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Loosening the Chokehold on Language March 15, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

Connor, Cities of the Mind, brought this delightful video on the English language to my attention this morning: 

On Writing: A Message from Stephen Fry

If you enjoy it as much as I did, swing by Cities of the Mind to thank Connor and check out a few of his recent posts: 

Lie Like A Dog * The Emotional Ropes * A Paradigm of Lies

Now, here’s Stephen Fry, a recovering pedant, talking about why language should be as flexible as we need it to be:

For a terrific rebuttal:  Fry Him In Oil! (Greg Camp’s Blog)

No rules.  Just write!

What about you?  Are you pleased that language is expanding at an ever-increasing rate?  Or do you wish that Merriam-Webster would adhere to  strict usage rules rather than disseminating recently accepted definitions?

Related posts:   Which Witch Ate Eight Nome Gnomes? * A Touch of Sarcasm * An Awesome Terrific Awful Terrible Day * It’s Teetotaler . . . Not Teatotaler * Apostrophes: A Tricky Business


1. Cities of the Mind - March 15, 2011

Thanks for the shout out!

nrhatch - March 15, 2011

You’re welcome.

You’ve been writing some terrific posts lately . . . I’d love to see a few more bloggers make your acquaintance.

Thanks for sharing this post on Stephen Fry. It’s such a refreshing take on language.

Cities of the Mind - March 15, 2011

Well thanks, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that either!

nrhatch - March 15, 2011

Here’s to expanding the reach (and breadth) of words!

oldancestor - March 15, 2011

I second that. CotM is substantial read. No fluff on that writing blog.

2. Carol Ann Hoel - March 15, 2011

I think language develops whether pedants like it or not. As we speak, so we write, eventually. When people use nouns as verbs commonly, and many others use those same nouns as verbs, then language has developed, and sooner or later pedants will have to acquiesce. I’m not sure that punctuation and grammar rules will change easily. I’d like to see the rule on starting and ending sentences with prepositions become extinct. Don’t you hate expressing awkwardly in writing what we would ordinarily say another way, just to satisfy the pedants? I mean, just to be correct? Blessings…

nrhatch - March 15, 2011

Thanks, Carol Ann. I agree with you on punctuation and many grammar rules. It’s hard for me to read sentences without proper pauses and stops.

But I love the evolving nature of language ~ words should accomodate us, not the other way around. 😎

3. Rosa - March 15, 2011

Wonderful video! And I, for one, love that language is fluid and expanding! I’m always excited to learn new words and slang terminologies. I believe that words can be fun, sexy, dark… anything we want them to be for the context! Great post!!

nrhatch - March 15, 2011

I love this video. I’ve watched it 3-4 times already. It resonates, especially when he talks about Shakespeare, and about having words tickle the tips of our tongue. He’s a wordsmith for sure!

You’re right, Rosa. Words can be sexy, dark, and FUN!

4. Piglet in Portugal - March 15, 2011

PiP 🙂

nrhatch - March 15, 2011

Glad you enjoyed.

Apparently, Stephen Fry has “endorsed” this video version of his audio clip via Twitter!

5. oldancestor - March 15, 2011

Language and culture changes and shifts whether one wants it to or not. When I enounter someone who is indignant about and self-righteously opposed to new ideas or a rising level of tolerance, I always say, “Don’t be on the wrong side of history.”

nrhatch - March 15, 2011

That is a great line, OA.

I agree you ~ language has always been fluid and designed to accomodate us. I love that it’s ever expanding.

6. Paula Tohline Calhoun - March 15, 2011


nrhatch - March 15, 2011

Glad you enjoyed, PTC. Here’s to new horizons!

7. Cindy - March 16, 2011

As an editor, I am constrained to be pedantic. Enjoyed this, hopeless Stephen Fry fan 🙂

nrhatch - March 16, 2011

As he notes, there is a time for convention and decorum in language . . . it need not always be as relaxed as it is at our backyard barbecues (or bar-b-q’s). 🙂

8. adeeyoyo - March 16, 2011

Thank you so much for this – great.

nrhatch - March 16, 2011

Glad you enjoyed.

9. eof737 - March 16, 2011

Yes I am happy to see new words Nancy. I like the idea of new and invented words… When I took a peak at the Urban Dictionary recently, I was nicely surprised with words I had never heard… and I am mom of teens! 🙂 Excellent topic Nancy. Do you know how long it took to update the french standard dictionary? Later! 🙂

nrhatch - March 16, 2011

I’ve invented a word or two in my time . . . or maybe, like Al Gore, I only think I invented them after hearing them elsewhere. 🙂

One I’m fairly sure I invented with my nieces: WONG. To see it in situ:


10. Tilly Bud - March 16, 2011

No time to watch this now but I hope to come back to it later.

nrhatch - March 16, 2011

I expect you’ll enjoy it. Quite a fresh approach to the deliciousness of words.

11. tinkerbelle86 - March 16, 2011


nrhatch - March 16, 2011

I agree. Thanks, Tinkerbelle!

12. Greg Camp - March 16, 2011

As a professional pedant, I have to disagree. The problem here is that too many lazy persons use language as though it has no rules whatsoever. Speakers who don’t spend any time learning how to use langauge well hear words that they don’t understand and then apply them in haphazard ways.

Take the current usage of “Google.” Why do we need that as a verb? We already have one: search. Text? We have the verb, send. (Let’s not mention that phonetic abomination, texted.) Impact? How about the much less violent effect? (Again, don’t say “impactful” in my presence.)

Perhaps I’m not fully a pedant, since I find regional dialects to be fascinating (some of them) and playfulness in language to be a joy. My point is that language changes for a variety of reasons, but those of us who care about good writing and speaking need to fight slovenly usage.

(You knew that I’d disagree with this, no?)

nrhatch - March 16, 2011

Yes, I did expect some degree of disagreement on this post ~ but not just from you. I wonder whether the other proponents of purity in language are today?

True laziness annoys me too ~ text speak (in other than text messages) springs to mind.

“U R so rite!” That’s just so rong. 😀

13. Tokeloshe - March 16, 2011

What a great voice as well.

Thanks for the link.

nrhatch - March 16, 2011

Thanks, Toke.

I recommend both Connor’s and Greg’s blogs ~ both are excellent writers who demonstrate a true command of language.

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