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Brevity

Stephen Fry peers at the tiny facets of linguistic brevity in telegrams, lyrics, poems and tweets. From July 2011.

Stephen Fry explores 'Brevity' - from lyrics to headlines and epitaphs to telegrams.

We've always had a taste for the tweet-sized. Proverbs and aphorisms go back to the ancient Greeks. We explore the possible links between the Tweet and the Haiku - including that tiny rarity, an English Haiku. We visit Bunhill Cemetery in London with writer Kevin Jackson to enjoy the necessary terseness of epitaphs and reflect on a poetic exponent, William Blake.

The concision of telegrams created poetry and humour born of economy. We recall Oscar Wilde's famous telegram exchange with his publisher in which he enquires about sales of his recent book with a lone '?' The response was of course, '!'

One liner-machine Tim Vine joins Stephen in the studio to discuss his affinity with brevity and 'his passion for small hand grenades of wit' as one reviewer put it. He describes the liberation of the bite-size joke and reflects on why he would make the perfect headline writer.

'The pun is the life blood of the headline' according to Kelvin Mackenzie who recalls the origins of his famous headline from the 1980s - 'Gotcha' and reflects on the importance of short words for any tabloid newspaper editor. Laura Barton, writer for the Guardian, explores her love of short writing and of neologisms in pop lyrics. If 'la la' means 'I love you' and 'wop-bop-a-loop-a' was an expression which captured the freedom of 50s rock and roll, what short word sums up the world today?

Aleks Krotoski chooses the word 'Meme' and examines the way technology has given us the means to create ever smaller bespoke packages of information. And more of them. The chopped up doesn't necessarily mean the dumbed down.

Producer: Nick Baker
A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.

28 minutes

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