From the Founder

Language Changes…and So Does Everything Else

One of the founding principles of Planet Word was that language, most notably English, is always changing, and that we should celebrate its vitality and not attempt to prevent its growth and mutation. Just think about the richness that wordplay has brought to our language — the back formations and neologisms that we don’t even think twice about using in our daily conversation or writing. Words such as proofread and escalate and nitpick! * Or workaholic and cyberspace. It’s hard to imagine how we could have communicated clearly without them!

When we designed Planet Word, we wanted everyone to feel at home when they entered the doors — no matter how they talked, what accent they had, or whether they even liked to read. Before the museum opened, people couldn’t imagine what a museum of words and language would be, and they often asked me whether Planet Word would have an exhibit on diagramming sentences or would fight the nonstandard usage creeping into English, such as the ubiquitous and often scorned use of like or the use of impact as a verb or the common substitution of less for fewer. I had to tell them, no, Planet Word would not emphasize grammar or dictate right and wrong — it would be a descriptive language museum that tried to show language as it is used and would hope to show visitors glimpses of that rampant garden of possibilities.

But now it’s my turn to walk the talk. Whether I like it or not, change is coming to Planet Word. After 6 intense, incredible, and innovative years, Patty Isacson Sabee, Planet Word’s outstanding inaugural Executive Director, has decided to take a new job, as CEO and President of the Detroit Opera, a return to her roots in the performing arts world. We wish Patty success and know that the Detroit Opera will benefit from her indefatigable work ethic, her deep knowledge of music and opera, and her warm and inclusive management style.

Fittingly, in the New York Times on Sunday (September 3, 2023), I happened on an article that seemed to be precisely targeted at me and this inflection point at Planet Word. Written by Brad Stulberg, the author of Master of Change: How to Excel When Everything is Changing — Including You, I gleaned a lot of sensible and useful advice. He recommends that people not try to “avoid, fight, or control change, but rather to skillfully change with it.” He advises that we all need to “focus on what we can control” and let go of what we can’t. He wrote the article for all of us who are finding it hard to thrive in a world where the pace of change seems so overwhelming, but he reminds us that even centuries ago Heraclitus had noted that “the only thing constant is change.” (I guess that truth never changed, though!)

Stulberg has some pointers for people navigating the currents of change, likening it to being in the middle of a river rushing by. He says that staying upright requires being “tough, determined, and durable,” and — this jumped out at me — “to know your core values, what you stand for.” I couldn’t agree more. Leaning on Planet Word’s six core values allowed me and Patty to make decisions and narrow choices from an almost infinite universe when deciding what ideas would be covered at Planet Word.

Indeed, it was Patty who helped me develop and articulate the six core values that went into shaping Planet Word. Namely, to be fun, playful, unexpected, meaningful, motivational, and inclusive. We have never wavered (at least consciously) from adhering to those values in the six years of our work together. Those values were, and still are, our touchstones, helping us decide which new content to consider, which programs to offer, and which positions to take on important issues.

I know that whoever takes Patty’s place — and any future new hires — will absorb the importance of these core values and will use them to bring balance and direction to their decision-making and actions.

So, change is coming to Planet Word, as was always inevitable, but it will be grounded in these fundamental, unchanging values that make Planet Word the engaging, welcoming, open place it aims to be. Thank you, Patty, for designing the roadmap that has served us so well.

—Ann Friedman, founder of Planet Word