Note: these are not my hands.
Yesterday, I took a dip into the ether of my web browser history. It's a curious thing, to be curious about what you've been curious about. It's a more curious thing when you can evaluate the shape of your workday interests through the lens of Google search.
In addition to a daily perusal of news articles (I take my morning coffee with a side of current events) and a hundred client-related research queries, there's no shortage of fodder up for interpretation.
Highlights from the past week include atmospheric refraction, fiduciary responsibility, love and ketchup, Mr. Wonderful and the definition of nyctitropism. Predicate adjectives and the merits of "more proud" versus "prouder" make the list, as do balding medieval babies and an exploration into how hot chicken really happened.
Scroll a little farther down the page, and there, sandwiched between the oddities, you'll find no small number of visits to this idiom dictionary. Of all the revealing 500+ word procrastinations in my web history, the dictionary stands out and apart.
As we move into a more human era of branding, it feels only natural to seek out and take inspiration from everyday language's most suggestive turns of phrase. Just witness the longevity of Allstate's "You're in good hands," and you can begin to fathom why idiomatic expression might help bridge the messaging gap between what a brand wants to say and what an audience is willing to hear. And yet, leave it to Virginia Woolf—a woman who surely existed in that easier place before brands—to articulate the potential dangers of this approach.
In Woolf's superb 1937 essay, "Craftsmanship," she espouses that the moment we cherry-pick words from their natural habitats is the moment they lose their human realness and nuance. Worse, she writes, is that when the words become unreal, "we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers."
Phrase finders, not readers. Ouch. But what a perfect reminder that, long after we've tested the weight of a pen in our hands, someone else will have the choice to read or refuse what we've put to paper. All it takes is a trip through our own data-clouded wires to see Woolf's maxim reflected in our histories.
We are readers first.