English Words Being Removed from the Collins Dictionary

The Wisdom of Winnowing Words?

I have often read, with keen interest, about the addition of new words to a language, typically to French and English where I can gauge the novelty, meaning and importance of the word(s) in question. Last week, however, I came across a TIME magazine article (European edition, October 20, 2008), entitled “War of the Words,” that talked about the opposite: the culling of what are considered archaic words from the [Collins] dictionary. Here is the list of words that are under review [in England]… There are 24 such words up for axing, in order to make room for 2,000 new words (presumably that means that the new words have little in the way of derivative definitions and the archaisms fill up reams of pages?).

Apparently, there is an opportunity for some words to “fight for their lives” by being used six times in an authentic “quality” fashion in the next few months (death knell is February 2009). My post here will not constitute an effort to “save” any of these words, but I find some of the words on the block (that may not have been around the block enough?) rather charming. From the list of 24, here is my selection of words that I would consider keeping:

Apodeictic: Unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration(and a good one for spelling tests)
Caducity: Perishableness (surely a necessary word for the Sustainable Developers?)
Fatidical: Prophetic (since vaticinate, meaning prophesy, is also up for damnation, I conclude that being prophetic/forward thinking is in trouble?)
Fubsy: Squat (to be come up with a sequel to Bugsy Malone)
Griseous: Somewhat grey (for those who can’t ever make up their mind?)
Muliebrity: The condition of being a woman (love this one, a sequel for André Malraux)
Olid: Foul-smelling (so close to fetid, and living in cities we’ll need lots of adjectives on smell)

Apparently, embrangle (to confuse or entangle) garnered the most support through a London Times survey. This Times Online article uses all the words, more or less, in context. You can read more from VisualThesaurus. But, while the announced intention to cull these words has received so much press, I am inclined to say that it is the addition of 2,000 more new words that is fascinating. With so many lesser languages dying every year, the addition of new words to English is a sign of a vibrant, dynamic language. Making space by cutting 24 words (or less as the case may be) is basically irrelevant, especially in the virtual era, where paperbound dictionaries will become less and less printed, much less interesting (lack of Random Access Memory, etc.).


What do you think? Should words make exits or not?

Think Different — What do Feminism, Einstein & Sleep have in common?

Learning to think differently

As a marketer, I am always on the lookout for people who think and act differently. A part of my gestalt, my personality, I associate with people who think differently. Sometimes, that means being the contrarian or the devil’s advocate in a conversation. At other times, it just means looking at issues using different filters. Of course, thinking differently only happens in spurts and in certain arenas. There is plenty of good sense in thinking normally too. However, for the breakthrough ideas, putting on the rose-tinted glasses — or a re-wired thinking cap — is invaluable.

How does one actually come to think differently?

I cannot declare whether one is born to think differently or whether such a disposition is acquired at a given moment or simply over time. Using Apple products alone certainly won’t cut it, although I truly believe it has helped me as I have had to relearn lots of new functionalities (having crossed over from the PC world). However, that is only a recent transition for me. My journey into the world of thinking differently began more precisely when I was at University. And there were exactly three elemental building blocks which helped craft my propensity to think differently — each stemming from one central thought: Discover what you do not know. Being aware of what you don’t know is already a challenge because, you might say, how do I know what I don’t know if I don’t know it exists?

The three areas I became attached to studying were:

1. Women’s Studies.

In minoring in Women’s Studies at Yale University, little did I know I would end up working in a cosmetics company, serving primarily female customers. I fell into the subject of Women’s Studies via literary criticism; but I kept on taking more classes in a more or less direct pursuit to understand better the other 50% of the population. And no, it was not a pick-up ploy–not exactly the right environment in any event. More importantly, by studying Women’s Studies, I became aware of the study of all minorities — and how minorities are frequently obliged to think and act differently to succeed. Via Women’s Studies, I was opened to a whole new world of literature and literary criticism, fascinating insights into the differences between the sexes, the politics of touch (Nancy Henley’s landmark essay) as well as the interplay of females and males in groups (at all ages). I also embraced Jungian philosophy and my anima. I did not know how much, at the time, this minor would take on major importance in my career.

2. Sleep

As a rule, we tend to study all things conscious. Whether it’s history, literature or sciences (each basically through the eyes of men), the focus of our daily lives is what we know and do during our waking day. Thus, when I came across the study of sleep as a subject at university, I was enchanted: an opportunity to learn about the other 1/3 of our day. Certainly, there can be interest in understanding one’s own dreams — though, typically not given much credit in academic circles (nor for university degrees). But the subject of sleep is much more profound, including sleep disorders, sleep patterns… There are plenty of important questions that should concern everyone. For example, how much sleep do we REALLY need? Why do we sleep? On this question, scientists are still arguing (as regards adults). The science of sleep and the work of FSRs (famous sleep researchers) such as the giant apple seed and jazz man, William (“Bill”) C. Dement, is a completely undervalued field. I tip my hat to Professor Mark Rosekind for enlightening me on this fascinating part of our existence. I highly recommend any students out there to seek it out; you can start with Dement’s “The Promise of Sleep.” In the meantime, I can also recommend reading one of my favourite books “L’Art du Temps” or, in English, The Art of Time (by Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber) which provides a shortcut view to how I manage my sleep and my philosophy with regard to time management more broadly speaking.

3. Left-handers

I am not left-handed and left-handedness is not exactly a “subject” in the same sense as Sleep or Women’s Studies. Left-handers are not unique — concerning apparently about 7-10% of the population (but they certainly get my attention on the tennis court). Neither is being left-handed a sign of a genius, although there are some wonderful examples, including Albert Einstein, Michelangelo (retrained right), Isaac Newton (the original Apple man), Charlie Chaplin, Benjamin Franklin, Bobby Fisher, John McEnroe to name a few. And, it’s worth noting that Apple chose a whole raft of southpaws — including Pablo Picasso, Jim Henson, Bob Dylan, Jerry Seinfield and Einstein — for their Think Different campaign. Interestingly, we have been fielding more frequently left-handed presidents in the US since Gerald Ford: four of the last six! In the history of the USA, there have been a total of seven lefties in the White House (6 coming in the last century) out of a total of 43 (i.e. 16%). At this time, it should be noted that that both John McCain and Barack Obama are left-handed (read here about Washington Post’s “Left-Handed Conspiracy“). There is a good body of research done on left-handers, indicating that lefties have a propensity to be more into visual arts. Also, according to this 2005 ABC report, there is the suggestion that being left-handed can entail some health hazards, too. (See also “Brains that work a little bit differently” by Bragdon and Gamon). But, what has always attracted my attention is that left-handers need to operate in a right-handed world. When I imagined my wife before even meeting her, I always thought that she would be left-handed. It turns out that she is absolutely right-handed, but created two sterling left-handed children.

So, what does this mean… at least, in the business world?

For one, I believe that having been attuned to these different topics throughout my adult life is part of how I have cultivated what is described as a “Whole New Mind” (in the book by Dan Pink and highly recommended reading), essentially a balanced right/left brain. In turn, this has been useful in coming up with new ideas and strategies. And finally, most importantly, it has led me to be more mindful of diversity. Whether international, unorthodox or just different, having opposing or alternative thinking people in your team is healthy and enriching. It also requires differing management styles to make the most of their talent. What are other areas of study that can procure “think different” mentalities? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

Others blogging on “think different”:
Mahmudahsan – with some English proverbs
Mackinnon on Think Differently – athough this looks sadly like a dead blog.

Worldmapper – The world through different filters

Here is a great site for people with a global mindset: Worldmapper — a wonderful way to review the the worldwide situation… The site features maps of the world distorted according to the criteria. In their own words, “Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, using equal area cartograms where territories are re-sized on each map according to a particular variable.”

As of today, the website contains 366 maps, with associated information and a PDF file, covering 99+% of the world’s population, and drawing on information from 200 territories. Much of the data is admittedly old or estimated. Anyway, you’ll get the picture.

Below is the world map according to population.

Worldmapper

Among the 366 maps, I pull out a couple of pertinent ones for me:

The World’s Ecological Footprint – As we know, the United States, China and India have the largest ecological footprints — but it’s the per person CO2 footprint (i.e. combined with the map above) that makes it scary for the US.

Tertiary education – with the highest percentage of the student-aged population enrolled being “in Finland. Finland is 3.6 times the world average, with 140 times the chance of a tertiary education than in Mozambique.”

Hazardous Waste – “The three biggest producers are the Russian Federation, United States and Uzbekistan.” And Russia seems to have a big lead in this category.

Books published – A major European bubble, albeit with old data (1999). The most new titles produced in that year were in the United Kingdom, China and Germany.

Gender Empowerment – which points out that women are never at parity with men… even in Rwanda where there are now more women in government than men.

Personal Computers 2002 – Even if this is light years out of date, this PC representation of the world is my favourite esthetically speaking! A kind of Rorschach test too.

For more fun, check out the Worldmapper index here.

Role Model for Obama, McCain and myself

Statue of Liberty by Andy WarholWe all need a role model. Call it a (Wo-)Man’s Condition.* I have found this true for me in life as well as in work. Among other things, a role model or icon helps to inspire you and shape your response to unknown situations; and it is in those moments that people can become bigger than life. But, for me, my icon is somewhat fragmented. Depending on the subject (spiritual, leadership, sports…), sometimes it is one singular person, sometimes it is a composition, and sometimes it is fictional. And what is true for the ordinary layperson is also true of the big leaders, corporate, humanitarian or political: we all need a role model.

Any politician that is wanting to make a name for him or herself normally will have identified a few icons to look up to. These icons can serve as models for behaviour, benchmarks for how to construct a career, make a speech or set an agenda. And there is no dearth of choice of big name leaders in the past.

Teddy RooseveltMoving to the US Presidential campaign, for Senator McCain, you tend to think he is anti-iconic to the extent he is the maverick, not that there has never been a maverick before. All the same, McCain apparently takes stock from Teddy Roosevelt (see this article by Jill Zuckman from Chron.com).

I have been wondering, meanwhile, at the comparisons drawn between Senator Obama (D) and President Abraham Lincoln (R). Certainly, there are many articles, blogs and chat rooms that have taken up this story. The fact that Obama made his coming out speech (announcing he would run for President) in front of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln served as a legislator has no small part in beginning this thread.President Abraham Lincoln

Here is recap of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln:

* they both came from humble backgrounds in Illinois
* both were lawyers
* served 8 years in the Illinois State Legislature
* 1 term in Congress
* neither served in the military
* and race is clearly a defining part of their Presidential campaign.

This television report from CBS, with an interview of Professor Daniel Weinberg from Illinois, discusses some of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln.

However, this NYT article by Michael Cohen prefers to compare Obama to Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader (not to be mixed up with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1860 election campaign). Douglass, ironically, was more commonly known as a critic of Lincoln, although, as Cohen writes, Douglass, in the latter part of his life, also openly lauded Lincoln.
There are two lines that I wish to reproduce here from Cohen’s article. He writes that, what may define Obama’s presidency if he wins, is: “one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose.” And, secondly, I also enjoyed the last line of Cohen’s article: [If Obama wins in November, he will likely look to] “…prove the elder Mr. Douglass correct by seeking out the proper balance between what is right and what is possible.”

It is interesting to note that Douglass was nominated as VP of the first ever woman US presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Douglass refused the nomination. It should also be said that there is controversy as to whether Woodhull was actually a legitimate candidate (age, not on the ballot, etc.).

Lord Henry Temple Palmerston, 3rd ViscountIn any event, if I were to choose my own political icons, in no particular order, I personally would cite Prime Minister Winston Churchill — the right person for a difficult time. Secondly, I would view NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a good maverick icon to look up to — anyone that brings ethical business sense to politics is good news. Thirdly, I would like to mention Rudy Giuliani for his leadership pre- and post-9/11. Fourth, I would have to cite Mahatma Ghandi — proof that a single individual can move a mountain. And lastly, going further back in time, I am inclined to think of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, the master of brinksmanship. But, in each case, what they stand for is hugely contextual. You need to find the right pitch for the times. Not that I am running for President (I cannot as I was born overseas), but it is a good exercise to stop and think over who your role model(s) is (are).

And who are your role models in business, politics or life?

____
*Not to be mixed up with Malraux’s La Condition Humaine.

A Difference between Men and Women

Are Men and Women So Different?

Women waiting at the toiletAn advocate of diversity and a student of women’s studies at university, I keep an eagle eye on topics concerning equality. That said, there are also many ways to express and give value to the differences between men and women.

A few years ago, it was determined (by scientists) that there were just 78 differences in our genetic codings (between men and women). Read this BBC article for a quick recap on that point along with a fairly long but enjoyable compilation of people’s thoughts on the subject. Suffice it to say, there is a latent need to recognize the differences, and the following paragraph is a case in point. Equality sometimes takes accepting, even celebrating the differences.

Women Men DifferenceA fairly recent editorial article entitled “The woman in the Men’s” by Garrison Keillor in the Herald Tribune caught my attention. The issue at hand is the inequality of the public bathroom experience for women and men to the extent that, for example at intermission at theatres, women have long queues to deal with, while men hustle through in time for a drink at the bar. Keillor suggests, and I thoroughly agree, that architects should allow for toilets to allow equal through traffic. it seems ludicrously dogmatic to create toilets the same size considering the time it takes to consummate the act for each sex, as well as the space requirements of a urinal versus a stall. However, contrary to Keillor, perhaps for living in Europe most of my life, I see no offence to women “breeching the door marked MEN.” Hurray for the New York state of mind. Anyway, good pause for reflection for anyone in the throes of planning a public space. [If you are looking for an odd blog, here is one about toilets and, more specifically, about a portable toilet for cars from Japan.]

And, while I am on the topic of equality, here is an interesting article from the BBC on the benefits of women in the workforce: Why companies need female managers. Again, many complementary aptitudes and attitudes.

Updated: And, finally, a video excerpt (5m32) entitled “Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor that plays out with a very balanced sense of humour — generalisations notwithstanding — the difference between how men and women think. It is likely to draw a smile. Note the good prop.

Favorite quote: “men’s brains are very unique!… we’ve got boxes everywhere and the rule is, the boxes don’t touch…” and “Women’s brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected.” And, on this latter point, it is hard not for me to make a reference to the opportunity for connectedness on the ‘Net.

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog – The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).

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* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.