June 28, 2010
Posted by Hannah King
Iain Duncan Smith sparked a flurry of tweets recently when he allegedly went on record as saying that ‘work makes you free’. I say allegedly, because no one can actually tell you when and where he said it – that’s the way of social media sometimes. I didn’t hear it myself because I was… working at the time.
I’m being flippant, but of course the main reason this caused such a rumpus is not because people objected to IDS’ apparent insult to people on benefits – although they did in droves. It’s because the phrase has an altogether more sinister connotation that few people, much less the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, could be unaware of – Nazism.
Here at the lorries we see a lot of unfortunate and inappropriate phrasing on a daily basis, but nothing quite on this scale. In fact it’s hard to imagine a subject area higher up on anyone’s ‘avoid’ list, especially someone whose every word is likely to reach a large audience.
If you’re feeling charitable, you can see what he was probably getting at – that good, honest toil has an ennobling effect on people. In fact, a phrase roughly translatable as ‘Work makes you free’ was well known in a number of languages long before the Nazis adopted it and tainted it for good.
But that’s the point. Whether he used the exact phrase or not, and whatever he meant if he did, this is a reminder of the power of branding and association in language – and that some words just can’t be reclaimed.
June 16, 2010
Posted by Hannah King
…is big business. With the enormous amount of information we’re exposed to in today’s digital world, just to keep our heads above water we have to take in more, and do it more quickly.
There are dozens of speed-reading courses across the UK – and it’s big business in the US. People are even developing online technology that flashes words at you on screen to make you read at a certain pace, as John Walsh has discussed in The Independent.
But there’s a growing concern among neurologists and other researchers that our constant multi-tasking (we’ve all been there: trying to email, talk on the phone and finish off a report at the same time) is taking its toll on our concentration and attention span. In other words, we may be taking in more, but our grasp of it isn’t always great.
Sound familiar? How many times have you glanced through an email and missed a vital piece of information? Or skimmed through a customer letter and missed a key point? Sacrificing thoroughness for speed can cause all sorts of headaches down the line.
But the main problem I have with speed-reading is that it requires you to take in whole chunks of information at a glance instead of reading from the start to finish of sentences. And in doing this you completely miss the sound and rhythm of the words.
This makes it impossible to pick up on tone or to appreciate the poetry of something that’s particularly well written. It’s the equivalent of stuffing as much food down your throat as you can in five minutes, instead of taking it one mouthful at a time and tasting each bite.
It may sound like an oxymoron, but life’s just too short to speed read.
Update: In July The Guardian published an article on the Slow Reading Movement saying, among other things, that we’re losing our ability to read entire articles and even books because of how we ‘read’ online.