Re-reading Eric Newby’s ‘Short walk in the Hindu Kush’ put me in a travel-writing frame of mind, so I shamelessly grabbed a Bill Bryson off the shelves. Never lets you down. Here he is on the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, which is
…filled with the most indescribable assortment of stuff – machinery, railway trains, refrigerators, Abraham Lincoln’s rocking-chair, the limousine in which John F. Kennedy was killed (nope, no bits of brain on the floor), George Washington’s campaign chest, General Tom Thumb’s ornate miniature billiard-table, a bottle containing Thomas Edison’s last breath. I found this last item particularly captivating. Apart from being ridiculously morbid and sentimental, how did they know which breath was going to be Edison’s last one? I pictured Henry Ford standing at the death-bed shoving a bottle in his face over and over and saying, ‘Is that it?’
Going through the user guide for my new Chromebook, it’s immediately apparent just how far the world of corporate copy has come from the stilted, strangulated officialese that disfigured the language for so long.
‘you get the gist’….’other stuff’….excellent. Clarity, simplicity, a human voice. It took awhile, but vacuous polysyllabic pomposity seems at last to be on the retreat.
Came across an interesting site last week, essentially a direct-sales operation for a DIY brewing device:
What’s interesting? It’s the first site I’ve come across that’s basically an ad on a loop: the offer, reduced to its barest essentials and presented using a handful of slick images and a few carefully-chosen words. The onus being on the browser to dig, if they want to find out more.
It brought to mind a project from maybe 30 years back, working on a brochure for Michael Peters Design, who’d recently done a retail project in Japan for a top British clothing brand. In stark contrast to Japan’s then-ubiquitous practice of stuffing every available cm of space with goods, the designers had used a stand for a single jacket or a shirt, a shelf for a pair of cufflinks. The ‘standout’ from the usual clutter instantly established a singular look and feel: one of calm, confidence and sheer class.
Less, as they were once fond of saying, is indeed very often more.
Delighted t’other day to stumble across this letter from the Times, sent to me once by a friend:
Some years back I dated an American who was a graduate student at the Sorbonne. When in France, he would try to improve his conversation skills by attending American movies with French subtitles.
One, a Western, featured a cavalry officer and his men charging up a hill where the Indians and their chief waited silently. The officer greeted the chief who raised his hand and said: “How!” This was translated in the subtitles as “Enchanté”.
Skimming the shelves for a book I wanted to lend my daughter, I was delighted to rediscover ‘The meaning of Tingo’, which trawls ‘the collective wisdom of over 154 languages’ for words and expressions unique to that language. For example:
Plimpplamppletteren (Dutch) – skimming stones across water
Areodjarekput (Inuit) – to swap wives just for a few days
Anaranjear (Spanish) – to throw oranges at someone
We all know someone guilty of ‘neko-neko‘ – Indonesian for ‘one who has a creative idea that only makes things worse’, while the titular ‘Tingo‘ is apparently Easter Islandish for ‘to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by asking to borrow them’.