Universal Language and the Visual Mind

What is the first thing that springs to mind if I mention ‘universal language’? For me it is sign language, although sadly, that turns out to be not the case. To me that is one big missed opportunity.

The other missed opportunity is the one where we go against nature and use phrases that require prior knowledge to comprehend. I’m talking about references and abbreviations.


Jargon is ineffective as a communication tool

For me, as a picture thinker, I hate jargon as it is inaccessible to outsiders. I hate exclusion. it seems that many people feel the absolute necessity to be part of a tribe, to the point that they jealously guard their position within it by making sure outsiders don’t have a clue what they are on about.

This even happens amongst people who’s very purpose is to expand their community, such as word of mouth marketing companies. People use the same phrases and even corrupted grammar. From a visual thinker’s point of view, this is an added, unnecessary and alienating obstacle.

When discussing something as a group, people routinely use abbreviations, when a visual thinker will have to be very familiar with the term to remember what the letters stand for. Using verbal and not visual language excludes people. It prevents me from keeping up and means I have to ask for definition or clarity and make others think I am weaker or less able then others.

from JK Rowling’s words, people in over 70 different languages all imagined Hogwarts from JK Rowlings words

If this is about ‘survival of the fittest’ then, in this sense, the fittest are a self-anointed group of people who have decided what ‘the fittest’ is to suit themselves and put others, even people who are possibly fitter, at a disadvantage.

Harry Potter may have been a success as everyone wanted to hear a story about a child wizard brought up by a dysfunctional family in Surrey. However, films showed how many people had imagined the same universe through the visual words in JK Rowling’s books. Harry Potter is one of the 10 most translated stories in the world and by far the most recent of the 10. The list here includes Harry Potter

If we have to say what we mean, our communication is not doing its job

alongside Asterix, Pippi Longstocking, Alice in Wonderland, Tintin, Don Quixote, Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Prince and Pinocchio.

In fact, the only adult book on this list is the true story of Kon-Tiki Ekspedisjonen By Thor Heyerdahl, which illustrated how much more connected ancient indigenous communities were by sea than we assume today. It is one universal story that brings people together into one global community.

As well as abbreviations and references, people all seem to use the exact same phrases. It gets so boring. Every single mention of ‘making contact’ or ‘getting in touch’ today is ‘reaching out’. The Four Tops be chiming in with ‘I’ll Be There’.

Before pictures we could add texts on were called memes, it referred to over-used phrases or words. The word meme comes from the French ‘la même’, which means exactly what it is: the same. The boring old, same old same or, in French, la même.

Everyone stops acknowledging each other with hi and now say ‘hey’. I cannot hear hey as a greeting as it is embedded in my mind as a shout, like ‘oi’. I can’t understand why someone would need to grab my attention at the start of a message. They already have my attention. It’s like ‘look’ or ‘listen’ and comes with the presumption someone isn’t paying attention, when they are


The word hello? was used for the first telephone conversation as it had previously been an expression of surprise

Interestingly, when the telephone was first invented, the response ‘hello’ was used as it expressed surprise, as in ‘hello, I can actually hear your voice in this thing.’ As I was born a good century after this change in use for ‘hello’, I hear it as a greeting of acknowledgment.

Any words I learned when I first started to speak are second nature to me. As learn to speak our ‘mother tongue’ from people speaking around us at an early age, the words our parents used, how they used them and pronounced them will form the bedrock of our own use of spoken language.

The phrases that really get me are those that assume common knowledge amongst the audience. If I was listening to a Ted talk, I would be get stuck if abbreviations, jargon or unfamiliar names or terminology were used if I could not picture those in my mind. I read the first chapter of a book, written by a friend who mentioned a restaurant menu item I had never heard of. The film reel in my mind, which was following the narrative, stopped there and then and my attention dropped off completely.

Inaccessible or exclusive language alienates those who are not familiar with the terms, references, abbreviations or pronunciations. People’s attention is also lost when context is missing.

In my mind, context is an important part of the picture. A picture, which sums up a manipulated ‘survival of the fittest’ is the one in which a row of different animals, including a fish, are told to climb a tree. This was said to sum up modern education. To me, it is a fitting illustration of the frustration I feel when faced with inaccessible and exclusive language.

Therefore, as a person labelled ‘dyspraxic’, I find moving my mind’s eye and looking at things from different angles second nature. We discuss visionaries as if this is what to aim for. But none of the visionaries we talk about, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk etc had to do anything like the amount of written work, accounts, validating and proving an idea that we are being asked to do. We all know about Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Socrates, Leonardo Da Vinci, Edison, Einstein and Henry Ford. These people all used visual thinking.

To me, the best Ted Talks are inclusive, universal, can be easily translated and ensure, like the best journalism, that as many people as possible can understand and follow the thread. I enjoy listening to Eddie Izzard’s train of thought, but I got distracted and lost the thread, it would be harder to pick it up again.

Phrases that give me no meaning when I hear them are all based on assumed understanding; pushing the envelope – Where? what’s inside? Who from and who to? Why? – or the writing is on the wall – what writing? What does it say? What Wall? – just conjure images of things but all the context that would tell the story is missing. They all require explanation.

This is like buying clothes online that are sized; small, medium, large, extra large. That does not give any indication of size. There is no context. It is purely opinion. Like ordering a drink and being asked which one and replying ‘in a glass’.

putting self in other's shoes

the mental picture I get when I hear ‘sliding into DMS’

One phrase that I took months to discover what it meant, that gave me a completely misdirected understanding was ‘sliding into DMs.’ I now know it means someone leaving a public social media forum and contacting someone privately. As I first heard it used in a romantic context, I thought that if people were secretly getting together the expression meant to slip your feet into someone else’s Doc Martens as a euphemism for getting into bed with them. No clear picture at all. Verbal hogwash.

Let us be inclusive, accessible, diverse and follow the facts to find universal truths as fellow human beings that unite us, rather than jargon, abbreviations and clichés that lose the audience.

About makingspace4life

Currently setting up a writing to service to provide press publicity, web content, innovative and memorable events, ghost-written trade magazine articles and UX consultancy to ensure new visitors can access and navigate your website with ease. Long term goal is to create a community interest company in Cornwall, which publishes well researched and tested apps to improve quality of life.
This entry was posted in Accessibility, Dyspraxia, Inclusion and DIversity, Language and Communication, Universal Truths, Visual processing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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