by Janice Nigro
Anyone who knows me, knows I love the subtleties of language. I can spend hours, even years, focusing on a word that seems well, funny to me. Many come from the misuse of words that my international friends will make.
It’s not meant to make fun, or funny (as they will say), of them. It’s really meant as a way to connect. I have had some unforgettable evenings with people who I know will remember those same hours of laughing over a word as simple as funny.
But this isn’t about my friends making mistakes in English. This time it’s about spin. I’m fascinated with how movements or branding revives old ways with a new juxtaposition of common words. Making something outta nothing. Like mixing and matching words in German or Norwegian to make a new one.
I got stuck on this idea when I read an article about “slow fashion.”
What’s slow fashion? It’s the kind of fashion where you buy clothes you really like, made of real fibers, that you plan to wear a long time. Like maybe even next year. Like maybe European men and women do. Or maybe like people who grow the cotton and make their own textiles and clothes in Southeast Asia do.
I laughed – really, I complained for about an hour recently because I thought it was so over-the-top. The article took a serious line, about sustainability, and I thought, isn’t this the kind of clothing people used to wear? Isn’t this the kind of clothing my mother has hanging in her cedar lined closet? She could still wear those outfits and be the epitome of fashion in any decade. It’s a psychological trick, I think, to get us to buy more clothes.
At some point along the line, we got fooled into wearing synthetic clothes because people made us believe it was somehow better. Modern. Easier to wash and wear. Synthetic fabric might just be cheaper to produce and easier to throw away. Ask anyone who has lived in Siberia, and they will tell you a real fur coat is the only way to survive winter. And you won’t be just throwing it away. Today real fabric is in – chic even.
I reached my limit on spin because slow fashion is stealing what I thought was kind of a funny joke the Italians played on the rest of us by calling a movement to cook real food rather than fast food, the slow food movement. That was funny.
There are some potential differences between my idea of slow food and that of the Italians. But honestly not much. Mine would be to grill a burger rather than have one that is steam reheated at my local favorite fast food place after having been cooked off premises first. The slow food movement was a rebellion against the sacrilege of turning the art of cooking (and of producing the ingredients) into a fueling session. Anyone who travels to Europe will see the difference. They’ve been doing slow food for centuries.
And Italians like to make jokes. I can picture a group of them sitting around drinking a great wine produced from an ancient grape and laughing about how Americans have bastardized the cooking and eating experience. The food they eat is not real? Pizza? They don’t even know what real pizza is. And their diet of eating this fake fast food is killing them one way or another, they might say, as some of the original advocates of the Mediterranean diet.
I started to think more about this adjective slow. I’ve heard of it used in front of the word travel, but in this sense slow travel really is slow travel. It’s the kind of travel you do where you stay in one place for a while to know it rather than this touch and go type of travel where you say you’ve been everywhere but felt nothing. I could also see slow travel applied to using public transportation or cycling rather than driving somewhere. Even there, slow cycling might mean you need to pedal your bike rather than turn it on.
Slow fashion struck me as funny so I started to test the word slow in front of other words. The first jump I made was to the ways I have used to connect with people in Los Angeles. The kind of connecting you do where you go out and meet real people serendipitously and talk to them. You might say “slow connecting.”
It works. I “slow connected” with some people one weekend when I took their photos on the beach with a film camera. Maybe you could call this “slow photographing.” It is in every sense of the word slow photography, but it’s also slow photography meaning it’s analog and not digital.
Slow talking could be the kind of talking that isn’t texting. The kind where you have a conversation using your voice. Pick up the phone, dial a number, and ask someone a question. Or just answer the phone when it rings.
Slow writing might mean you use a pen and paper rather than a computer. “Yeah, hey I’m slow writing right now so I don’t have time for slow talking.” Snail mail might be an aberration in this theme but only because it rhymes.
“Slow exercise” might mean you go to the beach and walk in the sand rather than use a machine located in a building to count your steps and calories.
“Slow lab work” might mean the kind of lab work where you mix chemicals in a test tube at the lab bench rather than analyze data on a computer screen. “Slow driving” could also mean a couple of things, but in the future, it might mean that you have a license to drive a car and that you are doing the driving rather than the car itself.
I checked the dictionary to see if I had missed something. Slow still just means slow.
The joke isn’t that the word “slow” works like that in front of most activity related words in our digital age. The joke is that we don’t get the joke. It’s that we are fooled by inauthentic branding today. We like things to be inexpensive, and we treat our things as disposable. I LOVE my digital camera. But I don’t think about keeping it forever because it’s digital (even though I’ve had it for 10 years). Something new will come along that is better (it’s a dinosaur in digital years), and it just can’t last forever because it’s electronic. A great mechanical film camera will never die.
The idea crossed over into my worries about the acute disconnect we have in the west, or at least in the USA, with how things get done. People are used to cheap because all our “slow activities” have been shipped to places where they still do stuff the “slow” way. Try making a shirt, dress, or jeans and see what you might want to charge for that. You can’t charge enough based on the hours it takes.
I used to do slow stuff all the time when I was a kid. Ride my bike. Walk to school. Even make clothes. Slow thinking might mean something negative, but now I’m thinking slow thinking might mean to have an idea that lasts.
The funny thing about the “slow way” is that eventually people in emerging economy countries start to have a middle-class life just like you and I do. They don’t want to do the slow work any longer. Or it will not be so cheap. People can begin to face up to the reality that making items and growing produce locally in the long run helps our own local economies and helps us to adhere to some of our so-called green policies that aren’t so green if we are shipping our cheaper produced items over from some far-away land.
Don’t get me wrong; I am very much into the digital age. Aware of globalization. I take digital photos. I read my newspapers and journal articles online. I blog. I even have an international business online. But this is where things start to fall apart for me. Maybe the real way that work gets done is the slow way. Where I meet you, you meet me and we throw out a couple of ideas over a slow brewed coffee or a drink.
I’ve spun out it seems on the word slow. Slow anything is really about authenticity. So maybe there’s still something to life in the slow lane.
©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com
Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.