last ten years or so. And they’ve all stuck because there’s a place for them.
The fact is, our language grows as we grow. As new things (and nuances on old things) come about.
Trying to restrict it, as many academies have, is like refusing to buy your child new clothes when they grow out of the old ones. Eventually you’re going to end up with an 18 year old wearing a pair of trousershorts (to coin a phrase).
And that does not look good.
Last week, eight of us from The Writer ran a half marathon. We raised some money for Macmillan Cancer Support (you can still sponsor us). We all finished. We all got our medals.
But for me, it doesn’t end there. I’ll keep going. Because I do some of my best work when I’m running.
It was writing that drove me to running in the first place, while on sabbatical in South Africa three years ago. I was there to research and write a book and, to keep myself from turning into a square-eyed blob after three months behind a laptop scoffing my mum’s home cooking, I started running every other day.
At first it was a wheezing embarrassment. But after two weeks, something happened. As I became fitter and the running became more instinctive, my brain started going elsewhere. As if it clicked into gear as soon as my legs did.
In that half-hour run, I could suddenly plan the entire chapter I was going to write that day. By the time I got home, it had all fallen into place and I was raring to go.
Ever since I got back to London and my day job, the distances have become longer and the thinking time even more valuable. On early-morning runs before work, I can rehearse an entire presentation in my head. Write the first few pages of a proposal. Finally crack that killer headline. During one particularly productive 10k, I had so many thoughts while planning my team’s appraisals, I had to turn on the voice recorder on my iPhone so I could capture them all, breathlessly, while I ran.
So if you think for a living, I recommend you run. I never thought I’d get into it. But stick with it. Ease into it, slowly, and just keep going. You’ll be amazed where it takes you.
It’s official. Obama won.
You’ve probably already seen the two speeches. But here are the transcripts and some of our thoughts.
I thought Obama’s was brilliant. It was full of storytelling (seventeen little stories by my count), pronouns and personality. He mixed up the pace, he used words with oomph, and he gave little insights into his life and his world.
He made the listener feel empowered and like they were very much part of this journey.
I thought Romney’s left a little to be desired. He barely mentioned his voters (even though it was a very close race). He didn’t feel entirely sincere when he talked about Obama, and although he came so close to storytelling, he never quite got there. So as a listener, I felt completely separated from him.
He did have some good moments – I really liked his humbling honesty about how much he wanted the results to have turned out differently. But by that point, it was too little too late.
What do you think?
You know when you stumble across something online that’s so brilliant, you just want to kiss the internet? That happened to me the other week when I found a recording of Truman Capote reading out an extract from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It’s one of my favourite books, so I know the bit he’s reading very well. (Conveniently for the purposes of this post, the narrator is reading out one of his short stories to Holly Golightly, an irony Capote exploits for laughs about six minutes in.)
But hearing Capote read it out in his distinctive high-pitched drawl – and the audience’s delighted reaction – really brought it to life for me again. He had brilliant comic timing, so lines that just tweak the corners of your mouth when you’re reading it to yourself become proper laugh-out-loud moments.
At The Writer, we’re always telling people to read their writing out: it’s the best way to tell if something’s wrong with it. Running out of breath before you get to the end of a sentence? It’s too long. Putting on a funny voice? The tone’s not quite right. (I should probably point out that Capote wasn’t putting on a funny voice – that’s just the way he spoke.) But I must admit I’d really got out of the habit.
Then last month I went on a creative business writing course called Dark Angels. Reading your work out to the rest of the group is very much part of the Dark Angels philosophy. I found it quite nerve-wracking at first. But after a few days of doing it three or four times a day, I began to enjoy it, and to enjoy hearing other people’s work, too.
On the last night, we all read each other our final pieces. It was an incredibly moving experience – not just because the writing was great (though it really was), but also because sitting and listening to people reading aloud felt deliciously primitive. A big old fire, a glass of wine, hearing different stories told in different voices – just like humans have done for thousands of years.
So next time you write something, try reading it out. (Even if it’s just to the cat.) To check it reads well, yes. But also for the sheer pleasure of it.
And if you need more inspiration, there are loads more recordings of great writers reading their work on this blog post.
You’ve probably heard of the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China, the fast-growing economies leaving the traditional economic superpowers for dead. It’s a neat little acronym (which handily lends itself to all manner of punning headlines).
It was coined by people at Goldman Sachs, and it caught on pretty quick. Now they’ve come up with a new label for the countries hot on their heels: the Next 20.
I first heard it at The Economist’s grandly titled Emerging Markets Summit in London. And in one discussion, The Economist’s Daniel Franklin was fairly scathing about Goldman’s naming efforts. Next 20, he thought, really wasn’t in the same league as the BRICs.
It’s interesting that even in such a supposedly highbrow world as economics, a memorable moniker can make the difference between whether your idea takes hold or not. And it’s an area with some evocative language: crashes and crunches, even a Great Depression.
Words mean numbers, we often say, when we’re trying to convince people of the value of our work. Numbers need words too, it seems, to wheedle their way into our heads and tell a good story.