In Review

Words Fail Us by Jonty Claypole

The BBC’s director of arts makes the case for viewing stammering more positively

Words Fail Us by Jonty Claypole

Jonty Claypole, the BBC’s director of arts, grew up with a stammer, said Ben Cooke in The Times. In Words Fails Us, he powerfully argues that all conditions which involve “disfluency” – such as stammering, Tourette’s and aphasia – should be looked on more positively. For much of history, he points out, “speech disorders were thought of as “malfunctions”, sometimes treated with grotesque remedies – including, in the 19th century, “gory incisions” to the tongue. Though society has become more enlightened, Claypole believes there is a long way to go: when young, he himself felt ashamed of his stammer. He proposes a movement for “communications diversity”, akin to the one for neurodiversity that in recent years has “valorised” autism. 

Claypole argues that stammerers are “often more creative and linguistically able than those without”, said Sam Leith in The Guardian. They constantly have to really think about what they’re saying, which tends to make them attuned to nuance. Claypole’s book sometimes lacks focus, but it makes a humane and thought-provoking case for “overcoming the default prejudice in favour of verbal fluency”.

Profile/Wellcome 224pp £14.99; The Week bookshop £11.99

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