Fry on language


in Geek stuff, Rants, Writing

The brilliant Stephen Fry on the balance between rule-following and tiresome pedantry in language use:

I admit that if you want to communicate well for the sake of passing an exam or job interview, then it is obvious that wildly original and excessively heterodox language could land you in the soup. I think what offends examiners and employers when confronted with extremely informal, unpunctuated and haywire language is the implication of not caring that underlies it. You slip into a suit for an interview and you dress your language up too. You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you’re at home or with friends, but most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances – it’s only considerate. But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There no right language or wrong language any more than are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan November 26, 2014 at 10:37 am

Another all-time favourite quotation from the same source:

“There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys 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 cream 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 to? Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’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 guardian of dogkind.

. December 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm

To demand the immobilization of this restless, incontinent language is a form of barbaric and backwards ancestor-worship. When the Michael Goves of this world tell “language” teachers that their job is to teach the kids in my neighbourhood to forego their innits and I wasn’ts and nuffinks, he is engaging in a kind of linguistic lapsarianism

oHsabnafPnrvBomyqhhC November 13, 2018 at 7:12 pm

great stephen fry lines:

“and win the greatest victory since the Winchester flower arranging team beat Harrow by twelve sore bottoms to one!”

consectetur November 13, 2018 at 7:14 pm
. October 7, 2019 at 7:13 pm

The second claim is that language is innate, not merely an extension of general human intelligence. Fascinating evidence comes from children who are deprived of it. Deaf pupils at a school in Nicaragua, having never shared a language with anyone before, created a grammatically ornate sign language on their own. A few deaf children in a Mexican family devised a rich sign system with complex grammatical features found in spoken tongues: in their “homesign”, nouns are preceded by a “classifier”, a sign indicating their type, just as they sometimes are in Chinese. It seems the human mind simply cannot help but deal in grammar.

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