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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.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:01 PM | | Comments (3)


I heard you and Ms. Brockenbrough on WYPR last March, and I've been following your blog ever since. It's wonderful! While I can't agree that splitting an infinitive is "nonsense," I am looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the review!

Aren't "British ... spelling, punctuation and grammar" elements of "the Queen's English"? If Her Majesty cannot comment on such matters, who can?

Bradshaw of the Future explains why "Maple Leafs" is a perfectly acceptable and regular plural, with assistance from Steven Pinker:

He also explains the connection between by name and fatness:

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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