H. W. Fowler, William Safire, Strunk & White, Henry Higgins: what associations do these names evoke in our age of texts and tweets, lols and omgs? How many teenagers have even heard of those people, let alone read and relished what they wrote or talked about? (Well, perhaps the fictional one might have filtered through …) Granted, language pedants and advocates don’t generally ooze humor, glamor or sex appeal – although Lynne Truss proved to be a refreshing exception with her funny and accessible book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, which made it to the bestseller lists. Who are the popular standard-bearers and advocates of our language nowadays?
The Queen’s English Society is now defunct. It might have stood its ground if it had changed its name and branding. Let’s face it: who still speaks what we think of as “the Queen’s English”, other than Her Majesty herself and her Firm? Given that most English-speakers don’t want to talk with proverbial (or literal, in the case of poor Eliza Doolittle) marbles in their mouths, the idea of preserving, promoting or identifying with the voice of the hoity-toities is not just unpopular or ‘un-PC’, but broadcasting companies and casting agencies are apparently using reverse discrimination when it comes to hiring voices, and public figures are ‘dumbing down’ the way they speak (Tony Blair is thought to have done just that during his tenure at No. 10).
But we’re not talking about accents and elocution, getting away with it at Ascot or impressing foreign princes here. It’s more about the clarity and usefulness of our most sophisticated and highly-developed form of communication, and whether its sheer functionality is being eroded as its policing declines and there’s no-one upholding its laws. The political correctness of the liberal linguists is taking a firm hold, and there are persuasive arguments that the constant evolution and ever-changing usage of our language keeps it limber, pertinent, dynamic and even beautiful. But there’s also a danger that with fewer old-fashioned custodians keeping our tongues, pens and iPhones in check, we’ll not only lose a historic monument of living, breathing art, but more importantly we’ll find it increasingly difficult to communicate with each other at the subtle and complex level that our language – until now – has enabled us to do. The laws of language – grammar, punctuation, and even spelling – are there to prevent ambiguity and ease understanding. Without them, we’ll be left with a lawless, anarchic mess of meaningless words.
Here are two articles – in The Telegraph and The Independent respectively – about the Queen’s English and the Society that struggled to protect it.
It is easy to mock the Queen’s English Society – but our language will be poorer without them
By Guy Stagg
June 6th, 2012
The Queen’s English Society is dead. After just 22 people attended their annual meeting, and nobody put themselves forward to become the next chairman, the society was wound up. Liberal linguists will no doubt celebrate with a riot of misplaced apostrophes, misspelt homophones and randomly positioned capital letters.
Bernard Lamb offered an impassioned defence for the upholding of the Queen’s English a couple of years ago in The Independent.
God save the Queen’s English: Our language is under threat from ignorance,
inverted snobbery and deliberate ‘dumbing down’
Far from being outmoded, the correct use of our language is more important than ever, argues Bernard Lamb
Thursday 07 October 2010
The Queen’s English is correct, conventional, standard British English. It is the most authoritative and easily understood form of the language. One finds it in non-fiction and fiction, in textbooks in almost all subjects, in newspapers, in government and business documents, and in public and private correspondence.
Departures from the Queen’s English do get noticed. The head of an online graduate recruitment agency wrote that they reject one third of all job applications from graduates with good degrees from good universities, because errors in English in their CVs and covering letters show ignorance, carelessness and a bad attitude.
The term “the Queen’s English” dates back to 1592, Queen Elizabeth I’s time, but using the Queen’s English is not the prerogative of royalty or any class, group, region or country. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “the English language as regarded as under the guardianship of the Queen; hence, standard or correct English”.
Henry Hitchings looked at the misuse of apostrophes and other questions about punctuation’s future in the Wall Street Journal in October 2011:
Is This the Future of Punctuation!?
On the misuse of apostrophe’s (did your eye just twitch?) and our increasingly rhetorical language
By Henry Hitchings
Punctuation arouses strong feelings. You have probably come across the pen-wielding vigilantes who skulk around defacing movie posters and amending handwritten signs that advertise “Rest Room’s” or “Puppy’s For Sale.”
People fuss about punctuation not only because it clarifies meaning but also because its neglect appears to reflect wider social decline. And while the big social battles seem intractable, smaller battles over the use of the apostrophe feel like they can be won.