Stephen Fry on Linguistic Pedantry

In the words of Mr Stephen Fry:

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’ 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.

Lynn Truss’s book – ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ – has to be one of the most humourless and distasteful books of the last decade, closely followed by John Humphrys’ ‘Lost for Words’ (I tend not to link to books I do not like). These are books by people who simply do not understand the living, ever-changing nature of language, who are fixated on language-as-text, and who would squeeze the joy out of language if we were to let them get away with it.

I recall Humphrys sneering at the use of ‘outwith’ (I can’t remember if it is in his book, and I don’t want to have to pick it up again to look for the reference). Mired in his intolerance and dogmatic ignorance, he did not know that this is a perfectly good Scots word, and one that more and more non-Scots are happy to use. Pedants tend to be selective with their pedantry and most can be easily caught out breaking their own rules in one way or another.