November 5: information or potential

When I was seven I remember going round the playground with John Brosnahan, one of my best friends of the time. We would introduce ourselves into little groups of kids, mostly younger, and ask for information. We want information, we would say. The kids looked back bemused. This was probably bullying. Information was a big word at the time, very trendy, a bit technical. We didn’t quite know what it meant but it was certainly a cool word.
Emma just told me a story of a family that was looking at a flat to buy and the seven-year-old or even six-year-old suddenly piped up and said: it’s got potential. That word potential was certainly a word she’d picked up on from the telly or her parents rabbitting on.
If you teach languages nowadays you will notice how the syllabus has changed as far as the type of vocabulary is concerned. These days students are asked to understand and use abstract words like development, evolution, economic growth. When I studied A level I was learning the word for door-handle and weeping willow, words for things not concepts. We have moved now bag and baggage into that abstract world that my childhood fascination with the word information had foreseen. Personally, I am dubious as to the potential of such a move. I think I prefer the old flat with that rusty door-handle.

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