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Minutes of the Academy

The Times of London has published an article on an effort by the Queen’s English Society to establish an Academy of English to combat the “dreadful devaluation and deterioration of education in our hectic, modern, digitalised world — we do desperately need some form of moderating body to set an accepted standard of good English.”

Martin Estinel, the prime advocate of the academy, hopes that it will achieve the eminence (largely illusory, I’m afraid) of its French counterpart. He said, “I would love the academy to have a Royal Charter.”

One can only image how a plenary session of such an academy would proceed. [Music fades out, then fades in, accompanied by sounds of murmuring and many voices.]

CHAIRMAN. Order, order. The Chair recognizes Mr. Wattles.

MR. WATTLES. Mr. Chairman, learned members, we have suffered the assaults on our noble language for far too long. Texting. [Calls of “Hear, hear”] Americanisms. [Applause] Shoddy grammar and shameless syntax. [Loud applause] The barbarians are at the gates. We may have surrendered the Empire, but we shall not, shall never, never, never surrender the empire of the English language. [Ovation]

But, Mr. Chairman, our best efforts will be so much well-meaning cant if we do not achieve enforcement of proper standards of English. We need laws with teeth in them. [Shouts of “Hear, hear”] A preposition at the end of a sentence or a split infinitive should bring the perpetrator no less than an hour in the pillory. [Applause] And an adolescent who uses “like” more than once in a sentence would learn from receiving a dozen of the best at the public whipping-post not to repeat that solecism! [Sustained applause]

MISS PRISCIAN: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, unless my ears have betrayed their function, I have just heard Mr. Wattles begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. [Sensation, confused murmuring] Mr. Chairman, none of us want to to speak ill of a colleague, but it is with regret that I am obliged to call for a vote of censure. [Groans]

MR. CASAUBON: Mr. Chairman, there are no defects in my ears, which have just descried Miss Priscian using “none” as a plural, so I must, more in sorrow than in anger, propose that the motion of censure be amended to include her within its sanctions. [Shouts of “Rubbish! Resign!”]

LADY MONTRACHET: Mr. Chairman, if Mr. Casaubon imagines that he can “descry” with his ears rather than his eyes, he appears to be as deplorably ignorant of anatomy and physiology as he is of language. [Shouts: “Harpy!” “Termagant!”] Moreover, had he even the elementary understanding of the necessity to use a possessive with a gerund, he would have referred to “Miss Priscian’s using.” I move to include him in an omnibus motion censure. [Sits as Mr. Wattles, Miss Priscian, and Mr. Casaubon all attempt to speak at once]

CHAIRMAN: Order! Order! [Bangs gavel] The academy will come to order! [Members standing and shouting, gesturing violently]

CHAIRMAN: Oh, bugger it. Adjourned.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:41 AM | | Comments (10)
        

Comments

Indeed, let's go after sentences ending with prepositions. Let's exhume Sir Winston Churchill, and hang the remains from London Bridge in the jolly old English way for dismissing the preposition rule and violating it regularly.

The Chairman's last statement should read... "Oh, bugger it. Adjourned."
Bugger all means nothing, not that it is lacking in meaning but that its meaning is nothing, as in I have bugger all to contribute to this discussion.

Suggestion gratefully accepted.

I return to my previously stated question:
Is there such a thing as bad English? If so, how is it identified? By whom?

It would seem that there is no standard, firm or flexible, for the use of words, punctuation, or syntax. That bothers me. I can be tolerant of alternate uses, but my ears (like Miss Priscian's) tell me when I hear something that doesn't sound right. (See my post tomorrow, for instance.)

An academy for the English language seems like nothing more than another navel gazing opportunity. At bottom all words are made up words, and so are the rules of grammar. Of course we should try to learn proper usage as best we can, but we should also toss it aside as necessary.

This latest suggestion for an official language arbiter should be laughed out of town just like all its predecessors.

P.S. One of my spamguard words is "strudels." One doesn't get the opportunity to write the word "strudels" all that often, and now I've written it 3 times. Very satisfying.

I hope C-SPAN will broadcast it. I like to see the interiors of those wonderful buildings. You forgot the Elgar rising and falling at the end.

::: applause :::

Hahaha, brilliant!

"Earwig" is another word one doesn't often use - unless one is keen on insects. What kind of strudel?

Many years ago I posted on an earlier function of the (luckily only imaginary) Academy in response to some peeving on alt.usage.english:

http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/academy.html

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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 john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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