Think long

English can be a confusing language to master, or even to use effectively.

However, it can also be as very flexible language, as the subject line for this blog suggests.

Typically a verb is modified by an adverb and not by an adjective. But I have combined a verb with an adjective.

Like the famous Apple advertising campaign, Think Different, this is not a grammatical mistake, but rather an intentional infringement of the normal protocols of English use.

We are used to “poetic license” when a creative wordsmith bends and distorts the accepted conventions to push the envelope, cross boundaries and explore new meanings.

In this case, “think long” is not a badly constructed exhortation to think more slowly or even to think more deeply.

The unfamiliar syntax seeks to capture the attention of the reader, and in that moment when curiosity is aroused, to plant the idea of thinking over the long term rather than the short term.

As the Dean of a Cathedral at Grafton in Australia, I am familiar with the idea of “Cathedral thinking.” Cathedrals take a long time to build, they tend to stay in use for a long time, and they expect to be around for many more generations into the future. That expectations shares what decisions are made and also how they are made.

To some extent a Cathedral invites us to think beyond the time frames of electoral cycles, public institutions, and individual lives. Cathedral thinking is not just for church leaders, it is an attribute to be encouraged in many other areas of life. It encourages an investment in the future.

Think long.

Or to put it differently, engage in decision-making and planning which takes into account the impacts of our choices to the seventh generation; our grand children’s grand children.

Thinking long is good for the planet and good for the soul.

Words shaping worlds

Photo by fotografierende on

Words do more than describe the world around us.

Words can also create the worlds in which we imagine ourselves to live.

Words can change how other people see the worlds we share.

We see this in the media as those with power—and those aspiring to power—choose their words to shape how we see the world.

Being literate involves a capacity to decode the words being directed at us, as well as some skill in choosing our own words as we communicate with others.

In the context of the Australian government’s policy towards asylum-seekers and refugees, are we dealing with people “seeking to jump the line” rather than follow the “proper process” and wait patiently in refugee camps for many years? Or are we dealing we desperate people seeking refuge from violence and poverty, and appealing to our compassion? Will one set of words create a world where people vote for this political party or another party?

Similar questions can be asked (and are) about the US policy on immigrants from Central and South America, or the storming of the Capitol in Washington on January 6, or the protagonists in the current conflict between Hamas and Israel.

The words we choose and the stories we tell create the worlds in which we live. They can distract us from injustice or inspire us to create a better world.

As we master our skill with words we become world-makers, both for ourselves and for others.

Words, words, words

As William Shakespeare crafted plays such as Hamlet, he also generated many new turns of phrase which have entered into English use. One of those is the following exchange between Lord Plotinus and Hamlet:

“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord? 
Hamlet: Words, words, words. 
Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord? 
Hamlet: Between who? 
Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

There is more to meaning than the plain sense of a word.

For people whose “wordsmithing” has a serious objective in effective communication, playing with words can offer new possibilities to engage our audience and create shared meaning.

Repetition can add emphasis, but if extended it can suggest irrelevance.

Multiple potential meanings—even for a simple and familiar phrase—challenge both the writer and the reader.

If we are seeking clarity, we may wish to minimise the inherent ambiguity. If we are wishing to seduce our readers into unfamiliar possibilities, we may exploit the ambiguity.

Native speakers acquire some natural facility with these word games, but those seeking mastery of another language need to be intentional about the art form of effective communication.

Practice makes perfect.

The Journey Begins

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton


For students, researchers and established scholars in the Humanities, highly-developed English communication skills are essential.

My passion is helping scholars in the Humanities to engage fully in the global enterprise of preserving, challenging and expanding our shared heritage of human wisdom and critical insight.

It will be my privilege to serve for a while as your personal coach for professional English in the Humanities.

Thank you for visiting.