Stephen Fry, on language pedants:
"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."
Stephen Fry’s tweets are regularly the highlight of my day for precisely this reason. Although I am a bit suspicious about this video because the voice sounds suprisingly like the equally splendid John Cleese. But both are brilliant, so I shan’t be fussed about it. (And I hereby declare I shall also never again allow myself to be fussed about the 10-items-or-less issue.)
David Murray says
You don’t miss a trick, do you Rueben?
I do, however, think it is an honest pleasure to be the only one in the grocery aisle who knows the “fewer” rule.
I say, as long as one understands that one is taking quiet pleasure in superiority–and not fulminating in real consternation–the pedantry is all right.
From everything I can find online, it actually is Stephen Fry. I’m just surprised how much he sounds like Cleese.
In any case – I agree with you that the pedantry can be constructive and enjoyable. But I prefer to err on the Fry side and, where appropriate, embrace the beauty of language above its rules.
I was fine with it until he suggested that people who care about commas are unable to appreciate good use of words. That puts Fry into the “smug prick” camp, where he lives when he isn’t being a genius.
james green says
I doubt that I am a language snob, but the comment about turning nouns into verbs struck me. I still cringe every time somebody asks me if I went golfing today. My usual response is no did you go tennising?
David Murray says
I don’t go around saying, “I golfed today,” either. But not because it’s incorrect. Because it’s just not the way a real golfer talks. All a golfer needs to say is that he played today. He’s a golfer. What the fuck else would he play?
But “golf” is not a new verb. In fact, it may have been a verb before it was a noun; one etymological theory has it coming from Scottish “goulf”—a verb which meant “to strike or cuff.”
Just because things rub us the wrong way doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It might just mean we’re sensitive.