Letter from the UK: Lessons from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

by Ellis Pratt on 10 June 2014

We had a week’s holiday last month in the Cotswolds, visiting places such as Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

Inside Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the guide showed us the dining table and explained how it was used for more than just eating.

Tables in those days comprised a board and legs, which could be separated. The board could be turned over, as the other side had markings for games such as Nine Men’s Morris and Draughts (Checkers in American). This is why these games are called “board games.”

The board could also be put on the floor and used by guests to sleep on. If they were the only guest, they would have “full board.” If they had to share the board with another guest, they would have “half board.”

Discussions about the management of the farm were held around the board. This is why important discussions are called “board meetings.” The most important person sat in a chair at the head of the board (the “Chairman”), with everyone else sitting on benches.

She also explained other items in the room, such as the “couvre-feu,” which were the source of other words we use today (curfew).

So what was the lesson? It was that common knowledge can easily become uncommon knowledge. As technology (in this case, a wooden board and a clay fire cover) falls out of use, we start to see differences in how different generations understand the meaning of those words.

How many children today understand what the Save icon represents, or even the telephone icon? I wonder what other things there are that are obvious to my generation but are not obvious to children and teenagers today?

Let me know what you think.

Ellis Pratt is director at Cherryleaf, a UK technical writing services company. Ranked the most the influential blogger on technical communication in Europe, Ellis is a specialist in the field of creating clear and simple information users will love.

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