Wordsmithing with Stephen Fry

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have. When you begin to really learn the craft of writing, when you really begin understand how to use language, to manipulate words to affect ideas, you start to really notice how people misuse language in every day life. In marketing, commercials, advertisements for jobs, especially commercials, newspapers, and magazine articles it’s all right there, ready for everyone to see what went wrong. Did I mention the all too frequent misuse of grammar in commercials, it’s there too.

As a new writer you begin to think, wow did I sound as stupid as all of these people? Do I sound this stupid now? As a new writer seeing all of these mistakes “professionals” make, you begin to fear looking back through your old manuscripts. You may even wake up in cold sweats one night remembering that apostrophe you forgot to put in your writing sample. I haven’t yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming.

Well, don’t fear too much. Enlightened folks understand that language is fluid, flexible, and used appropriately in different ways in specific situations. What you want to remember is to do your best to use language with intention. Be conscientious. And remember, be creative. As Stephen Fry explains in the wonderful kinetic typography video below, that “misuse” or exploration of the flexibility of language has been going on for a very long time. Language is a living entity within living entities.

Image of Stephen Fry

Channeling my inner Fry…

I leave you with a few questions, my friends. Give them some thought and leave me a comment. One question is, do you agree with what Mr. Fry asserts?

Do you believe that language is a living thing, to be used flexibly to exact images and evoke emotions in your readers, even it it’s not technically correct by current standards?

And last, when you intentionally “misuse” a word and your editor marks you for it, will you stand by your mode of expression and fight for the words you so lovingly crafted? Or will you back down?

I want to hear from you.

Until then, you have my best regards.



7 thoughts on “Wordsmithing with Stephen Fry

  1. Part of me agrees wholeheartedly with his idea that language should grow and change as our world and our perceptions do. This puts me in outright combat with the side of me that cringes at the words “frenemy,” “bromance,” or “broni,” and triggers a nigh-homicidal rage when I hear anyone over the age of fifteen saying “LOL” or other textual shorthand in a verbal conversation. I think everyone has their darlings when it comes to “proper” and “improper” word usage, and conversely everyone has those words or contexts where the listener experiences fifteen phantom simultaneous spinal taps any time these gaffes occur in earshot.
    Great post!

    • LOL…oops, sorry. I don’t think he means to include such fad-ish words of the likes of “frenemy,” “bromance” or any such thing, those will fade in time. (Think TMNT’s Kowabunga…shit, my age is showing) I gathered from this piece that he’s speaking to the more enduring creative evolution of words which infiltrate literature. (Pop culture is not literature…like Twilight or 50 Shades…sorry, couldn’t…no I could, fuck it) I agree with him in this, in the utilization of poetry in our prose words can be mish-moshed to suit the feeling. When that is so clever it endures, then that aids to the evolution of our language.

      I hope words like “bromance” fade in a decade or so along with any memory of the likes of Jersey-Shore-esk tripe.

      Thanks for coming by JS! I always appreciate your company.

      • My pleasure!
        Oh! Saw I missed the creative misuse or abuse of grammar and spelling. 😀
        That’s pretty simple. If the story or the speaker demands it, I do it. If it don’t, I don’t. (Yes, I’m aware that was ungrammatical. 😛 ) I’ve never had an issue with it yet, because I can defend my work pretty well, but I’m always ready to explain to even the most anal-retentive editor why this character would have that voice, even if it’s not “lyrical.”

  2. I think you already know my opinion on language and the use of it, on words and their “aliveness”. And even if I can always hide behind my “non-native English speaker” excuse when I misuse or mistype a word, I still believe it’s a matter of respect – first of all towards the words and then towards myself – to acknowledge my mistake and correct it. Words are living entities. Meanings are alive. Just like us.

    • Well said, Lilly. And, really, you use words with more precision than nearly all of the native anglos I know. When you abuse a word, it turns around and says “thank you.” 😀

      There is magic with words. Is it a surprise? They’re our thoughts come alive. How could that be anything but magic? They do live if we allow them.

      On the other side of the coin, there is sense to using words correctly, but not to the point of feeling like you should slap someone for poor grammar or punctuation. It’s only when people learn to manipulate words correctly that they learn to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. The saying the pen is mighter than the sword only applies if the words that flow from the pen are sharp and articulate.

      Stephen Fry has another quote that I adore:
      “Language is my whore, my mistress, my wife, my pen-friend, my check-out girl. Language is a complimentary moist lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the breath of God, the dew on a fresh apple, it’s the soft rain of dust that falls into a shaft of morning sun when you pull from an old bookshelf a forgotten volume of erotic diaries; language is the faint scent of urine on a pair of boxer shorts, it’s a half-remembered childhood birthday party, a creak on the stair, a spluttering match held to a frosted pane, the warm wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of a Mediterranean girl, cobwebs long since overrun by an old Wellington boot.”

      Thanks for coming by and saying a few words, Lilly. It’s always a pleasure. 🙂

      • Love that quote you included in your reply :).
        There’s one more thing that I’d like to add, trying to not sound religious. They say that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Shouldn’t that give us, humans, a thrill of fear when we toy carelessly with words? Even when we think we play innocent games, we commune on words’ energy, and endow them with ours. It’s an exchange, a symbiotic relationship. We not only use words, we ARE words – or at least their heirs. I think I’m beginning to sound a bit too philosophic here, you know what I mean :).
        Beautiful post – it was my pleasure to read it :).

        • There is an essence with word use that used to be considered “holy” which is why old scriptures impressed that people go as far as to surpress “evil” or “unclean” thoughts. It was a given back then that words held power and that power should not be used carelessly. In some ways I would say that this ended up being more of a power play than an actual concern for people…knowledge is power after all… but there is truth to the matter. When we write, we communicate our thoughts and emotions to those who read our words.
          Of all of the creative endeavors, writing is the most direct way to influence others.

Thanks for stopping by. Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s