Richard on Fry’s English Delight

by Richard Coates

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Earlier this year, back in March, in fact, I had a call from Nick Baker. Nick is a BBC Radio 4 producer, and he was inquiring tentatively whether I might be able to say anything sensible about capital letters. Well, I couldn’t pass that up, could I?

I mean, capital letters at the very beginning used to be just about the only thing that really distinguished names from other words, and names is my thing. No, I know it doesn’t quite work like it used to, what with k. d. lang (who capitalized herself in 2006 for marketing purposes) and some big brands like adidas and iPod and BlackBerry and GlaxoSmithKline. But that kind of weird thing was exactly what Nick wanted to discuss.

So there I was with an invitation to contribute to an episode of Stephen Fry’s programme “Fry’s English Delight”. This wasn’t just casual chat, though – it was meticulously planned, and I had a “first-draft” recorded interview with Nick in my UWE office before First Great Westerning it to London and doing a recorded interview with Stephen. Both of these lasted nearly an hour, and bits of both were used in the programme as broadcast. Pared down to about six minutes altogether! The programme went out on 11 August. It had an agenda, and you can decide whether it was really about capital letters or about names (which is what I really found myself thinking about while talking – does it show?) if you listen to it on catch-up radio at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p024f73r. You can hear the whole programme and a special out-take. And see a publicity shot of my tie.

They really wanted to call the programme “Capital Punishment” from the start, and I suppose it started from the idea of abusing capitals … Abuse is not in a linguist’s vocabulary, though, is it? No prescriptivism here. But see if you think the title worked out.

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