Yesterday I linked to an article on untranslatable words which had a lovely example that clanged a loud bell of recognition.
There were some fantastic words that would arguably make welcome additions to English: who among us hasn’t experienced tsundoku, for example, the Japanese word for “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books”.
Today I was in Waterstones, just looking round, picking up books, thinking ‘Umm that looks interesting’, when I suddenly clicked my mind into focus. ‘Tsunduko‘ I said to myself. ‘you have several piles of books at home awaiting attention. Any more and you will crowd out your mental space and not pay full attention to what you do read because of the pressure of the unread’.
So I walked away – it was a small moment of positive control.
P.S. The picture is of the books on my desk. It is actually unfair to say they are completely unread. There are books of essays and a book of poems, which have been dipped into , but all of them need further reading.
This is a post in praise of the Post-it Note. You will see from the picture how I rely on them to mark passages I want to return to. These tiny little strips are perfect as I can put them over a particular sentence or paragraph and they help me read with attention.
The story of the invention of the Post-it is well known but bears repeating because it is one of my favourite anecdotes about how failure can be turned into success, chance can form events, and the length of time it takes to go from research to the home.
It all started in 1968 when a 3M’s scientist, Spencer Silver was trying to develop an ultra hard adhesive for the space programme but instead made the reverse, something that sat in a bucket in the corner of his lab, not setting. I don’t know why he didn’t just throw it out, put it down as a mistake and move on once more to the harder stuff. But he obviously had an idea in the back of his mind that it might be useful, even if he could not quite see how (a classic solution without a problem). He therefore tried to promote it within the company to see if anyone else had any ideas.
In 1974 Art Fry was having some of his own problems in church. He was a member of the choir with a hymn book full of bits of paper used as page markers. When he dropped his book the markers scattered and, cursing and muttering, wished there was some way they could have kept their place. Then that the light bulb came on and he remember a talk by Spencer Silver. So he developed the idea of putting a strip of the adhesive on a scrap of paper. The first trial launch of the product in 1977 wasn’t successful but the following year there was some good feedback and the product was fully launched in 1980. The rest we know: a ubiquitous, readily identifiable product.
It took 12 years from the initial discovery to widespread availability but when it did arrive it quickly became something that made our lives a little bit easier. You cannot ask much more from an accident.
P.S. The yellow colour was also an accident as when the Post-it team were developing their product the only scrap paper available to them was yellow.
P.P.S. By the way the book is very good and should have won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. (David Epstein wuz robbed!)