Fry's English Delight, Radio 4
Frying tonight – the English language and all those who abuse it
Sunday 16 August 2009
He may be a national treasure, broadcasting's go-to guy for anything vaguely intellectual, but is it possible to have too much of Stephen Fry? I'm wary of saying anything unduly adverse, given his stance on critics. "No one would volunteer for this dreadful trade but the kind of worthless and embittered offal that we, by and large, get," he's written. (Oi! Less of the embittered!) But ubiquity breeds discontent. Look at Jonathan Ross.
I don't think we're quite there yet. The nation can take a few more Fry-ups. Having been one of the three new Humphrey Lytteltons in I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue recently, he was back last week with the second series of Fry's English Delight. The first instalment, "So Wrong It's Right", tracked the ways in which English develops partly by dint of mistakes made so often that they become part of the language – such as split infinitives. (Cue the Star Trek theme.)
The reason we're so against them, according to Jeremy Butterfield, a language boffin, is because English grammar is based on Latin grammar. The prohibition on them is nothing more, he said, than "a superstition". He was a repository of linguistic curios bobbing about in the stream of language-change, such as the fact that "pea" is a back-formation from pease pudding. "It became right through usage," he said. "Language is democratic."
A subeditor from The Times was enlisted to fill the grumpy-old-man slot. It was good to hear him ranting about my absolute bugbear, the dangling participle, as in: "A good crosser and passer of the ball, Beckham's career began in London." (What? Beckham's career is a good crosser and passer of the ball?) "It's not as if our brains are eroding away," The Times man says. (He may be wrong about that: see Big Brother, and radio phone-ins.) "Why should we see standards drop and drop and drop and see exams become easier and easier?"
Butterfield was clear-eyed about change, though. He winces when he hears "with regards to". "But does it really matter in the end?" Fry spluttered, but like linguistic pedants everywhere, he's fighting a losing battle.
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
Arts & Ents blogs
Paul Walker death: Filming of Fast and Furious 7 on hold following death of actor
Ten adverts that shocked the world
Christmas TV 2013: Downton Abbey special details revealed
Morgan Freeman portrait: The world's most realistic finger painting?
Nymphomaniac trailer shown to children at screening of Disney film Frozen
- 1 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 2 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 3 UK chef creates world's most expensive ready meal - a fish pie costing £314
- 4 Food poverty in UK has reached level of 'public health emergency', warn experts
- 5 I’m sure Kate Moss doesn't care about posing for Playboy. But I do