Magazine article The Spectator

Speech Impediment

Magazine article The Spectator

Speech Impediment

Article excerpt

It's the juxtaposition of 'u' on 'u' that did for Jim. According to scientific study, a sequence of words with the same vowels in the same place can trip us up, as poor Jim Naughtie discovered on Monday morning.

If you missed the classic radio moment, he was trying to announce Jeremy Hunt, the culture minister, just before the eight o'clock news but didn't quite get his name right, muddling up those initial letters. He then had to carry on talking, giving us the headlines, through his embarrassed giggles (I kept wondering why his colleague Evan didn't help him out by taking over, but he was probably just as paralysed by laughter as Jim).

Naughtie's faux pas was very hear to clear, and some poor souls with no sense of humour, and even less pity, immediately sent off grumpy emails of complaint about such behaviour at breakfast time on Radio 4, as if such a linguistic lapse had never happened to them. I wish. My grandfather, from whom I've inherited the weakness, used to do it from the pulpit, though fortunately for him he never made quite as drastic a slip-up as Jim's. It's no coincidence that the spoonerism is named after a vicar, William Archibald Spooner, since these verbal tics usually happen when you're in a hyped-up, open-to-embarrassment situation. (Spooner was a shy, nervous man, who for reasons unknown chose to devote his life to a profession that demands extrovert public speaking. ) Let's hope for Jim's sake that Hunt is soon moved to another Cabinet post, or never again appears on Today. Can you imagine how he will feel if he knows Hunt has been invited on to the programme and there's no one else to introduce him?

I hope Naughtie took comfort from Frank Cottrell Boyce's lecture on Radio 3 on Thursday night. Cottrell Boyce bears the grandiose title Thinker-in-Residence at this year's Free Thinking festival from the Sage in Gateshead organised by the BBC.

He chose to talk on The Joys of Failure for his keynote lecture, a great subject for this time of year when nothing seems possible and everything appears doomed to dank, grey nothingness. By its end I actually felt quite cheerful, knowing all too well that I've only ever learnt anything crucial after first making a hugely embarrassing or costly mistake.

Cottrell Boyce's thesis is that we've become allergic to the idea of failure, morbidly dreading it. …

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