Group Writing Projects

Connecting Words and Conversations

I don’t know if you ever have times when you think you’ve got a really good idea, and you want to share it with other people, but at the same time you’ve a niggling feeling, an inkling that maybe they’re not going to get what it is that you’re seeing? I had a bit of that feeling with the launch of the Connecting Words project. It’s that lingering fear when you’re doing something new. When you’re supposed to be able to write clearly and with confidence (for heaven’s sake!). And when you end up blogging about ‘the meaning of the communication is the response you get’ on the same day (quiet note to self from the unconscious mind?)

Anyway, I’m guessing that some of you, maybe, are less than totally clear as to what this group writing project is all about. So I thought I’d share some examples of conversations and connections that flow from the sharing of a word. I don’t want to be prescriptive here - because half the fun is in seeing where your creativity innovation takes you - but I don’t want to leave you head scratching either. So here goes:

The Trekker Debate

J Erik Potter has kicked things off with some ‘words out’ to describe an old friend of his - as a trekker. Which took us meandering through a serendipitous post on the same day about the trouble with tribbles, and some shared conversations about the distinction between trekkers and trekkies (which is clearly a complex one, and not one that I am proposing to enter into here!) and into a new, and different sort of conversation, a new sense of connection, that we might not otherwise have had.

The Rubbish Conversation

Brad Shorr’s contribution to the project was headed up ‘Connecting Words? Rubbish!’ which I have to confess gave me a bit of a jolt at first, because I didn’t think the project was that bad, and it was one that we were running together… But his point was that he was intrigued by the way I (and other writers from the UK) use the word ‘rubbish’, that it’s an expression that he doesn’t have an equivalent for, and that there’s something about the word that draws him in:

So when a blogger uses “rubbish” to describe an idea or situation, I can’t help but join in the conversation. The word strikes me as being scathing and good natured at the same time. I want to get to know a blogger who uses it.

(I have decided to accept this as a compliment!)

The Dab Hand at Starting Conversations

Perhaps the best example is where Brad and I started out on this conversation. I had described him as being a dab hand at writing cartoon captions. For me, a perfectly ordinary thing to say, an expression from everyday speech. For him, a puzzle, and the hope that I was paying him a compliment (I was).

Now I know Brad and I are word nerds, but the fact we can ask each other questions about language use helps us both to understand that you can’t take words and language for granted. Something I write that is everyday use in the UK won’t be understood by a US audience. (In fact some of my expressions are based on Scots language, so might not be understood by everyone in the UK either.) Some of the words, the language, the references to simple things like ‘the holidays’ by a US writer mean something different to readers in the UK - we don’t always know what bloggers in the US are writing about.

It’s good to have a friend you can ask. It’s good to recognise the linguistic barriers of our own world and learn how to make the edges more open, more fluid, more welcoming.

And now Brad tells me that he’s introducing “a dab hand” to Chicago.

Brad: I’m actually starting to use “dab hand” in my conversation. It’s a good way to get people talking at a (Chicago area) cocktail party.

Me: What kind of reactions do you get to the ‘dab hand’ comment?!

Brad: People say, what does “dab hand” mean? It sometimes leads to a discussion of blogs and how we get to know each other. Non-bloggers usually enjoy hearing about that.

That just blows me away. There’s Brad, in Chigaco, talking to people about me, typing away at my PC in Edinburgh. It makes me feel that the world just got a little bit smaller, and more human, and more friendly.

And it’s why we fixed on this idea.

But enough of the explanations and illuminations - from now on you’re free to interpret the project as you see fit! If nothing else we’ll all have some fun learning new words, discovering new blogs, sharing some link love, and starting some new conversations.

(Just one word of caution that I should have added yesterday - make sure you’re not sharing private conversations that were just meant for your in-boxes. If you’re talking about the connection you’ve made with someone else, be sure it’s one that they’d be happy to share in too.)

I’ll be sharing my own words and connected conversations over the weekend. I look forward to sharing yours too.

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6 Responses to “Connecting Words and Conversations”

  1. On November 16, 2007 at 3:51 pm Rubab responded with... #

    good article

  2. On November 16, 2007 at 6:56 pm Brad Shorr responded with... #

    Joanna, I love British expressions, and that’s definitely not rubbish! Your way of speaking seems so much more expressive and witty, but that might be because it’s less familiar. I don’t know. But when people use words you don’t hear every day, you just can’t help but dig a little deeper.

  3. On November 16, 2007 at 7:53 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    @ Brad, I think you and I are going to have fun with this project, that’s for sure.

    It’s an interesting point about the difference in UK/US linguistic style - I don’t know, I think it’s probably the familiarity thing. I know I’ve been enjoying tuning into US writing voices since joining the blogosphere (think it might even have been rubbing off on my own writing accent!).

    @ Rubab - thank you, the feedback is appreciated.


  4. On November 16, 2007 at 7:58 pm Robert Hruzek responded with... #

    Hey, this is getting more interesting by the day. I think I’m finally getting a the hang of this writing project! It’s not necessarily the actual word, but the concept that makes the connection. Thus, even invented words can still communicate in deep and meaningful ways.

    A word such as “trekkies” is a case in point. Prior to 1963, it usually evoked an image of a line of sherpas climbing Mt. Everest. Or something. But nowadays, it’s invariably tied to the Star Trek phenomenon, evoking a wealth of images and (possibly) experiences.

    I find it, er, fascinating (if you’ll pardon the expression) that our entire world’s culture can be so affected by a single (and recently invented) concept. Wouldn’t it be cool to be responsible for starting something that became culturally universal?

    Thus I was flattered when Mike DeWitt said (near the end of his most recent WILF post) that the term WILF has become a verb!

  5. On November 16, 2007 at 9:32 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hey Robert! I’m glad you talked me into writing that extra post:-)

    As you say, it is all about the connections and the shifts that happen, rather than the word itself.

    On the sci fi theme - are you familiar with grok?

    There’s a story and a half wrapped up in that four letter word.

    And yes - maybe WILF will become something similar. As I said (to someone, somewhere - at your place?) the other day, thinking ‘what did I learn from this’ can become an ingrained - and extremely healthy - habit. The more you do it, the more you reflect, learn the lessons, move on with a spring in your step and a smile. I’m pretty sure your own writing projects are helping to shift the thought patterns of those who take part. How’s that for a Friday night thought?


  6. On November 19, 2007 at 4:35 pm Robert Hruzek responded with... #

    I definitely Grok that, Joanna! :-D


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