In his later life he became actively involved in rediscovering, recording and archiving sound and language, particularly in the area of local dialect -- a verbal archaeologist, if you will. He was entirely engrossed in looking at where language had come from, whereas I was more interested in a new language, both verbal and visual, more Groovy than Gradely (old Lancastrian for "good" or "a fine state of affairs").
As popular culture rapidly develops, so does the breadth and diversity of language that becomes mainstream and pervasive. No more so than when words, previously viewed as colloquial or slang, enter the hallowed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary. In this instance it is worth noting that "English" increasingly means "American" because the creation of new words is and always has been a cultural pastime in the US, having the full backing of the current President -- a man who invents or defiles words every time he opens his mouth -- "...we are glad to report that New Orleans is finally getting de-watered" CNN, September 12 2005. Many would say that his diction is, however, more "Awkward" than "Oxford".
It seems that every year the OED creaks at the seams as it concedes to words that have become so widely used, they must be given the OK. There are 355,000 words in the OED and some of the recent entries would make Milton, Keats, Shakespeare and my father turn in their graves. Words like "twofer" (two items sold for the price of one) or "chugger", someone pretending to collect for charity who then mugs you. "Posh" is a lovely acronym to describe wealthy or privileged people, a word that derived from Port Out Starboard Home, meaning the better side of a boat on which to have a berth when going on a cruise. This has now been joined in the OED by "chav", a noun describing the peculiarly British phenomenon of those who love "bling" and Burberry and are often served Asbos (anti-social behaviour orders), a term also now in the dictionary. And now I find "podcast" has made in there as well -- digital radio created for download.
Now this is where I start to get nervous, because it will not be long before 'i' makes it into the OED or is rewritten at the very least. Of course, it is already in there:
Pron. Used to refer to oneself as speaker or writer. n. pl. I's The self; the ego,
but this definition is for verbal archaeologists to dust off in years to come, because its true social meaning has less to do with one's self and more as a prefix for anything that represents "Think Different".
iMac, iLife, iTunes and iPod, (hence "podcast"), have all become so widely used in everyday language that "i" will surely get the OK in the next OED review. The problem for me, however, is that it's not OK verbally and it's not OK visually. Don't get me wrong, I love Apple, but the extent of my verbal and visual language has been somewhat castrated in recent months because I cannot seem to go through a day without referring to some Apple thing as being entirely relevant to the creative debate in hand, meaning most other reference points have now effectively been "cut off'" In the same way as everyone who was upper class was regarded as "posh", (the opposite being the same today for chavs), anything remotely creative has, by definition, to be Apple.
I was in a supermarket brainstorm recently, exploring the best way to create a fresh food experience. Sure enough, before we'd even had time to discuss the merits of "Whole Foods(tm)" and the growth of farmers' markets, someone pipes up: "What do you think we could learn from the Apple store", and off we went down the well-worn path of "...don't you just love the colourful iPod advertising" and "...what about a Fruit & Veg Genius bar or a lecture theatre". Ironically not a "fresh" or different thought to be heard, just a bunch of unrelated anecdotes about why everyone loves this brand...and so another creative meeting taken "off piste" by our inability to Think Different.
This is not new of course. The creative industry has always been heavily influenced by movements and trends. Some of us will remember when Memphis was not only Elvis's birthplace, but the new rock'n'roll design zeitgeist of crazy laminate-based furniture and homewares. You, literally, couldn't think straight, and Sottsass was as de rigueur then as Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives are now. As designers in the 80s, our eyes were wide open. We knew we were caught up in a fashion thing, which we were bound to both express and exploit and eventually break free from. Today, this is more than a style issue as "Designed by Apple in California" is far more potent than "from Alessi" and has become the antithesis of the ubiquitous "Made in China".
Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, our weakness in the face of this fruity temptation has produced a creative myopia in our industry. We have to broaden our outlook, not because I fear that everything will start looking like a handy pocket-sized music player, but because our language -- the way we express ourselves to each other, and in front, those who pay to listen to us -- is shrinking.
We need to think about how we develop our own diction and a future-focused lexicon, which is driven by our ability to look for inspiration from a wide circle of reference points, rather than waiting for it to arrive pre-packaged. This needs to involve "getting out more" and capitalising on our skill of looking at the world in a new way.
So I am setting a creative challenge to resist temptation and I can think of no better summary than to return to George Dubya, who echoes the sentiment of all our clients and colleagues:
"We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job. That's what I'm telling you." George W Bush, Gulfport, Mississippi, September 20 2005.
Here, here. Let's all more better do our job, rather than letting Jobs do it for us.
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This article was first published on brandrepublic.com