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    Fry Up Some Words

    British comedian-author-actor Stephen Fry gives a little animated sermon about language snobbery versus the delights of language.  Of course he’s talking about rhetoric. Everything is about rhetoric.

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    Reader Comments (16)

    He loves verbing! Just like Figaro!
    October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSaga
    Yes, but he also would allow "disinterest" to mean "uninterest." Figaro (Jay, I mean) points out that "disinterest" is an important rhetorical concept that's been forgotten to our detriment.
    October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert
    Couldn't have said it better myself, Robert. In his attempts to de-snob (to verb a noun), Fry loses sight of disinterestedness--what Aristotle called EUNOIA, one of the three traits of the ideal Ethos.
    October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Fig, he also makes a stab at decorum--"fitness or suitability"--with the same approach you took in Thank You for Arguing.
    October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn
    He did indeed, John. If anyone can find Fry's address, I'll send him a copy.
    October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    That argument Fry (whom I love from the Black Adder series and A Bit of Fry and Laurie) makes is a thought-provoker. But I'm ambivalent towards the idea that we should either be descriptivists or prescriptivists. I admit that I'm in the undecided here or at least, reside somewhere in the middle.

    The journalist in me wants to spell Web site instead of website. (Although the AP said it's kosher to use website now). Still, it's not hard to appreciate a change in how we describe things, as both being populist and a more easily appreciated form of the term.

    Still, journalists are taught to use a prescriptivist's approach to add legitimacy and clarity. That is a good thing. Whenever I come across a piece of journalism with many common grammar mistakes, I find that some clarity is lost. I also start to question the author's abilities. But the loss of clarity is especially troublesome, forcing me to read it twice. For newspapers, that kind of clarity by adhering to the rules is all about getting your audience to understand content with speed is very important.

    I think that descriptivism is OK for some written forms, bad for others. But, I agree that we hold onto conventions too much at times, not enough at other times.
    October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarco
    Figaro, here's his address from his contacts website:
    Mr Stephen Fry
    c/o Hamilton Hodell Limited
    Fifth Floor
    66-68 Margaret Street
    London W1W 8SR


    Figaro, when's your next book coming out?? I can't just keep re-reading it over and over, much as a I like it. I need new Simpsons references, stat.
    October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Maymin
    Thanks, Phil. I'll have my UK editor get a book off to the man. The next book, Word Hero, comes out In October 2011. Just enough time to memorize Thank You for Arguing.

    October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Marco, Fry would probably agree with you. He talks about "dressing up" language to fit the occasion.
    October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

    What do you mean by he's talking about rhetoric. Do you mean this in a subtextual sort of way?
    November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarco
    Hello, I am Spanish, so please be merciful with my limitations to express in English. Or, if in the mood, to really put me out of my misery, correct my errors, please.

    I am sure you know we have a Royal Academy for Spanish Language that works for the millions of Spanish Speakers all over the world. The Academy publishes wonderful dictionaries, compendia, grammars, etc. And, of course, we have this same old dilemma inside the Academy and among the population. Things have gone so far, that there are non-Academic dictionaries called of use of Spanish Language, as if the Academic dictionaries were a relic full of ancient words evoking immemorial times. So what you call a prescriptivist is a ‘purista’ for us. Surprisingly, we have no word for your descriptivists, although I have my own word, ‘laxista’ to describe them -it may sound funny in Spanish too.

    After time thinking about the dilemma I have come to the conclusion that social conventions related to language are a must. Even if there is no primary ethical or moral reasons in building these conventions, the fact is that they standardize how we talk, how we write, etc. and, instead of restricting our minds, they actually prevent social disruption.
    November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel
    I wouldn't associate disinterested with eunoia, the "goodwill" dimension of ethos. Eunoia persuades us that the speaker or writer (the rhetor) has our best interests at heart: we must think that he or she is indeed interested in us in the best kind of way.
    November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn
    Carolyn, you just did an excellent job of describing an important modern aspect of disinterest: the absence of self-interest. "Good will" is a poor translation; "disinterested good will" comes closer.
    November 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Isabel, from now on I'm calling language snobs "puristas." Your point about language standardization preventing social disruption sounds awfully People's Republic of China-ish. ("Nobly strive for worker language purity!") That being said, a stable society does need some traits in common, language being one. So we agree there--a bit.
    November 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Marco, I meant rhetoric from a super-textual standpoint; Fry is talking about the ways that language brings us together or separate us. That's rhetoric, baby.
    November 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterFigaro

    What do you mean by he's talking about rhetoric. Do you mean this in a subtextual sort of way? http://www.mygoodone.com
    November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEvelyn J. Peeples

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