What I’m reading and writing, June 17

• With the banishment of George Carlin’s once-infamous “seven dirty words” all but collapsed on American television airwaves, Poynter Institute writing coach extraordinaire Roy Peter Clark offers some help to those of us trying to encapsulate such language without actually using such language:

“I certainly want the word in my dictionaries (if it is the most offensive word in our language, I want to be able to cage it, at least for serious scholarly studies). For example, from Webster’s Third we learn that the C-word is considered obscene, that it can be traced back to medieval times, that some variations of the word existed in a number of European languages, and that it means two things: a crude synonym for a woman’s private parts; and a derogatory description of a woman as a sexual object. By means of a rhetorical device called metonymy, the part here does truly represent the whole — and reduces a whole woman to a part.

“There is an argument to be made that the exclusion of a word from common usage is to lend it a magical power it does not deserve. That was certainly true of the F-word when I was a child, an inhibition that even my 91-year-old mother has outgrown. Homosexuality was once euphemized as ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ “

• Mid-career workers (like me) aren’t thinking about retirement in conventional ways, and indeed some may need to keep working deep into their 1970s regardless of their desires. If you’re a knowledge worker like I am, you know the nature of change — not just technological — already can feel overwhelming. Well, says Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review, now is the time to prepare for much more of the same:

“The pace of change in the most vibrant post-industrial sectors is such that the technical expertise of one’s 40s has decayed into anachronistic obsolescence by one’s 50s. Knowledge may be power but it is also perishable. Yesterday’s hot mark-up language is tomorrow’s Sanskrit; last decade’s breakthrough medical procedure is next year’s malpractice. The cliché about the distinction between ‘five year’s experience’ and a ‘year’s worth of experience five times’ has seldom been more apt or more bitter. Then again, cultivating and harvesting one’s socio-professional network for five more years can also yield disproportionate value.”

(via Paul Conley)

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