I’m probably one of the “pedants” Stephen Fry so articulately criticizes.
I’ll admit, my favorite error in high school and college, and one I still commit frequently, is the “split infinitive.” And part of me agrees that language ought to be played with and enjoyed. Or to playfully be enjoyed.
See what I did there?
But I also think there’s sort of a deconstructionist, nothing-really-has-meaning, there-are-no-rules flavor underlying his comments that is both seductive and untrue.
Yes, language does change according to convention. And perhaps there is no such thing as “correctness” as the grammar nazis conceive of it.
But what’s truly amazing is that all languages DO have a certain order, a certain logic and sense to them. You know, kind of like buildings do. Yes, we made them up, so we imposed order on blocks and stones and “worse than senseless things” — but the reason the Pyramids of Giza and Hadrian’s Wall are still standing is because these structures we made up also adhere to the mysterious logic of physics. I would argue the reason language holds up is very similar – because it adheres to a certain logic of the world, of reality.
And it’s the mark of a humble and educated person to try to learn and adhere to that logic. If you break the rules for the sake of creativity and newness, fine – but you should be aware that you are breaking them – as Picasso was aware, and Shakespeare, other great artists.
Otherwise, you’re just a little kid throwing paint or words at a wall, hoping it sticks.
Some people call that art, but I certainly don’t.