S2 E29

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If you asked the average person what makes Apple products distinctive, they might have trouble putting their finger on what it is exactly that makes their customers so fanatically loyal. In fact, I think even a lot of Apple fans themselves would find it hard to explain why they’re so keen on their Macbooks and their iPhones. Apple products have an almost ineffable quality – they’re more usable, more intuitive, more elegant. Yet there isn’t one single feature that makes their products superior to the competition’s. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An Apple product isn’t just good design or competent engineering – it’s an ethos.

As you can probably tell by now, I’m one of those diehard Apple customers.

But don’t worry, I’m not here to extol the virtues of the iPhone. A couple of weeks ago I came across a brief book review in the Times Literary Supplement that I want to share with you. The book is The Thunderbolt & The Monk by Nancy Stock-Allen. It’s thanks to this review that I discovered that Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple and widely considered one of the greatest business gurus of our age, owed a great deal of his genius to the education he received at Reed College, a small liberal arts university in Oregon. Were it not for a Trappist monk who taught graphic arts in relative obscurity, the world’s most valuable company would never have come to be.

Steve Jobs said the following in a speech given at Stanford University in 2005:

Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand-calligraphed… I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of spacing between different letter combinations, and about what makes great typography great.

In other words, Apple’s entire aesthetic, and might I add its success, can be directly traced back to the passionate commitment of a humble calligraphy teacher.

Last Saturday was the very first workshop for Ethos English Lab, the membership for EFL teachers who want to use English as a vehicle for positive social impact. In one of the breakout rooms we had a conversation about leaving a legacy. Such a grandiose term is often reserved for the rich and famous, for people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Yet, as anyone with an interest in biography knows, there’s no such thing as a self-made man.

People like the monk Robert Palladino, people like you, are in the background kindling that love of knowledge and beauty for its own sake that is the precarious legacy of the liberal arts. And as I hope this anecdote illustrates, this commitment has a value we can’t begin to fathom.

Now, let’s go over today’s vocabulary:

put your finger on something: discover the exact reason why a situation is the way it is, especially when something is wrong

Although the film was enjoyable, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it didn’t fully satisfy me.

ineffable: This term refers to something that is too great, extreme or beautiful to be described in words.

Witnessing his son’s birth led to a sense of ineffable joy he had never felt before.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: This chunk expresses the idea that something is more effective or significant as a complete entity than its individual components would suggest.

A well-functioning team illustrates the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, with each member contributing to a result that exceeds what they could achieve individually.

ethos: Ethos is a Greek term meaning “character” that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or values typical of a particular community or nation. In rhetoric, ethos is one of the three artistic proofs, that is, persuasive appeals, along with logos (logic) and pathos (emotion).

In the late ’60s, thousands of people lived according to an ethos of sharing and caring.

Extol the virtues of something: This somewhat formal chunk means to praise the positive qualities or benefits of something.

He never missed an opportunity to extol the virtues of regular exercise and a balanced diet.

do something in relative obscurity: carry out work without it being widely recognised or known. It often refers to individuals who contribute significantly to a field, create art or perform other tasks, but do so quietly, without gaining fame or public attention.

Many social workers spend their careers in relative obscurity, providing crucial support to communities without seeking or receiving much public recognition.

come to be: begin to exist or become

For example, if you say “Angela Merkel came to be known as a great leader,” it means that over time she was gradually recognised as a great leader.

leave a legacy: create something that will continue to have a positive impact or will be remembered long after a person has passed away.

The philanthropist established numerous scholarships in order to leave a legacy of educational opportunity for students in need.

there’s no such thing as: a chunk used to say that something doesn’t exist or isn’t real

There’s no such thing as unicorns.

self-made: a self-made man or woman has become successful and rich thanks to their own abilities and efforts, not by having money given to them

Although Trump claims to be a self-made man, it’s a well-known fact that he was born into money.

fathom: understand what something means after thinking about it carefully SYN work out

Mark couldn’t fathom why she resented him so much.

As always, thanks for listening. If you’re interested in joining the waiting list for Ethos English Lab, my membership for English teachers whose first language isn’t English, just send me an email to sean@ethosenglish.com.