Fry’s Planet Word Review: Language Love-In

FRY’S PLANET WORD: Sunday 25th September, BBC2, 9pm

‘NaDevvo’ peghoS, Hab SoSlI’ Quch!’ If you already know what that means without any help from Google, then do exactly what it says. If you haven’t got a clue what it means, but are intrigued, then you’re going to love Fry’s Planet Word – which is a delightful smorgasbord of quite interesting tales about the evolution and dynamic usage of language. It’s a tasty Fry-up of fascinating facts spanning from Africa to America; all the way from the Human Genome Project to a bizarre Klingon adaptation of Hamlet. And for all those wondering, the opening phrase of this review is Klingon for “go away, your mother has a smooth forehead.â€?

Stephen Fry is a man who treasures language above all else, and he uses this series to highlight the sheer range of sounds produced by our little vocal chords. ‘Language is what I am’, he says. This is Stephen Fry loving life. He smiles as children instinctively obey the laws of basic grammar, he enjoys reciting complex wordplay, and he wonders at how we human beings are so different to other species, even asking a captive ape, ‘you can’t just fart, surely?’

I find it impossible to dislike or distrust Fry. He tells us that the ability to formulate and speak words is the ‘most complex piece of brain processing’, but arguably his brain is one of the most complex thought-machines on this planet. QI is great, but Planet Word gives you so much more. And even if you’re more interested in Million Pound Drop than the incredible story of language, then Planet Word is still worth watching just to see the enthusiasm, passion and scrunch-faced energy that Fry throws into every scene. The man is a genius. Okay, enough about my man-crush now.

Or, maybe a bit more. A lot of people seem to forget that Fry is also remarkably funny, but thankfully Planet Word gives us a reminder by treating us to a number of short clips from A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. One of the best is a sketch about language where Fry speaks of how a sentence can be completely unique and never ever uttered in the history of the universe, such as ‘hold the newsreaders nose squarely waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.’ Quoting simply doesn’t do it justice, so go find it on YouTube.

At one point during the opening episode, Fry partakes in a Klingon version of Hamlet and meets an American man who taught his child Klingon as a primary language from birth. Poor thing. That child is pretty much doomed to geek-dom from the very beginning. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dad permanently prised his son’s small malleable fingers apart to form the trademark Star Trek V. Fortunately; the child rejected Klingon at the age of two, and will at some later date reject his father. Daddy issues are inevitable with this one.

Another funny moment occurs when Fry investigates whether sign language can actually be classified as a genuine language. Fry asks a deaf person how they communicate the word Madonna. The response is an awkward pointy nipple gesture, suggestive of one of her infamous outfits. Interestingly, I just had a little look at Urban Dictionary and the first entry was ‘Party Hats’ which refers to ‘erect and mighty pointed nipples’ with the quoted example of “hey it must be cold out because your mom has her party hats on.â€? Brilliant. Language is bloody brilliant, and Fry’s Planet Word does it justice.