The official groundbreaking ceremony held at Franklin Square on June 4 culminates the first phase of Planet Word’s evolution and marks the beginning of the next. What started with my earliest daydreams and concept designs moved to dealing with officials at the D.C. mayor’s office, to meeting with historic preservation boards and neighborhood advisory councils, to ensuring snow removal from sidewalks and pigeon removal from the attic beams. Fundraising became imperative, as did pulling together a world-class board of directors and advisors, all leading to the identification of our new home at the Franklin School.
Now we enter a stage that will focus on fabrication and software design, prototyping, meeting with educators and students, planning future programming and partnerships, building community support, hiring the museum staff, and, of course, more fundraising to carry us through to grand opening.
If trudging and tiptoeing and treading water were the verbs that best described the first three years of Planet Word’s existence, hurtling, hurrying, and hustling probably best describe the last six months!
From the existential to the mundane, decisions of every kind had to be made: What should we name each gallery? What color paint should be used on the walls? How will we integrate voice-recognition technology into the exhibits? How will we ensure adequate accessibility? What upholstery should cover the auditorium seats? And where would coat closets be located?
And then there’s the content: Were the poems we chose for the poetry gallery diverse in theme, audience, and format? How many ways should we categorize the origins of words in the English language: e.g., neologisms, portmanteaux, loan words, compounds? And what qualifies as a “word” anyway? What are clever and provocative quotations about words to stencil on the walls? Should we select a particular dictionary to use in Planet Word communications for spelling and usage, or does that conflict with our descriptivist linguistics approach? What is the proper tone to take in our blog posts and tweets?
Even while we were grappling with these quintessential operational, design, and mission-related issues, word and language stories were dominating the world news, spotlighting issues that Planet Word will need to address eventually, such as the banning of seven words from Center for Disease Control budget documents: Was that Orwellian or political expediency?
Or the question of what constitutes a lie – does a lie require the intent to deceive? And how does lying differ from the age-old political “spin”?
How did you feel when singer/songwriter Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature? Where should we draw the line between lyrics and literature . . . or do we even need to?
And then don’t forget the recent lawsuit whose outcome hung on an Oxford comma!
All these issues, big and small, important and not so, kept telling me that starting Planet Word was more necessary than ever. In fact, I wished we could open right away – not way off in late 2019! But here’s the thing: It’s not so far off, and we have another solution. Before we open our doors, we want to create an online community, a place for conversations about words and language and why they matter.
So watch this space for future opportunities to communicate with us and give us feedback. Tell your friends about Planet Word; donate whatever amount you can. And before you know it, the next Planet Word celebration will be upon us: its grand opening!
—Ann Friedman, founder, Planet Word
We'll be posting more pictures from the ceremony shortly! Look out for a photo album on our Facebook page, plus more photos on our brand new Instagram account: @PlanetWordDC.