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adjective [before noun]

used to describe something which is done more carefully and over a longer period of time in order to improve its quality and obtain other benefits

'Slow journalism developed as a reaction to the 24/7 news cycle, with an emphasis on in-depth explanations of why stories matter and following them through to the end, as opposed to reporting stories with a quicker turnaround such as breaking news.'

Journalism.co.uk 5th December 2014

'Welcome … to slow travel, which comes to seem ever more tempting in an age of acceleration. … it also speaks for the … allure of seeing somewhere on foot, of going to one place (and not 10) in 14 days …'

Guardian 17th January 2015

Most people would agree that the word slow stereotypically rings negative bells. If we take a quick look in the Macmillan Dictionary for example, the headings summarizing slow's various senses are pretty downbeat, e.g. 'not fast', 'taking a long time', 'not intelligent', 'not busy/exciting' … and so on. But over the last 30 years or so slow has gradually been developing a more positive alter ego. In an era characterized by frenetic information transfer and a corresponding expectation that everything should be done at breakneck speed, there's a quiet revolution where 'slow' is good.

in an era characterized by frenetic information transfer and a corresponding expectation that everything should be done at breakneck speed, there's a quiet revolution where slow is good

In January 2013 US journalist Paul Salopek embarked on a seven year walk from Ethiopia to the tip of South America. Two years in, he continues to video, write and tweet as he recreates the journey of early humans out of Africa and around the rest of the world. Salopek undertook this extraordinary venture in an effort to promote what's now known as slow journalism, an approach to reporting which eschews instant, superficial headlines and instead focuses on longer term, in-depth storytelling and a more considered analysis of events. In this context, then, slow is seen as something positive – a methodical form of journalism which some see as an antidote to the quick-fire, off-the-cuff bits of reporting which are now commonplace via electronic news feeds and social media platforms.

Use of slow in this context follows in the footsteps of a number of new phrases along the same lines. We now have slow food, food which is carefully prepared using traditional, more time-consuming methods and is intended to be savoured – the complete antithesis of prepared convenience foods designed as an instant fix. Then there's also slow travel, travelling over land and sea rather than by air in order to better appreciate distances covered and sights along the journey, as well as to tick various environmental boxes. A slow city is a place aiming to protect its natural character by focussing on independent businesses, locally-sourced food, etc. and promoting walking or environmentally-friendly travel options. Slow medicine, meanwhile, is health care which is more patient-focussed, concentrating on an individual's comfort rather than on technology or aggressive treatments.

Together phrases such as these suggest that, as an attributive adjective (i.e. occurring before the noun), there's growing evidence for a newly emerging, implicitly positive sense of slow.

Background – slow

The origin of this new sense of slow lies with the expression slow food as described above, coined in 1986 by activist Carlo Petrini as a play on fast food when campaigning against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant near the Spanish steps in Rome. Petrini went on to found the international Slow Food Movement, which is now active in 150 countries across the world.

Other variations on the theme include slow photography, a reaction against digital photography in favour of traditional, manual techniques, and slow parenting, a philosophy which encourages parents to plan less for their children so that they can explore the world at their own pace.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 8th September 2015.

Open Dictionary


the practice of giving birth in the presence of several friends and relatives

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