Magazine article The Spectator

Always Explain

Magazine article The Spectator

Always Explain

Article excerpt

The great debate began. The question was, should Radio Three explain what the word palindrome means? My friend, the artist Robert Tilleard who listens to Radio Three while he paints in his studio, had burst into the pub last Saturday, outrage exuding from his pores, complaining that he'd just heard someone defining the word on Radio Three.

If you are a Radio Three listener you shouldn't need to be told what it means, you will know, he said, still quivering. So what does it mean? someone asked nervously. Do I explain to Spectator readers that it means a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as forwards, as in rotator for example? I don't know. No doubt most readers are familiar with the word but it's easy to forget. It's not a word that crops up in everyday speech. Most of the people I know don't say to each other, 'I say, that's a splendid palindrome you've just used.'

So is this evidence of dumbing down which invigilators are constantly on the look out for? I don't think so, though it's a tricky one for me. If listeners can't recall what it means they stop listening to think about it and don't hear what is said next. It has disturbed their concentration for a moment. They might even consult a dictionary, missing even more of the programme. On balance I think it is better to explain but there is a technique that can be used to avoid offending the knowledgeable. Not wishing to sound like the delightful Mary Killen, if the broadcaster says something like, '. . . as listeners will know, a palindrome is, of course...' everyone is happy including those who don't know the meaning. They will be conscious that Radio Three assumes in them a certain knowledge and they can continue listening without the need to look it up.

It is not the sort of word you will hear on Britain's only independent national speech network, Talk Radio. Last week saw the introduction of programmes brought in by its chief executive Kelvin MacKenzie, a one-time editor of the Sun. It has a new breakfast show with the truly cringe-making title of Big Boys Breakfast hosted by two former downmarket tabloid journalists, David Banks and Nick Ferrari. I listened every morning last week with a mixture of horror and fascination, the sort of feeling you might get if you watched an execution.

The two sit in the studio chatting to each other about the day's news, taking calls from listeners and interviewing occasional guests, the usual American-style morning radio talk format. …

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