Last week, I asked my workshop participants to tell me what makes for good writing for the public. One of the things they all knew is that we must use familiar words. No jargon, they said. Abandon the technical and specialist language. Do not use words that no one, who is not like us, understands.
Yes, I said. Excellent.
It is a good rule but it can cause pain, grief and, on occasions, argument. We love to fall back on jargon. It is like cliche (something else you can’t use) we use it often because it says it so well. It fits. It is the right word. Except of course when talking to someone who doesn’t understand it.
Two of the most popular jargon words that people fight to retain are ‘ecology’ and ‘biodiversity’. They plead “can we use them if we explain them?”. The answer, of course, is yes. ‘Ecology’ and ‘biodiversity’ are both, despite their detractors, great words. Explaining such big words is not easy. It takes quite a lot of focus and laterally-thinking imagination. As I have said elsewhere, this is creative work that requires creative people.
Explaining is not simply defining . When people don’t understand a word we writers have to breathe deep and dive into the word to find the meaning and vision underlying it. I can’t think of two words that make that experience more rewarding. This post is about ‘ecology’: (this one is about about ‘biodiversity’).
Wikianswers tells me that ‘Astonishingly, this word is attested directly to a single individual; in 1873, coined by German zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) as Okologie, from Greek oikos “house, dwelling place, habitation” + -logia “study of.”
Home. As interpreters and interpretive writers, our quest is always for points of connection, relevance and resonance. So ecology, ‘the study of our home’ is a total gift. Or would be, if it wasn’t in Greek. It is cross-cultural, cross-generational, and dear to our hearts. It is a rich seam.
Home. Where we live and grow and mate and breed and feed and paint and dance and sing and play and kick and scream and fight and do everything that make us alive and unique. Not a house, not a family, but home. The place we ‘come home to’ like ‘homing pigeons’, our ‘home town’, where our ‘home team’ plays. Feel the connections – and write from them.
Oikos. The place where we fit , where we are part of it and it is part of us. Where what we do matters and makes a difference, often a big one, to everyone around us. Where we feel their pain and joy and they share ours. Aawww – I am feeling warm, connected and enlivened already. This is a great springboard for writing .
Ecology really is a fantastic word. It can be hard to remember that we can’t use it.
Before you ask, yes, I do know that homes can be broken, and that this has tragic and devasting, life-destroying consequences. Sometimes they can’t be repaired for generations. Sometimes not at all. Just like ecosystems.
I have to stop now. My daughter moved out yesterday to set up her first home. I need to rush round and give her, and her beloved, hugs. Great big ecological hugs to them, to you and everyone you share your home with. Enjoy it, love it – then write it for our home planet and all we share it with.
NOTE: I am developing a new training course on writing for nature and wildlife interpretation. If you would be interested in hosting or attending such a course, or the ’50 words’ course referred to above, let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org.
All pictures thanks to Peter Phillipson. For more go to Peter’s Flickr stream. Follow Peter @ TellTalePeter on Twitter.