Stephen Fry on language

Hmm, stupid amount of posts today, I really should be working. Actually I meant to post this last night but got caught up in reading Anathem so never got round to it, better late than never. Boing-boing linked to a fantastic podcast by the sesquipedalian’s sesquipedalian, Stephen Fry. The gist of the podcast is the beauty of language in general but in particular its ephemeral, ever-changing nature.

Few people take the time to stop and thing about the words they use: their pronunciation, origin, meaning and everything else that goes to make language what it is. We’ve been building this wonderful lexicon for millenia, starting off with grunts and clicks (I guess!) and progressing through ever more complex languages till we’ve reached the smorgasbord we have at our disposal right now. Importantly, because of this constant progression and evolution of language, we can never truly say that there are rights and wrongs involved in our useage (at least not within certain grammatical limits). Language is, fundamentally, about communicating meaning, and as long as it successfully fulfills that purpose then the finer details are open to alteration and that is the beauty of the whole enterprise.

I used to have constant arguments/discussions with my ex-wife about this very point, she would rant and rave about how certain forms of slang, txtspk, email language and so on were perniciously destroying our language while we stood by and watched. I calmly tried to explain that this had happened with every single generation through time immemorial, it was how language worked and you could either work with it or become one of the humourless pedants writing in to the letters page of the Times every time they see a “10 items or less” sign at the local supermarket (Fry’s lambasting of such characters on the podcast is a joy to listen to). It gives me no short measure of pleasure to hear that Stephen Fry, who I have long regarded as something of a hero and who she greatly respects, comes down on my side of the discussion. Listen to it and enjoy…

PS – I must admit that I still get pedantic about misplaced apostrophes and the like. But that’s different isn’t it? I don’t care, I’m allowed one vice 😉


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