Melvyn's rules for the conversation game

Share
Related Topics
Every Monday morning on Radio 4 there is a programme called The Conversation Game.

Well, it is not actually called The Conversation Game. It is called Start The Week. But it might as well be called The Conversation Game, because it is one of the few radio programmes left in which you can hear conversation being played according to the traditional rules of the game.

What happens is that Melvyn Bragg gathers together in his studio a random selection of one scientist, one author, one person involved in a big TV production and a token person who is always a woman, and he plays the game of conversation with them. This is not such a tightly ruled game as Just a Minute, and in fact the rules of the game called conversation are so loose and so unwritten that not many people realise it is a game at all, but game it is, and if you should want to play it at home, it helps if you know some of the rules.

For instance, you have to know that you do not need to stick to grammatical rules. You often hear quite literate people saying hideously ungrammatical things such as:"He is the kind of person who, if he had lived in the 19th century, people would not have been able to categorise him." In conversation it does not always matter if things are plural or singular, which is why people with a good education can be heard to say: "These are the kind of thing which ..." instead of the correct "kinds of thing which ...". We now accept things like this in conversation.

But the rule of conversation which I would like to draw attention to this morning is the rule which says: "In any given situation, you can use one fashionable adjective to show that you approve of a thing, and another one to show that you disapprove of exactly the same thing."

Let me give you an example. If, as sometimes happens, one of Mr Bragg's guests says that television is a cold medium compared to radio or literature, meaning that you can provide an imaginative response to radio or books whereas watching TV is a passive, non-participatory, non-creative activity, Mr Bragg can always be relied upon to get very cross and defend TV - the last time I heard him do this, he told the guest that she was talking absolute nonsense, and that anyone who had ever sat round a TV set with other people watching a vital football match, cheering and groaning every inch of the way, would know that television could be highly participatory.

This shut the woman up, because it was quite a telling example. However, if at any time another guest brings forward such an experience or example to back up something with which Mr Bragg disagrees, he will often dismiss it as purely anecdotal.

Do you see the technique at work? If you do it, it is "telling". If someone else does it, it is "anecdotal". Same thing, different adjective.

Another example. I watched England playing a sort of rugby football against France on Saturday, in the hopes of being entertained, and as I slumped lower and lower into my seat, hoping I would stay awake until we got to the Ireland vs Scotland game, I knew it would only be a matter of time before some commentator would notice that neither side looked like scoring a try and would say something like: "Well, this may not be the most skilful/entertaining game in the world, but no one could deny that it is very exciting." And it duly happened. "Exciting" is the word rugby commentators use to mean that the scores are quite close and that the two sides are so dully matched that they both have a chance of winning. There is another adjective which can be applied to such a match. It is "boring", and it is the word that would be used by everyone in the world who was not English or French, and by many who were.

Here are some more pairs of words. Those on the left are approving, those on the right disapproving.

Romantic Sentimental

Reductionist Simplistic

Erotic Dirty

Protean Shapeless

Economic Cheap

Low-budget Shoddy

Traditional Formulaic

High-quality Elitist

Personal Incomprehensible

Please send sae and blank cheque for full list.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities