Her Majesty regrets
When Martha Brockenbrough wrote to Elizabeth II to solicit the monarch’s opinion on the differences between British and American spelling, punctuation and grammar, she received a starchy reply from Buckingham Palace that “as a constitutional sovereign, Her Majesty’s position precludes her commenting on or giving her opinions on such matters.” *
It’s obviously fun to be the founder and chief panjandrum of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, and further evidence can be found in the pages of Things That Make Us [sic], being published this month. She takes on the chairman of the board of Canada’s Maple Leafs team for their irresponsible plural, as well as assorted office-holders, celebrities, and others careless with the language.
The letters from SPOGG are the sugar that helps the medicine go down, because what Ms. Brockenbrough, the founder also of National Grammar Day,** has produced is, in plain fact, a compact manual of grammar and usage.
As such, it has a good deal of useful information in the prescriptive vein. Ill-informed presctiptivists should particularly consult Chapter 10, “Rules That Never Were, Are No More, and Should Be Broken,” which hammers at the split infinitive nonsense, the none-only-as-singular fallacy, and other shibboleths of usage.
You might enjoy the discovery of the list of Colonel McCormick’s idiosyncratic simplified spellings, which the Chicago Tribune held onto well into the mid-1970s. As to the mechanics, the usual lists of homonyms commonly confused, parts of speech, irregular verbs and other basics are well represented. Her advice is sensible.
This is a breezy book, and its approach is plainly aimed at reaching the non-specialist reader who would like to write more clearly and precisely. It also represents an effort to develop an informed prescriptivism, one that gives informed advice rather than arbitrary and unfounded decrees — she dismisses the nonsense about hopefully that mavendom carried on about in the 1980s.
If the breeziness — the SPOGGery — is not to your taste, you can skip over it to the substance. If you find it agreeable, then go ahead and take you medicine.
* What a pity, to have to pass up an opportunity for the monarchy to provide a useful service.
** A minor disclosure. Ms. Brockenbrough and I appeared on the Dan Rodricks show, Midday, on WYPR-FM last March 4 as part of the Grammar Day observances.