Archives for October 2012

Bugs Bunny, Archetypes and The Art of War for Change

an early version of Bugs Bunny, reclining eating a carrot and reading 'Victory thru Hare Power'

When we achieve the changes we set out to make, it feels very rewarding.

Yet the process of achieving change, which I like to think of as switching the ‘frequency’, can often feel like a battle.

Metaphors of dance and music are useful to understanding how the changes you seek affect other people – for example, how can you go up to someone who is dancing a waltz and expect them to dance the salsa?

You could start a new and better dance craze they can’t resist. Or you can start waltzing with them and then begin to switch a few of the steps, then a few more. However you can only go as far and as fast as peoples’ tolerance levels for change.

In the classic 1940s Warner Brothers cartoon Long-Haired Hare, Bugs Bunny unintentionally raises the ire of an opera singer by disrupting his ‘frequency’ (opera singing practice sessions) with all kinds of different tunes played on banjo, harp and a tuba – until, inevitably, pushback occurs:

Bugs’s predicament is comical for us, but it’s not so comical when we are the ‘interruption’ to what others want to get on with, and the pushback gets directed at us.

Bugs’s line following his physical pummeling (in turn quoting Groucho Marx) ‘of course, you know, this means war…’ heralds his ultimately getting the better of the hapless opera singer by posing as revered conductor ‘Leopold’.

One cannot help but admire the approach Bugs takes in response to pushback, and this iconic character is described in Wikipedia as:

…clever and capable of outsmarting anyone who antagonizes him…Bugs almost always wins these conflicts, a plot pattern which recurs in Looney Tunes films. Bugs Bunny has some similarities to figures from mythology and folklore, such as Br’er Rabbit, and might be seen as a modern trickster. Unlike most cartoon characters, however, Bugs Bunny is rarely defeated in his own games of trickery.

In terms of archetypes (models of a person, personality, or behavior), the concept of a ‘trickster’ is not necessarily someone who deceives others into doing things – the role of tricksters in mythology and folklore includes raising consciousness, and disobeying norms and conventions. In other words, tricksters can be ‘frequency disruptors’:

The job of any trickster…is to think the thoughts and do the things that they say can’t be thought or done. He’s most likely to be found disturbing the complacency of his culture, or deflating the pompousness of its symbols…

But Bugs is not just a disruptor, he is a tactician who understands the psyche and traits of those around him – consider how effective Bugs is at achieving his ends, by contrasting his Wikipedia description to those of his fellow characters (noting that their characterisation has evolved over time):

– the self-serving and greedy Daffy Duck – ‘…the rabbit’s rival, intensely jealous and determined to steal back the spotlight, while Bugs either remained indifferent to the duck’s jealousy or used it to his advantage.’

– the antagonistic firebrand Yosemite Sam – ‘…an extremely grouchy gunslinging cowboy with a hair-trigger temper…created to be a more worthy adversary for Bugs Bunny. Until then, Bugs’ major foe had been Elmer Fudd, a mild-mannered and dim-witted man…’

– the sweet but flaky Porky Pig – ‘…his mild-mannered nature and shy demeanor made him the perfect straight man for zanier characters.’

– the deluded Pepé Le Pew – ‘…he cannot take ‘no’ for an answer, blissfully convinced that the girl is flirting with him…(she) runs away from him anyway because of his overly assertive manner.’

– the dopey and often cranky Elmer Fudd – ‘…although Bugs Bunny was called upon to outwit many more worthy opponents, Elmer somehow remained Bugs’ classic nemesis, despite (or because of) his legendary gullibility, small size, short temper, and shorter attention span.’

– the tunnel-visioned Wile E Coyote – ‘…Wile E. Coyote has unsuccessfully attempted to catch Bugs Bunny in another series of cartoons…while he is incredibly intelligent, he is limited by technology and his own short-sighted arrogance, and is thus often easily outsmarted…’

– the overly-confident and devious Sylvester – ‘…Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy.’

These characters don’t have the ‘smarts’ of Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales and the Road Runner, who are more akin to Bugs Bunny in terms of their personal characteristics and tactics.

Bugs is a smart strategist and, like the characters similar to him, much more aware of what’s going on around him and what dynamics are in play – so much so that one suspects he might well have studied Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a treatise on military strategy from about 6 BC which has influenced not only military but business and legal strategy and beyond for over two thousand years.

section of the original 'Art of War' bamboo book

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This useful dot-point summary of The Art of War covers off on the thirteen chapters of the text (Strategic Assessments, Doing Battle; Planning A Siege, Formation, Force, Emptiness and Fullness, Armed Struggle , Adaptations, Manoeuvering Armies, Terrain, Nine Grounds, Fire Attack, Use of Spies).

Although change can often feel like ‘war’ at times, and it may be amusing to characterise it as such, it is not helpful or wise to approach change from a combative mindset (see: success rates of Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam).

However although some elements of The Art of War relating to physical acts of war are not relevant, and it is counterproductive to see forces opposing your efforts as ‘enemies’ or that your situation will result in ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, there is wisdom that can be distilled from this classic text that is useful for contemporary change strategists and tacticians.

For example, The Business Insider recast ‘Use of Spies’ (‘what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge’) in contemporary terms as ‘Information Is King’ (ie. don’t go into battle without knowing what you’re up against). This could be cultivating a network of contacts who trust you and give you honest intelligence that keeps you up to speed on the cultural pulse of your organisation, so you know where people are at, and what their tolerance level for change is. ‘Terrain’ could be viewed as the power structures of an organisation rather than valleys, rivers or deserts.

Ironically, one of the main messages of this text on warfare is how to avoid battle through meticulous preparation, planning – these quotes from The Art of War are powerful:

Therefore a victorious army first wins and then seeks battle; a defeated army first battles and then seeks victory. Therefore the victories of good warriors are not noted for cleverness or bravery. Therefore their victories in battle are not flukes. Their victories are not flukes because they position themselves where they will surely win, prevailing over those who have already lost.

Outwitting opponents so that battle is not necessary is the most desirable course, but how you fare once in battle depends on ‘knowing thyself’ and knowing who the other players are:

If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

In your strategic approach to change, do you know which archetypes are you dealing with? Are there Daffys, Sams, Sylvesters, Elmers, Pepés and Wile E. Coyotes around you?

Which one(s) are you?

Be aware whether you are cultivating the archetype of the unflappable, disruptive trickster like Bugs Bunny – it will not serve your purpose to stray into the territory of the earnest yet irritating Pepé, or the belligerent Yosemite Sam in order to achieve your ends (a modern archetype for this would be the ‘eco-nazi’).

It is worth studying the great changemakers and strategists like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Sun Tzu to learn what made them successful and how you might incorporate elements of their approaches in your work, but also remember that tacticians and strategists can be found in unexpected places – and they might even be figments of our collective imagination.

Bugs Bunny reclining with carrot, speech bubble with Chinese characters

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Know Thyself: Understanding Ego States

When we have positive, productive encounters with people, it feels great. Things get done, and people feel good about their work and their life.

Sometimes, especially when there is disruptive change involved – or just a perception of ‘disruption’ – those interpersonal exchanges don’t quite go as we would like, even if we set out with the best of intentions.

Think of situations where you’ve been attempting to bring about change – have you ever felt like you’re speaking to a petulant child rather than an adult?

Or perhaps you feel like an adult trying to get a teenager to clean their bedroom – that dynamic where although you care, they don’t, and you both know it!

Maybe there’s someone you always seem to clash with, or encounter resistance from, someone who knows just how to push your buttons?

These encounters can leave one or both parties angry, frustrated and drained.

Wouldn’t it be good to be able to break such negative patterns of engagement? It’s possible, but it begins with being aware of what is going on during such exchanges.

One way of looking at this is Transactional Analysis (TA):

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a theoretical framework used in therapy and counselling, which suggests that one of overriding factors in the perpetuation of these situations is not other person’s behaviour but our own state of mind.

Transactional Analysis is based on the ‘ego-state’ or PAC (Parent-Adult-Child) Model which suggests we shift between three distinct ‘ego states’ (metaphorical groupings of thoughts, emotions and behaviours), and this is influenced by what is going on around us, who we are interacting with and what ego state they are in.

Parent – a state where we think, feel and behave how our parents or other authority figures acted

snapshot of 'parent' image from theramin trees clip with typical parent phrases like 'don't argue' and 'let me help'

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Adult – a state where we think, feel, behave in a state of presence, responding to what is around us and not any previous ‘programming’ (a goal of Transactional Analysis is to strengthen the Adult state)

snapshot of 'adult' image from theramin trees clip with typical adult responses such as 'aware' and 'assertive'

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Child – a state where we think, feel and behave as we did in our childhood

snapshot of 'child' image from theramin trees clip with typical child phrases like 'i don't want to!'

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Take a look at Jim Carrey’s character in this excerpt from the 1990s TV series ‘In Living Color’ (3:56) – the comedy is in the exaggeration of the character’s commitment to his environmental crusades, but the clip resonates because there are many all-too-familiar ‘they’re not listening!’ exchanges, and reactions from both sides that create a downward spiral of conflict.

See if you can spot where ‘Parent’ and ‘Child’ states are in play in Carrey’s skit, and how the various characters shift between states – and how some are entirely unconscious of their states:

This doesn’t mean that the Parent and Child states are ‘bad’, as each has both positive as well as negative aspects, but they do have more limited awareness than the Adult state.

Here is a visual representation of the positive and negative aspects of the ego states:


parent adult child diagram with positive and negative states listed for each

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This clip (10:00) offers some insights into the dynamics of transactions that occur between ego states, and triggers that send people into different ego states which result in conflict:

In Transactional Analysis, ‘transactions’ are the flow of communication, and include not only the spoken, but the unspoken and nonverbal communication – for example, pleasant words being used in an unpleasant tone, or a negative gesture or body language being used in conjunction with positive words.

Recognition, attention or responsiveness to behaviours are characterised as ‘strokes’, which can be positive (‘warm fuzzies’) or negative (‘cold pricklies’). People crave recognition, and will seek strokes of any kind, including negative in the absence of any positive reaction.

There are three kinds of transactions – reciprocal, or complementary; crossed, and ulterior.

  • reciprocal transactions occur when each person is addressing the ego state the other is in at that moment. This can be Adult to Adult, Child to Child, Parent to Parent, but also Parent to Child and Child to Parent:

A complementary transaction occurs when a message, sent from a specific ego state, gets the predicted response from a specific ego state in the other person. 

  • crossed transactions are when people address someone as if they are in an ego state they are not currently in, and are an unstable form of transaction. This is a common cause of communication failure and conflict:

A crossed transaction occurs when an unexpected response is made to the stimulus. An inappropriate ego state is activated, and the lines of communication between people are crossed. 

  • ulterior transactions are those where a verbal conversation occurs in parallel with an unspoken psychological transaction:

Ulterior transactions…differ from complementary and crossed transactions in that they always involve two or more ego states…one controls the body, but another ego state is operating in the background.

Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth includes sections on the role of the ego (particularly chapters 3, 4 and 5) that are worth reading for better mastery over our own ego states, and understanding those of others:

There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position – a perspective, an opinion, a judgment, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong…you need to make others wrong in order to get a stronger sense of who you are…being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority…it is that sense of superiority the ego craves and through which it enhances itself.

(Thinking and emotion) turn into ego only when you identify with them and they take you over completely…the ego is not only the unobserved mind, the voice in the head which pretends to be you, but also the unobserved emotions that are the reaction to what the voice in the head is saying.

The ego is always on guard against any perceived diminishment. Automatic ego-repair mechanisms come into effect to restore the mental form of ‘me’…whether the other person is right or wrong is irrelevant to the ego. It is much more interested in self-preservation than the truth.

Think about how you feel when someone you don’t know directs abuse at you on the road for some real or imagined transgression. It can’t possibly be a personal attack, because the other person doesn’t know you, yet for most of us, the ego immediately goes into self-repair mode – you get defensive, feel angry and may want to react to that person in the same way they acted towards you. Next time this, or any other situation in which you feel yourself becoming defensive occurs, practice ‘becoming the witness’ to your thoughts and emotions – it might give you pause for long enough so that you can act differently.

There is a lot more to this area of inquiry, including how ego states and transactions relate to our ‘life script’, games/payoffs and rackets:

  • people begin ‘writing’ their life scripts at a young age, as sense is being made of the world and their place in it (such as ‘I must do everything perfectly’ or ‘people I love always abandon me’) – as we move into adulthood, we lose awareness of it, but it is still within our subconscious.
  • game has a payoff for those playing it, which could be the seeking of sympathy, satisfaction, vindication, or an emotion that reinforces the life script; the way to stop the game is to discover how to deprive the player of the payoff.
  • a racket is a set of behaviours originating in the childhood script in which people will create situations that generate outcomes to match their ‘script’, and to experience and feel justified in ‘racket’ feelings, rather actually solve the problem.

The author of The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield, acknowledged that Transactional Analysis was an influence on his book, which presents nine spiritual insights in a novel form.

The Celestine Prophecy outlines what Redfield calls ‘Control Dramas’, or roles people play when they feel they lack power or energy.

Control Dramas take the form of both aggressive and passive types of manipulation:

  • Intimidator (aggressive) – the bullies, those who get power from others by scaring or threatening them; ‘Intimidators’ aren’t necessarily people in positions of authority, and their tactics may be overt or subtle
  • Interrogator (aggressive) – question their target relentlessly, with the goal of cornering them into a position they can’t get out of; ‘Interrogators’ are often critical, nitpicking and undermining of others
  • Aloof (passive) – indifferent, unresponsive and unavailable, ‘Aloofs’ frustrate and stymie others, and make them work hard for the outcome they want
  • Poor Me (passive) – the victim who seeks attention through eliciting sympathy, and who guilts others into doing what they want; ‘Poor Me’s makes others feel responsible for their situation

Control dramas are not only in play with people whose behaviour we are trying to shift – they can also be in play in the change-maker. Jim Carrey’s character is engaging in three of these four control dramas in his attempts to get people to change their behaviour!

If you’re encountering resistance, defensiveness and reaction from people in your change work, chances are there are ‘ego state’ dynamics in play. How to address them depends on who the ‘players’ are and the specific context, but being aware of ego states and types of transactions between them offers a deeper interpretation of these situations than what seems to be going on at the surface.

If an exchange or interpersonal connection is failing, take a step back and consider not only the other person’s ego state or control drama, but also your own. Becoming aware of your own control drama brings it into conscious thought and stops it operating unconsciously – similarly, ‘naming’ the control drama another person is engaging in, and making it the topic of conversation, brings the dynamic into the foreground where it can be addressed. Different approaches to this may be needed depending on what type of drama is in play and who the other person is in relation to you.

A conscious understanding of what is really going on in any kind of exchange can help you to be observant of your own ego state, as well as being aware of others’ states, and find ways to create virtuous rather than vicious circles of interpersonal interaction.

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How Working Less Can Give Us More

red graffiti on a white wall with Anarchy symbol 'it's tough to make a living when all we do is work'

In ‘The Story of Change’, Annie Leonard pointed out that our ‘consumer muscle’ has grown strong, but as a consequence of overworking it, our ‘citizen muscle’ has gone flabby. We’re less active, engaged citizens.

But how can we be engaged citizens if so much of our time is taken up with paid work? Is there another way to structure our lives?

US author and documentary film maker John de Graaf recently gave two public talks in Adelaide, South Australia entitled ‘Shorter Work Time: The Missing Link Between Wellbeing and Sustainability’.

In Australia on a speaking tour for his new book ‘What’s The Economy For, Anyway?’de Graaf drew the links between quality of life, fairness and equity and sustainability by speaking of how society’s goals should be to achieve ‘the greatest good, for the greatest number, over the longest run’.

The ‘greatest good’ reflects all the quality of life issues, ‘the greatest number’ is about justice and fairness, and ‘the longest run’ is about sustainability – if we continue with an economic paradigm that results in overconsumption and climate change, then we could undermine our other intentions.

de Graaf used examples from the US, Europe and Asia to show how nations like Bhutan have enshrined ‘Gross National Happiness’ in their constitution rather than GDP as the primary indicator of success (ie. choosing to measure ‘better’ rather than ‘bigger’); how as a result of the financial crisis, Californian workers who were required to take a small cut in pay in exchange for an extra day off a week chose to keep their four day work week for less pay; and how many of our current societal concerns – overwork, underemployment, having time for family, friends, interests, exercise and sleep – could all be addressed by shortening paid work time.
(58 minutes – talk 35 mins, Q&A 23 mins – this will shortly be available on YouTube, so please check back soon)

He acknowledged that this was not the only approach needed, and that for many people – especially those working long hours or more than one job to make ends meet – other measures such as an increase in the minimum wage would be needed.

Professor Barbara Pocock, Director of the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, also expresses these sentiments in her book ‘Time Bomb’ – right now, sustainable living requires constant consciousness, and because conscious effort requires more time and attention, habit takes precedence over considered approach:

Time is a resource that makes change possible and without it, new ways of living are crowded out – decisions to reassess behaviour and do things differently require an investment of time and thought.

Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology at Boston College and author of ‘Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth’, draws the links between time, healthy communities and wellbeing, and like de Graaf, argues it would be wise to convert increased productivity into more time rather than more consumption:

As more and more labor time went into the market, time for community disappeared.  Social ties frayed and neighborhoods hollowed out. But social relationships are a potent form of economic wealth, which people can turn to during financial instability or adverse climate events. People who have strong social connections, or what’s called social capital, fare much better when times get rough. Plenitude involves re-building local economic interdependence by trading services, sharing assets, and relying on each other in good, as well as hard times.

simple graph with 'respect' along x axis and 'transactions' along y axis - at top of 'x' axis 'citizens', at end of y axis 'consumers'

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Author Charles Eisenstein speaks of the relationship between time, money, community and the ‘gift’ economy (which is the oldest kind of economy, having persisted for millennia and which is still with all of us today):

…community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own. That is because community is woven from gifts, which is ultimately why poor people often have stronger communities than rich people. If you are financially independent, then you really don’t depend on your neighbors—or indeed on any specific person—for anything. You can just pay someone to do it, or pay someone else to do it…The less we use money, the less time we need to spend earning it, and the more time we have to contribute to the gift economy, and then receive from it. It is a virtuous circle.

If we truly want to flex our citizen muscle – to have an active, engaged citizenry, and to evolve sustainable futures – then one of the most important keys is to find ways to help people take back their time.

Thanks to Libby Dowling and Jonathan Pheasant of the University of Adelaide’s Ecoversity Program, Jen Manning and Barbara Pocock of the University of South Australia’s Centre for Work + Life and Zero Waste SA for supporting John’s visit to Adelaide.

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An A-Z of Sustainability Words and Concepts

screen shot of word spy web site

The last few posts have offered a lot of complex information and ideas – now it’s time for a bit of fun!

Often, change agents find themselves grappling with how to express ideas, and in particular, to find language which articulates concepts that are not mainstream, or are so new that the words don’t yet exist.

The Word Spy is a great site curated by Paul McFedries, and is useful for discovering new words and phrases entering the language, across a range of categories such as culture, business and science.

I’ve compiled an A-Z of words and phrases from The Word Spy (excepting a few, marked with an asterisk *) spanning a range of environmental, social and communication topics that could be useful or relevant to sustainability change agents in their work.

Some you may have already heard of, some might make you laugh, some might give you exactly the phrase or concept you need in your next presentation or article. Example citations of each entry can be accessed by navigating through to The Word Spy site.

Warning: if you are a connoisseur of words, a lover of lexicon, there is a fair chance you might disappear into this site for some time.

AApocalypse Fatigue

Reduced interest in current or potential environmental problems due to frequent dire warnings about those problems (related: Threat Fatigue).


Design and manufacturing principles and practices that mimic natural materials or processes.

CClimate Po*rn

Extreme or alarmist language or images used to describe the current or future effects of man-made climate change.


The tendency to think or act irrationally in certain situations, despite having sufficient intelligence.

As discussed in a previous post, having an intellectual understanding of something is no guarantee of a ‘rational’ reaction.


A person who discounts or ignores societal or environmental problems because they believe that intelligence and technological prowess make humanity exempt from the natural processes that govern other species.


The use of floating debris to study ocean currents (blend of flotsam and metrics).

GGreen Scamming

Making a group or product appear more environmentally friendly than it is (see also Greenwash).

HHurry Sickness

A malaise where a person feels chronically short of time, and so tends to perform every task faster and to get flustered when encountering any kind of delay.

IImpossible Hamster *

Invented by the new economics foundation to explain why we can’t have perpetual growth on a finite planet.

JJoy-to-Stuff Ratio

The time a person has to enjoy life versus the time a person spends accumulating material goods.


The direct and indirect influence that kids have on their parents’ purchasing decisions.


A person who is pathologically driven to make money.

MMouse Race

A lower-stress lifestyle that results from moving to a smaller community or taking a less demanding job.

NNature Deficit Disorder

A yearning for nature, or an ignorance of the natural world, caused by a lack of time spent outdoors, particularly in rural settings.

OOne-Handed Food

Food that is small enough to hold in one hand and is not messy to eat so that it can be consumed while driving or working.

British celebrity chef and healthy food activist Jamie Oliver has spoken out about the need for caution with relying on ‘one handed food’ as it tends to be fast food.

PPeak People 

A time when the world’s population reaches a maximum, after which it steadily declines due to reduced birth rates or global shortages of energy, food, and water.


Strategic Questioning is the skill of asking the questions that will make a difference.

RRevenge Effect

An unintended and negative consequence of some new or modified technology.

SSeason Creep

Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.

TTobacco Science

Science that is skewed or biased, especially toward a particular industry.

UUrban Miner

A person or company that extracts metals from discarded electronics.

VVampire Power *

The electricity consumed by electronic and electrical appliances while they are switched off, but in standby mode.


The area that a person can comfortably or conveniently cover on foot.

Derived from the term ‘watershed’ (the area from which a region draws its water source) and later ‘foodshed’ and ‘airshed’.


A modern form of folklore in which anecdotes, lists, jokes, sayings, and urban myths are propagated via photocopied documents.

Xerox? Sounds a bit retro in this era of smartphones and social media. However it is very much a method of storytelling and cultural transmission of memes (units of cultural information, ideas, stories, sayings, images).

YYardsharing *

An arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources; space, time, strength, tools or skills, in order to grow food as locally as possible (see also LandshareLandshare Australia)

Z – Zombie Lie

A false statement that keeps getting repeated no matter how often it has been refuted (example: ‘there is no scientific consensus on global warming’).

Only words that have appeared in a published capacity are included in The Word Spy, so although McFedries welcomes offers of new words and phrases, they must have a printed or online example that can be cited.

About ten years ago, I coined a word out of frustration that there wasn’t one for the situation I was trying to convey:

disgreenimation: requiring meticulous analysis to verify the environmental credentials of “green” products or services, while not applying the same or greater level of rigour in assessing the environmental impact of all other products or services (from discrimination, and green, signifying environmentally friendly).

It is listed on Unwords, and although it appears to have other citations, the words used in the definition are exactly those I used in an email and then on a discussion forum.

Do you have any useful or interesting terms you have coined for your work, because they didn’t exist and you needed to invent them?

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