Thursday, February 05, 2009

Stephen Fry's podgram

I'm not sure who put me onto Stephen Fry's podgrams, someone during my visit to NZ for the election I think? Anyway, here's an extract from Fry's most recent podgram (any errors, will be my errors of transcription).

It's a cause of some upset to me, that more Anglophones don't enjoy language. Music, it seems, and dance and other athletic forms of movement, people seem to be able to find sensual and sensuous pleasure in almost anything but words. Words belong to other people. Anyone who expresses themselves with originality, delight and verbal freshness is more likely to be mocked, distrusted or disliked than welcomed. The free and happy use of words appears to be elitist or pretensious.

Sadly, desperately sadly, the only people who seem to be bothered with language today, bother with it in quite the wrong way. They write letters to broadcasters and newspapers in which they are rude and haughty about other peoples' usage and in which they show off their superior knowledge of how language should be.

I hate that and I particularly hate that so many of these pedants assume that I'm on their side. When asked to join into a 'lets persuade this supermarket chain to get rid of their 'five items or less sign', I never join in. Yes, I am aware of the technical distinction between less and fewer, and between uninterested and disinterested and infer and imply, and all the rest of them but none of these are of importance to me. None of these are of importance, I said, you'll notice. The old pedantic me would have insisted on none of them is of importance to me. Well I'm glad to say I've outgrown that silly approach to language.

Oscar Wilde, and there have been no more greater and more complete lords of language in the past thousand years, once included in a manuscript he was delivering to his publisher, a compliments slip in which he'd scribbled the injunction, 'I'll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whichs etc'.

There's all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynn Truss and John Humphries than to write poems, love letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs. Shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings.

But do they bubble and froth and slobber and careen with joy at language? Do they ever let the tripping of the tips of their tongues against the tops of their teeth transport them to giddy euphoric bliss? Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk too? Do they? I doubt it, they're too farting busy sneering at a green grocer's less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well sod them to Hades. They think they're guardians of language; they're no more guardians of language than the kennel club is the guardians of dog-kind.

The worst of this sorry bunch of semi-educated losers are those who seem to glory in being irritated by nouns becoming verbs. How dense and deaf to language development do you have to be? If you don’t like nouns becoming verbs, then for heaven’s sake avoid Shakespeare, who made a ‘doing word’ out of a ‘thing word’ every chance he got. He ‘tabled’ the motion and ‘chaired’ the meeting in which nouns were made verbs. Pedants whinge that phrases such as 'He actioned it' are ugly. Well it’s only ugly ‘cos it’s new and you don’t like it. Ugly in the way Picasso, Stravinsky and Eliot were once thought ugly, and before them Baudelaire.


Giovanni Tiso said...

Ohh, thanks for that, both the link and the loving transcription. If I had nodded any more vigorously while reading it, I would have probably dislocated my skull.

backin15 said...

Yes, I figured it'd be your sorta thing. His delivery is wonderful, of course, but it's also lovely to read. There's other parts of the 'gram that are equally quotable.