Thursday, November 03, 2005

Stephen Fry is a Legend

They are coming to get my 'Faulty' motherboard on Monday. Hopefully they will just send me a replacement so I can get on with my quest for techy domination!

I am considering going on one of them Speed Dating things. They are supposed to be really good fun, especially if you take a friend or two. So I am going to inform a colleague or two that they will be joining me. Think I should be able to persuade Lee to come along too, that way we can turn it into a philisophical discussion at a club afterwards. It's not to get a girlfriend you understand, we've discussed that relative disaster area before, it's more to prove a theory.

Okay on to the reason for the post Title. I was watching Jonathon Ross last Friday mainly because I knew that Stephen Fry was one of his guests. Not only one of the cleverest men in the world but a very funny man to boot. The discussion went onto his new book, The Ode Less Travelled. Basically it's a 'How to Write Poetry' book, one which I am considering buying in a vain stab at depth. I'm drifting from my point. Stephen started talking about language and how wonderful it is, moving onto youth basically inventing words. One word his nephew was using was 'Chillax'. A combination of Chill and Relax. Now Ross started spluttering about it being a stupid word and I found myself agreeing with him, but Fry countered brilliantly:

Fry: Why do you object to these words being melded together so?
Ross: Well it's just lazy isn't it Stephen?
Fry: Yet you don't object to my use of the word Meld in my previous sentence:
Ross: errrmmm What? (Ok I'm Paraphrasing)
Fry: Meld started life as nothing more than an amalgamation of the words Melt and Weld, as described int the Oxford English Dictionary. Yet here you are decrying the very same method being used on two other words


Another brilliant nephew anecdote was the said child saying 'you're really book!'. Which is very confusing, but apparently it's to do with text messaging. Some T9 dictionaries pop up with the word 'book' before 'cool'. Obviously the life of a teenager is far too hectic for the word to be changed, so book now means cool. Either that or the nephew in question is as clever as Uncle Fry and it's a brilliantly executed wind up. Either way I like the story.

Basically the conversation was about language snobbery. Something I am extremely guilty of, and I think many of us who claim to know English very well are the same. Stephen Fry (someone with an initimate knowledge of language) sees things differently, we have a constantly evolving language that is infinitely more robust than any other in the world. As he says 'Compare the population of China to the Population of any other country, that is how the number of words in the English language compare to any other'. Our language is a mixture of Germanic slang, Celtic dialect, French, Italian, Greek. Pretty much anything, and it evolves daily. So I'm going to try and stop being such a snob.

Americans should still stop using 'z's where they have no business being though.

And text language is just wrong.

As part of my 'Stephen Fry is Great' campaign, I will be quoting him for a while. For those of you clever enough to know the quote, yes I do know the one about 'Quotation being a serviceable substitute for wit' but I don't care. Here's a choice extract from a fairly famous and quite lengthy rant about Estate Agents:

"Estate agents. You can't live with them, you can't live with them. The first sign of these nasty purulent sores appeared round about 1894. With their jangling keys, nasty suits, revolting beards, moustaches and tinted spectacles, estate agents roam the land causing perturbation and despair. If you try and kill them, you're put in prison: if you try and talk to them, you vomit. There's only one thing worse than an estate agent but at least that can be safely lanced, drained and surgically dressed. Estate agents. Love them or loathe them, you'd be mad not to loathe them."

21 comments:

Olivia said...

Ooh, Stephen Fry has a nephew? I would love to be his nephew...I mean niece.

[rant] And as for Americans using z, much of American English was taken over there from here over 200 years ago before it was standardised - thus lots of old west-country usage. Plus, if you've even read any Victorian British writings you will see frequent use of z as well as the month coming before the day. Furthermore, the British spelling of words such as "colour" is closer to French (ha!) and the American "color" is closer to the original Latin.[/rant]

MattJ said...

Go easy! breaking this snobbery can't be done overnight! lol!

Good work on the shooting down olivia! As far as colour/color goes I never really had a problem either way, even I'm not that pedantic.

The z thing is interesting though, although I would contend that an awful lot of olde english used stupid spellings (see how scientific and knowledgable I am being in my arguments?)but we fixed 'em :p . The date things is odd, whether we did it or not in the past it just seems a very weird way of going about things, it makes no logical sense and befuddles my hardwired geek brain.

Of course now I have to read Victorian British writings in order to check you are right. I still say the use of Z should be restricted to sentences involving Zebras Zooming places.

Finally, the French. You do appear to have founf the one Brit who doesn't really have a problem witht he french, sorry! English is a mongrel language and is betetr for it as far as I'm concerned. Pronunciation, particularly American pronunciation will always irk me a little I think no matter how hard I try, but at least I've acknowledged my snobbery, which is the first step on the road to recovery ;)

Olivia said...

Although I'm a slight purist, I enjoy the hodge-podge origins of English. I find myself defending America for many things as I've lived there for as long as I have here.

I saw Fry talking to Wossie as well, and I think I remember him making this point: English is so much more expressive and so much richer than other languages because we have numerous synonyms for the same concept, and also many nuances in usage.

As for American pronunciation, ever noticed how similar they sound to the Irish? Except for New England whose old-money Ivy League families still don't pronounce the hard r. Though the next generation is changing that, just like the new Etonians here no longer adopting RP although they do still own a distinctive but more casual public school accent.

For example, I once heard Prince William saying he "dragged his lazy arse" somewhere...and "it's all good."

MJ said...

I am very sorry to tell you...but english is not that rich compared to other languages such as..Spanish, off course....in the sense of having many synonyms for one word...an example...love, there is no other way to say love in english than love...we have different degrees of it to difference between types of love..there it te quiero, te amo...so, there..it is more expressive as well....
and i am sorry, but I am kind of lost...what are u talking about when you mentin the z's... I need an expample...

lower said...

I saw Fry with Ross too... a stark contrast after that idiot Jade.

@mj: the z thing being referred to is in words like 'standardised' - the Americans spell it 'standardized'.

It doesn't surprise me that there are certain instances where other languages have more synonyms for a particular word; the innuit apparently have lots of words for 'snow' and 'white'.

The point that we Brits like to hold on to is that English has become more than a national language - in becoming the major international language it has been adaptable to all cultures, and so, if you wanted to, you could use words from any national language in an English sentence so long as you knew your audience would understand it. And once that happens a couple of times, the word becomes part of the language.

I've heard non-native English speakers say that they understand people from other countries speaking English better than they do the English. We each make it our own language. I do not know of another language that allows and embraces mutations as much as English.

MJ said...

Don't take me wrong....I like english... I speak engish...and yes, I do know the importance of english...and we do use english in our common slang...In colombia for instance the common term for "guy" is "man"...which is kinda funny considering most of the population doesnt really speak english...It is just that I am used to American's thinking they are all that and there is nothing beyond the US, and there is no point on learning another language...so I get defensive!!! ...for those Americans reading this...no offense....but you know is true..not all, but it is a common thought... or maybe it is just the paranoia from being a minority speaking...if that is the case.. I am sorry..

MattJ said...

It's not just an American sensibility Maria, it's pretty much anywhere where English is a first language. I'm looking at taking up a second language in an soon, not sure which one. I've been advised Spanish but I would quite like to do Italian, as I'm really keen on visiting Italy.

Don't think we were saying that English is the be all and end all M, totally not the case. It's just that we have more words by far than anyone else due to the daily evolution of the language that happens in a completely random fashion. The speed with which new words are created is astounding. The example you give is quite a good one until you consider other words in English that can be used to express love in some way: affection, devotion, adoration, ardour etc. etc.

Totally get your point though, English first language nations do tend to think that their language is the best. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't but I think so much of a countries culture is rooted in its language that you can't stick with just one for ever.

Olivia said...

Lower - yes I heard it was a ridiculous number like 100 words for snow.

I think English is seen as a useful international language simply because it is so mixed. It doesn't leave anyone out, but people tend to forget that when they start resenting the spread of English.
At this point it's probably unstoppable anyway.

I have a friend in Egypt who says the young people don't even remember how to speak proper Arabic anymore, it's a sort of Anglicised patois, even down to the letters.
Off the point though.

Just so you know I am not a biased English girl, I am a mix of at least 4 nationalities. My grandmother is Icelandic. She speaks 4 languages, and yet one day we were discussing this very topic. My jaw dropped when she said she doesn't think English speakers should be ostracised for not learning loads of languages. Her point: As everyone else speaks English, where do we start?

Indeed, go anywhere in Europe, they won't let you mangle their mother tongues. In Scandinavia they speak perfect English. Indians are proud to master it. Pretty soon, there will be more Chinese speaking English than there are Anglophones.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE languages. I studied French for 12 years and it has turned out useless. I have a basic knowledge of at least 3 others, but unless I move to Rome or Athens or Reykjavik I won't need to take them any further.

MattJ said...

Hmmmmm. I appear to have touched on a serious topic for debate. I apologise most humbly, I can assure you that normal flippancy will resume shortly :-p

MJ said...

This whole conversation has been over extended, but it still bothers me for some reason. I don’t want to attack anybody, but it just seems like so many things have been said without ant proper support. Yes, English is the most universally spoken language, and it is absolutely necessary to speak it to succeed in this world….but, that doesn’t mean that speaking other languages is completely useless….Once again I will name Spanish cause that is my area of knowledge, but I can make a list of over 20 countries where Spanish is spoken, and due to their socio-economic circumstances, if you ever go to that country you will find that most of their population has no knowledge whatsoever of English…At the same time, every single one of those countries speaks a different Spanish…. I mean, half of the time I speak to Argentinean people I don’t know what they are saying….which also happens with English….and by the way….no, we don’t have many synonyms for “snow” and “white”…. American’s have a lot of synonyms for it…..we just produce it and call it by what it is….

MJ said...

ad Matt.....this debate will probably go on if you do not post anything new for us to comment on!!

MattJ said...

I see your cunning plan Maria! Lol! I don't think anyone was saying that learning another Language was useless hun, I know for a fact that lower ants to learn Spanish and is endeavouring to do so and Olivia knows other languages. I am sure we are all of a mind here that knowing English, while the international language of choice, does not mean that you shouldn't learn another.

lower said...

matt wrote: "I know for a fact that lower ants to learn Spanish"

Actually, lower *w*ants to learn Spanish; ants have nothing to do with it!

The differences between different versions of Spanish is astonishing and makes it all the harder for the learner to learn: Gallego is completely different to Castillian (which foreigners generally consider as 'Spanish'), which is different again to Catalyun, and Mexican and all the other regional variations are different again. It's a really rich language, but then you already know that. :)

I AM trying, but it's pretty hard to learn when I'm surrounded by English.

MJ said...

If you need help in the reading and writing part...happy to help!!!

Anna said...

The problem here is that chill and relax mean...the SAME thing. Portmanteaus meld two words together to create a hybrid in meaning. I think we can agree that melt and weld mean different things, ergo this is not a parallel example. As far as I know, chill is a colloquialism for relax. This is what makes chillax such a stupid word. You're blending synonyms to create a word that means nothing different from the sum of its parts. You're basically being affected for the sake of it. If anyone can set me straight on this, I welcome the opportunity to better understand why this word has any merit at all.

Anna said...

The problem here is that chill and relax mean...the SAME thing. Portmanteaus meld two words together to create a hybrid in meaning. I think we can agree that melt and weld mean different things, ergo this is not a parallel example. As far as I know, chill is a colloquialism for relax. This is what makes chillax such a stupid word. You're blending synonyms to create a word that means nothing different from the sum of its parts. You're basically being affected for the sake of it. If anyone can set me straight on this, I welcome the opportunity to better understand why this word has any merit at all.

Anna said...

The problem here is that chill and relax mean...the SAME thing. Portmanteaus meld two words together to create a hybrid in meaning. I think we can all agree that melt and weld mean different things, so this is not a parallel example. As far as I know, chill is a slang term for relax. This is what makes chillax such a stupid word. You're blending synonyms to create a word that means nothing different from the sum of its parts. You're basically being affected for the sake of it. If anyone can set me straight on this, I welcome the opportunity to better understand why this word has any merit at all.

Anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

The problem here is that chill and relax mean...the SAME thing. Portmanteaus meld two words together to create a hybrid in meaning. I think we can agree that melt and weld mean different things, so this is not a parallel example. As far as I know, chill is a slang term for relax. This is what makes chillax such a stupid word. You're blending synonyms to create a word that means nothing different from the sum of its parts. You're basically being affected for the sake of it. If anyone can set me straight on this, I welcome the opportunity to better understand why this word has any merit at all.

Anna said...

The problem here is that chill and relax mean...the SAME thing. Portmanteaus meld two words together to create a hybrid in meaning. I think we can agree that melt and weld mean different things, so this is not a parallel example. As far as I know, chill is a slang term for relax. This is what makes chillax such a stupid word. You're blending synonyms to create a word that means nothing different from the sum of its parts. You're basically being affected for the sake of it. If anyone can set me straight on this, I welcome the opportunity to better understand why this word has any merit at all.

MattJ said...

wow! lucky I get mail alerst when new comments are posted, this articvle is over a year old Anna! lol.

Chillaz is a dumb word, I o agree and meld was a poor comaprison but I was merely supporting the fact that this is the way that we form new words, if my brains weren't spo addled with jet lag i would provide better examples! poke me next week and I will do so lol!

 
/* -----------GOOGLE ANALYTICS TRACKING CODE-------------- */ /*------------------END TRACKING CODE-------------------- */