Alex Horne: Word Watching
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2008
Perrier nominee Alex Horne has been trying to invent a new word for the last two and a half years. Can one man infiltrate the English language? Is it possible to smuggle a home-made word into the dictionary? All will be revealed in this multi-media neologistic bonanza.
In the wake of Dave Gorman, a lot of comedians embark on ambitious but ultimately pointless quests in order to generate material. More select is the band of men – and they are always men – who you suspect would undertake these ridiculous tasks irregardless of any public outlet for their story. For them, the ensuing Edinburgh show is just a bonus, not the whole raison d’etre.
Professional eccentric Tim Fitzhigham leads this brigade, and snapping at his heels is Alex Horne, who this year describes his attempts to spread nine words and phrases, plus one urban myth, so widely that they gain acceptance and, ultimately, inclusion into the dictionary. If Beyonce can do it with bootylicious, he argues, surely he should stand a chance.
He’s already been plodding away at his task, which he calls verbal gardening because he’s planting the seeds of words, for almost three years – and there’s still no tidy end in sight. It would be good to claim one for the sake of the show, but reality doesn’t have such a convenient story arc.
Making up words is how language evolves, of course. Shakespeare invented 2,000 of the things. Nor is Horne the first comic mind to come up with this idea. Douglas Adams and John Lloyd assigned real-word meanings to hundreds of British place names in the Meaning Of Liff, while Lewis Carroll came up with one that I, at least, use every day: chortle.
Horne has appropriated some existing words and assigned them new meanings, made new hybrids, or started afresh; and the bulk of his show concerns itself with unveiling each of his verbal seeds in turn. It’s entertaining, rather than hilarious, as his subversive, and often petty, reasoning manifests itself.
But the audience get behind the idea quickly – as they tend to do with all these ‘reality’ comedy shows, if they’re told property. And Horne’s such an affable, self-effacing nerd, that we soon start to will him on in his task, even when he resorts to childish vandalism of Wikipedia in his attempts to, literally, spread the word.
As Horne gets bolder in his approach, the show picks up momentum, moving from wryly charming to something a lot funnier. Suitably enough, some comic seeds he plants early burst into fruition to create a satisfying final furlong that covers up for the fact that none of his words are, as yet, in common parlance. But he’ll soon have an army of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who’ll have seen the show and will be keen join the campaign to get the likes of pratdigger or bollo into the dictionary.
It’s an admirably pointless task, and one that’s amusingly told. He deserves kudos for originality, too, as you don’t get many stand-up shows dedicated to neologisms these days. The tale isn’t consistently laugh-aloud funny, but still worth a few quid of anybody’s honk.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett.