I’ve got one word for you…

Is it possible to describe an experience in one perfect, single word? The gauntlet had been thrown down...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes


I was in a meeting recently when someone described the experience of a buyer as ‘bruised’ (we were there to help change that). So simple. So clear. Bruised. It got me thinking. Great one word descriptions. Now there’s a challenge.

I decided to spend my Feed seeking out experiences and writing one word descriptions for them. So hard. So cloudy. It’s hard and its cloudy to write one word descriptions because your instinct is to write a lot. To paint a picture, tell a story, describe what you see, or hear, in detail. But that won’t work. For a good one word description – like the one I witnessed in my meeting –  you need to focus on capturing the moment of experiencing, not the detail of the experience itself. So here are my attempts.

Word one

I decided to visit Gwennap Pit. I’ve never been and I’ve always wanted to. So I got in the car and drove. On the way, I listened to Barbara Hulanicki on Desert Island Discs. Her story made my spine tingle. She talked of a time when drinking cappuccino and listening to Johnnie Ray in coffee shops was taboo. Of seeing the postman carrying sackfuls of mail orders to the front door of her floundering business, the day after a newspaper featured her soon-to-be classic Biba dress. Of saying goodnight to her father the day he was assassinated by Zionists in Palestine. Of being distraught at being called ‘independent’ by her mother. But doing it anyway. It was a tale of resilience, hope and optimism in the face of – sometimes extreme – adversity. It inspired me. My one word description of the feeling I got listening to Barbara’s story (and of Barbara herself, I think) is: buoyant.

Word two
At this point I was lost. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know what I would find – if anything. I kept driving and I kept listening, to distract myself from the one word that was front of mind – doom. Next up was a documentary celebrating 100 years of Sons and Lovers, in which the presenter made the point that perhaps it doesn’t matter where a great piece of art starts, but where it ends up and what it inspires. Gwennap-Pit-Redruth

When I finally made it to Gwennap, I walked round each circle of the sunken structure, turning that idea over in my mind.  It’s where things end up, that’s important. Where art, actions, events and objects inspire people to go, – beyond their origins. Just like the Pit. A “round green hollow” created by mining activities and made famous by methodist founder John Wesley who began preaching there in the 1760s, Gwennap Pit has played host to everything from sermons to theatre productions to concerts. It inspires people to write, think and create, it’s the start of so many things – each of them unique. This might not be why it originally took shape, but it’s where it takes people now. There’s scope in Gwennap’s contours and layers. There’s vision. My one word description of the experience I had at Gwennap (via Sons and Lovers) Pit is: muse.

Word three
On the drive home, Radio 4 made a final appearance. The You and Yours team was discussing the societal realities for women in India, a year to the day that a woman was attacked and died of her injuries in Delhi. It got me thinking about the injustice that women still experience in the world and how little I know about it.  About how I care intensely about fairness and equality but don’t really know a jot about feminism. I got home and started googling. Aside from finding some books to read that will hopefully educate me on the subject (another Feed all lined up), I happened across Ada Lovelace. ADA LOVELACE 2

Daughter of Byron, Ada Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer, before computers had even been invented. She looked beyond the limitations of resource, the prejudice of society and the boundaries of contemporary knowledge, and used her insight to predict, to forecast, to theorise. Ada took me on a whole new journey, where I met Caroline Hershel (the first woman to discover a comet) and Mary Anning (world renowned fossil hunter). Each one of these scientists set my mind alight with their drive, courage and the distance with which they could see. My one word description for the experience of discovering Ada Lovelace and friends is: beyond.

So that’s it.  A day of doing, in one word descriptions. And an advert for Radio 4. Thinking this way for a day taught me a lot. How every word can carry a thousand meanings and how finding one right word can do the job of many. Valuable stuff.

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