Surrounded as I am currently by all things baby, I have been thinking about the words we use to describe their paraphernalia. Both of my sons have dummies, although if you read the box they come in, they’re actually called ‘soothers’. I don’t know anyone who calls their child’s dummy a ‘soother’, and yet the manufacturers understand the state we want to achieve by purchasing them – peace and calm (hah!).
In America they actually call them ‘pacifiers’, which sounds much nicer, much more acceptable. ‘Dummy’ sounds like you’re using it to render them dumb – which you are, but (usually) with the best of intentions – to give comfort. It’s ‘sucette’ in French (the same word as for lollipop), ‘Schnuller’ in German, ‘Chupete’ in Spanish, all of which sound sweet and baby-like.
From sightings alone (and my sample size of one) I am sure we are a nation of dummy-lovers, but I wonder if our attitudes towards it are more negative in English than in other languages. I’d love to hear from other language-speakers about the connotations that ‘dummy’ has in their native tongue.
I loved Fry’s Planet Word last night – fascinating about how language has evolved and the way we do/don’t acquire it according to where and how we are brought up. What’s even more enjoyable (as I knew most of what he was talking about) was Fry’s obvious enthusiasm for the subject. He looked every part the eccentric academic, and would, I think have been a very inspiring teacher had he chosen that path. Also has made me want to delve deeper into the world of linguistics…
I’ve lost count of the number of ads and marketing campaigns that tell me that, despite appearances to the contrary, their product or service actually belongs to me. Not to the multi-million pound companies and their well-heeled shareholders, but to lil ole me. Who knew?
How else do you explain the incessant personalisation of slogans and URLs. It’s mysupermarket.com, myyahoo.co.uk, mystarbucks, myhotel, etc etc. I realise this is part of the social media age where users do feel they have a voice and can express it digitally. But it is so blatantly cynical and began long before Myspace started up.
You can imagine the ad department brainstorm. How can we make consumers, and potential consumers, feel all warm and fluffy and loved? How can they feel included, wanted, part of an exclusive (and yet totally inclusive) club of like-minded, shiny people? Just stick ‘my’ in front of your product, and talk to them in a matey way, and they’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand.
One of the first rules of copywriting is ‘sell the benefits, not the features’. But it’s become so facile, so transparent, it has me yearning for the days when they told me why their product was better, rather than the difference it will make to my life. Let me use my brain and work out what is really on offer. It won’t stop me spending my money, and I’m more likely to stay loyal to a brand that treats me as an equal rather than a gullible and insecure child.
I was talking to a friend recently about The Artist’s Way, and it occurred to me that here would be a good place to share my thoughts on it.
It started off as a creative writing programme that has morphed into a best-selling book and is used by people in all walks of life, not just ‘creatives’, to tap into a more imaginative, child-like part of the self.
I first got hold of it 10 years ago, and found it to be life-changing, both professionally and personally. There are various exercises throughout the book which help you examine the reasons why your creative mind may have been repressed or blocked, but I found the most useful tool to be the Morning Pages.
This is essentially an exercise in discipline as it involves writing three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness words first thing in the morning. Every day for the length of the course. It may feel daft and annoying in the beginning, but it is wonderful for clearing out the ‘noise’ and obsessive thoughts that can affect our self esteem. It also helps to point to what we really think, as the inner censor hasn’t had time to rationalise and justify all those feelings. Well mine certainly hasn’t at 6am!
I’ll definitely be using them again as soon as my children start sleeping better. It’s a really good way to tap into your creative self, and start thinking in a different, more positive light.
The combination of technophobe and pedant is pretty unappealing, and yet that is how I would have to describe myself. I do, admittedly, possess other qualities that I hope in some way compensate for these failings, but they have been thrown into stark relief this week when my phone was hijacked by my toddler.
The settings have been changed so that I can’t work out how to write an apostrophe, nor a capital letter. If I was fully versed in text speak, I suspect this wouldn’t matter, but I have stopped texting people as often as usual to avoid having to write possessives without apostrophes, or starting sentences with a capital letter.
It’s not as if I feel the recipient of the text would judge me unfavourably for it (although I suspect my mother would!), but it just doesn’t feel as though it’s come from me. I completely accept that language is constantly evolving and, thanks to the new range of media we have, ‘traditional’ grammar and punctuation is taking a back seat, but I still feel huge resistance within me to changing what I feel is ‘right’.
There’s a great section on the Mumsnet site called Pedants’ Corner where like-minded souls argue into the early hours about the positioning of a comma. I’ll try and link to it.