Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Use Your Allusion

I was in a meeting yesterday, and we were trying to decide exactly how to handle a particularly messy issue. It involved personality conflicts that had grown out of real or imagined slights -- all of which drained time and energy away from the primary task of the committee. But we couldn't move forward with our job until these other issues were addressed.

Finally, someone (not me) said we should perhaps just cut the Gordian Knot. Some of us expressed agreement, the rest had blank looks.

Yes, another classical allusion had been used. And, for those who knew the reference, most effectively as well.

If you're not familiar with the story, in ancient times the Gordian Knot was considered such a complex knot that it was impossible to untie. Alexander the Great, wishing to untether a cart secured by the Gordian Knot, didn't bother to try untying the impossible knot -- he simply unsheathed his sword and cut the rope. The Gordian Knot was still intact, but no longer an impedance to the use of the cart.

Which was the point my colleague wanted to make at the meeting? If we can't solve this problem (which wasn't our main task), let's cut loose the people causing it and move on.

And that's the value of having a basic knowledge of the classics. Clear communication in a small number of words. After all, "Cutting the Gordian Knot" is only four words --and look at how many it took to explain the phrase.

- Ralph

Day 101 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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