Brian Edwards Media

Stephen Fry on pedantry.

Sketch by M. Haywood

Max Cryer sent me this lovely piece by Stephen Fry on the idiocy of pedantry in everyday language. 

It’s about six minutes long.

Enjoy – but please, no more of the comma debate!


  1. That’s the best article I’ve read/heard on pedantry. And he’s right about (h)aitch. That makes me wince as much as the rest of what he had to say.

  2. Wonderful! For his use of language most of all! How inarticulate we are as a people.

  3. I love this article as it brought it all back, as a little girl in Scotland language and grammer was drummed in at all costs, coming to Christchurch in 1963 at the age of 10, Elmwood Normal School was a revelation it left room for acceptable error without the grammatical tyranny.
    I do cringe the bad use of language but I don’t feel that is defines the person. I think Billy Connelly has redefined some language where is was once a swear word it is now an adjective.

  4. comma.

  5. Correcting others is what gives life purpose.

  6. 6

    Do you really believe what Stephen Fry says when he speaks with a big plum in his mouth? He’s a toffey nosed vocalised pedant. Speaking in his polished uppity voice, tries to humble himself by saying how us “ordinary folk” speak ‘n’ write is OK. But I bet you anything you like he’d rather take high-toned afteronon tea with the Queen than engage in a conversation with you or me. All a put-on. I bet if you met him at a social and you just made a tiny slip-up in what you said he’d look straight over your shoulder and say “Well it was lovely talking to you but I must catch up with Lord Humpheries who see over there”. Or summat similar. He’d just give you the bum’s rush, to be sure.

    He’s just showing off!!

    • Do you really believe what Stephen Fry says when he speaks with a big plum in his mouth?

      Well, there are an awful lot of assumptions in there about someone you don’t know personally. No doubt he speaks in a manner consistent with the the speech patterns of the people who brought him up and the people he has associated with in his career. I don’t see much difference between judging someone on their (inherited) looks and judging them on (learnt) patterns of speech. Frankly, DB-B, you sound like an inverted snob to me, which is really just a form of bigot.

  7. Jealous are we Dwossie Bleu-Bleu?

    Funny how kids playground speaking is quite different,usually, from when they are in the classroom. Unless in the classroom they feel bound to keep up a macho image in front of their peers? Perhaps there is a self defence against the eagle-eyed teacher who pounces on every grammatical “error” and class the writing accordingly. A weapon to be used against the writer. Right/wrong. Black/white. Power/defenceless.

  8. stephen fry speaks as he does because he was born into a family that spoke that way. his accent has nothing to do with his attitude to other people and it does not imply he treats people badly. what’s your excuse for prejudice, dwossie?

  9. As a pedant from way back, I do find it refreshing to be insulted in such an articulate and eloquent style. Yet in my view pedantry does have a place: a kind of brake upon gross aberrations of language – such as ‘to refute’ when one means ‘to deny’. And I have found, more than once, occasions in which ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ were critical to clear understanding of intent.

    In, shall we say, Darwinian terms, we might suggest that pedants discourage (if they can not prevent) the five legged, seventeen eyed, headless linguistic mutants from establishing any kind of foot or handhold upon the evolutionary tree. Agreed: not always successfully (and, yes, I know this is not a sentence). It is hard to see how the antennae on greengrocer’s helps them in any way, especially as they rather draw unwelcome attention to this idiamatic life form. Think of pedants as corrective predators: nature, ‘read’ in tooth and claw.

    I do enjoy language – the irony being that English, as a schoolboy subject, was the one I loathed. Somewhere along the line, my feelings changed, or, probably more accurately, I came to accept my real feelings about language. Having some understanding of the use of nonce-words, portmanteau words, and even apparently random juxtapositions of ill-matched syllables, I accept it won’t do to be over sensitive about another’s manner of speaking or style of writing.

    Withal, I still find split infinitives painful both to see and to hear. I’ve been told there are situations in which such splits are unavoidable, though whether for reasons of lucidity or euphony, it was never made clear. Personally, I’ve never yet found one that (to me) did not cry out for the sundered parts to be reunited.
    “Boldly to go where no one…’ or ‘To go boldly where no one…’ Nope. Can’t see anything wrong with either construct, and both improve upon Capt. James T. Kirk’s voiceover.

    Mind you: you gotta admit, the original line was memorable.


    • As a pedant from way back, I do find it refreshing to be insulted in such an articulate and eloquent style.

      Enjoyed your comment, Ion.

  10. Drat: a typo. ‘Idiomatic’. How that sneaky ‘a’ snuck in to usurp the place of the wonderful ‘o’, I can’t think.

  11. 11

    To ianmac and bje

    I’m not jealous, nor do I harbour prejudice. Stephen Fry says we should be accepting of grammatical errors, and if you bring attention to these mistakes then you have a pedant’s conceit. But what does our boy do, then? Well, he goes about reeling off a truckload of the most common forms of these mistakes thereby parading his own fanciful conceit. With all its stuck-up proudfulness, knowing that he can recognise them.

    It’s just another case of an upper-class Brit being haughtily patronising and condescending towards us lesser beings. It’s not right and you both know it!

  12. dbb-if you feel lesser than an accent,that’s your choice.
    if he’d said what he’d said in a cockney accent, would you feel less threatened?
    watch stephen fry in blackadder- or in his trip across u.s.a. the guy is not haughty. he’s more than happy to poke fun at himself. he’s a gem.

  13. For that matter, I recall his role (it was Stephen Fry wasn’t it??) in a Speights Beer advertisement on Sports Radio several years back. He played the role of a publisher’s editor (?) responding to a manuscript of ‘Wuthering Heights’ written by some bloke called Emily Bronte from Otago.

    The following ‘quotation’ is from memory and is no doubt inaccurate, but I hope it captures the flavour:
    ‘… Cathy, pursuing her lover across the moors, slipped over in a cow pat, whereat Heathcliff jacked in the romance and went down to the pub for a Speights.’


  14. @bje

    Oh God…not cockney, please no! I hate to seem snobbish or cruel, but cockney and Nottinghamshire speakers deserve nothing less than capital punishment. They are undoubted crimes against humanity.

    • Oh God…not cockney, please no! I hate to seem snobbish or cruel, but cockney and Nottinghamshire speakers deserve nothing less than capital punishment.

      Can’t agree. Love the Cockney accent.

  15. ay-up phil.
    innit a shame a geezer like you can’t rejoice in the county accents and phrases that;lubricate the wheels of life, offer the hand of friendship and gather people together as family.
    well, kick that up the khyber, i hear you hurl.

  16. “I hate to seem snobbish or cruel…”

    No you don’t, Phil, you absolutely love it.

    My poor, old sister-in-law’s from Nottingham. Very well educated but drops her Hs like many a good Notts girl.

  17. I don’t understand why anyone could take issue with Stephen Fry’s mellifluous delivery. An I were a wine drinker, I might might compare his dulcet tones with a fruity antique vintage, but I’m not; so I won’t.

    There’s something friendly, warm and avuncular about Stephen Fry’s utterances, like a well used armchair in a favorite relative’s living room. Not all even good public speakers have that ability, to gather, as it were, listeners about the fireplace for a good old chinwag. You know, the kind of homely, late evening colloquy in which the other does all the talking while you just stare contentedly into the flames.

    Hey, ho…

  18. Nothing quite as pedantic (and amusing) as an eloquent rant about pedantry. The pedant in me can’t help but note that Fry should have made it clear that the ‘language’ he is referring to is the King’s English, and many of the points he made are specific to the use and abuse of that noble tongue.

    Native English speakers often forget that there are other languages, and if they bothered to learn some of them they might use their own better!

  19. “Fry should have made it clear that the ‘language’ he is referring to is the King’s English…”

    And the pedant in me can’t help pointing out that it is currently the Queen’s English, unless ‘ER Indoors has fallen off the gilded perch without my knowledge.