Stephen Fry’s ‘Planet Word’

Do you know why we call them UPPER CASE and lower case letters? Because going back to the time of the first printing presses, when the letters would be stored in cases and then assembled to make each section of writing to be printed, the larger letters were stored in the UPPER half of the case, and the smaller letter stored in the lower half of the case. How amazingly simple is that?!

I’ve always been fascinated by language, particularly since studying classical civilisations at college – looking at the origin of words, developing ‘democracy’ from the Ancient Greek demos meaning the people and thinking about Greek as opposed to Latin roots. As I grew up and met more and more people from different cultures, I became fascinated in the concept of phrases getting lost in translation, like would my friend from Hungary say the literal translation of ‘two birds with one stone’, or do they have a similar phrase which means the same thing? I could talk for hours about the idea of language and words, and listen for just as long to what others have to say. So I have no idea how I missed Planet Word first time round, but thank god for Netflix.

Stephen Fry is about as fascinating as people get, and I’m trying to make an effort to watch/read more about him than Qi repeats on Dave. And as passionate as he is about language and words, this was bound to be an incredible programme. The subject matter had me sold straight away, but the way Fry gets so passionate and excited about the things he talks about and discovers, and explains some fairly complicated ideas in a way for Joe Bloggs to understand is what makes this programme so amazing. Each episode looks at a different aspect of language – where it came from, to its uses and how it is recorded in written form. He speaks to all sorts of people as he discovers these things, not just scientists, but also comedians and authors, and people suffering with language disorders like Tourette Syndrome.

There are five episodes in the series, and they have been so interesting we’ve been watching them two at a time, and I’m said that we will be watching the last episode tonight. Whilst Fry seems to have covered all bases, including language being intrinsic to identity, and holding such power and knowledge, even to how it heralded the creation of civilisation, but there is so much more to this fascinating subject and I would gladly watch series after series, looking at each branch in greater and greater detail. It’s true what they say, that education is wasted on the young, and maybe if I had known what I now know and feel about language, I might have taken the opportunity to study it myself when I was younger, but all I can do is take interest in the information I have available to me now, and simply keep talking and keeping language alive in my own way.

I would seriously recommend seeing this programme if you get the chance!


The Vintage Housewife x


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