A new item for the Party Bag – word for word responses to disgruntled customers. This time from an organisation that sells so many tickets they’ve become masters at it. (more…)
Archive for February, 2012
Pupils at Sheffield’s Springs Academy are no longer allowed to use slang inside the school gates. Instead of ‘hiya’, they are to say ‘good morning’. Instead of ‘see you’, they are to say ‘goodbye’.
No, Springs Academy is not training its pupils to be 1940s BBC radio presenters. It is teaching them about professionalism. As Kathy August, head of the charity that runs the school, says: ‘You can get five A* to Cs in your exams, but if you go to an interview and can’t shake hands, look someone in the eye and speak in the appropriate register, you are not going to get the job or place at university.” Personally, I’m always checking whether people’s registers are appropriate.
(It’s worth noting that, in the pursuit of professionalism, sixth formers at Springs Academy have to wear suits. How this is relevant to an aspiring landscape gardener, choreographer or poet, I’m not entirely sure.)
At the heart of this policy is a good idea. It’s clearly not great if your first words to a prospective employer are ‘soz I’m late, it’s the trains, innit’. But the good idea is nestled deep within the bluntest of instruments: a blanket approach to language that treats every pupil, in every school situation, in the same way.
At Quietroom, we come across this kind of attitude all the time. Clients want us to produce rules, showing absolute ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’, with no annoying room for debate (or, erm, creativity) in between. It’s easier that way. But when it comes to words, there are no absolutes – only what’s right for you, and the situation you’re in. The challenge is to understand the effect that words can create, and choose them with this in mind. In the right situation, you can even (oh, the audacity) DARE TO WILFULLY SPLIT THE INFINITIVE.
It’s about context. And therein lies the problem with the Springs Academy policy. Approach a teacher with a cheery ‘good morning’, and you might get a gold star. Approach a fellow student – a real teenager who texts and tweets and lolz – with a cheery ‘good morning’, and you might get a reputation for being a bit uptight.
Language is personal. It’s shaped by our upbringing, by the friends and decisions we make. Our own turns of phrase are a reflection who we are. The only thing we can do wrong with language is to make everyone sound the same – to stifle our sense of self, to jam different personalities into a one-size fits all model.
Arguably, what pupils really need to know is how to experiment with language – how to choose it, how to change it, how to savour it. That means loosening the tie, breaking some of the rules, and learning to be themselves.
Why consumers in 2012 want brands to show their flaws – here’s an interesting article we found on trendwatching.com.
Thanks to our friends at Specialist Publications for the tip-off.
When I left Amsterdam for a new life in deepest East Sussex, learning to speak English was way down my list of priorities. The year was 1980 and I was a conceited 11 year old nobby-know-it-all.
I was convinced that moving to Rye would be like entering a time-warp. I was right. We lost 20 years – along with such modern advances as the combination boiler and double glazing.
To me, England was an eccentric country of rattling sash windows, B&Bs which only supplied hot water for 8 minutes at 6.45am (precisely), polyester sheets, teasmaids, hostess trollies and rattling train carriages with slam doors you could open at 60mph before any sign of a platform. Though you’d likely dislocate your wrist in the ensuing panic of dropping the window and fumbling for the outside catch.
Once I’d resigned myself to some of the more uncomfortable differences, I began the tricky task of assimilating into Thomas Peacocke Secondary Comprehensive. This proved surprisingly problematic, having been educated till then at a typically liberal Montessori school.
I was enrolled in class 1.5 (for children of average intelligence) and spent the next months confounding my teachers’ expectations. I was relegated to 1.4 the following term, a class for children with challenged competence (no sign of ‘intelligence’ anywhere).
My native pride had been seriously dented. Why was I failing, at the very least, to maintain the status quo? What was going so terribly wrong?
Many months later, I began to realise that the biggest stumbling block was my innate Dutchness: I took things extremely literally.
A good example of this occurred during my 1st week at school. Bridget Barnet (name changed) asked me very publicly, if I’d like to go out with her. A sudden hush descended on the class after she’d posed this innocent sounding question. I didn’t know her well, but was grateful for such a welcoming gesture. I felt happy to have made a new friend. So I responded that I’d be delighted to join her; where would she like to go?
General hilarity all round (Bridget wasn’t the best looking girl in 1.5, but definitely the most challenging).
England may have been caught in a time-warp, but I discovered that it leads the world in lending a double meaning to the most innocent sounding expression. This gave me the feeling of having to learn two languages simultaneously.
As a naïve Dutch boy, I proved an easy target. But nowadays – hard though it is to swallow – other Quietroomers will attest that I do rather over-compensate.
I love a double-entendre – as long as it’s a big one.
Some bits of writing are just bound to be boring, aren’t they?
Like, say, corporate expenses policies. Not much room to do anything different there, right?
Well. Take NetApp. They’re an American tech company. They do data storage stuff. They’re big, too – turning over about $3.4 billion a year. And when they rewrote their 12-page expenses policy, they did something really different. (more…)
There’s only so long that a person can live off pizza. So I’m learning how to cook.
To teach myself I need a half-decent cookbook. But how do I choose? The world’s littered with celebrity chefs telling us to forage through Devon for mushrooms and slaughter pet pigs whenever we want a fry up.
This got me thinking about the language celebrity chefs use. With all their different quirks and flourishes, which chef do I want telling me how to get from beans on toast to duck a l’orange?
With Heston Blumenthal it’s all a bit Alice in Wonderland. With book titles like Heston’s Fantastical Feasts, and Further Adventures in Search of Perfection, Heston turns the language of cookery into a curious children’s fairytale.
Then there’s Nigella. Full of fertile adjectives, always tactile, not so subtle with the innuendos:
“I love a bit of companionable cooking and I’ve had a lot of it this week. Yesterday, my Brazilian friend (and the best cook I know) Helio came round with a ridiculously beautiful bouquet of vegetables, and we set to dismantling the ravishing still life together.”
With Gordon Ramsay it’s all about verbs. For him the language of the kitchen is masculine, commanding and combative:
“I have a very assertive way. It’s wake up, move your ass, or piss off home.”
And then there are those chefs that make cooking sound like an unattainable art form, something a simple plebeian like me could never fully master. Telling you to braise this and flambé that. Al dente, consommé, etouffe, en croute, cartouche. I wouldn’t know what a cartouche was if you cooked me one for breakfast.
That’s why I choose Jamie Oliver. Jamie’s got it spot on. The language he uses makes cooking seem simple and accessible to everyone. Even down to the way he describes measurements. In one recipe he say take piece of fresh root ginger that’s ‘thumb-sized.’ Who can argue with that?