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Meretricious Albion

You know Stan Carey’s work? Lovely man, Irish, writes intelligently about language. He has taken a good, hard look at the risible Queen’s English Society in two longish posts that merit your attention.

First, though, if you’re new here, you may need to be brought up to speed. The Queen’s English Society is a crowd of self-appointed deplorers whose ambition is to establish an Academy of English to regulate the language, never mind that it didn’t work for Jonathan Swift and won’t work for them. Peevers who uphold every peeve the peevish cherish, they add a layer of British nationalism that out-Pythons Monty Python. They exemplify McKean’s Law—“Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error”—and undermine their own position in every sentence they write.

Mr. Carey’s first post, “The Queen’s English Society deplores your impurities,” exposes their ludicrous pretensions and goes on to link to some of the many writers on language who have heaped obloquy on the QES, smiting them hip and thigh (including some of the best lines from my posts on the subject).

The second, “Academy of English? Ain’t no sense in it,” discovers that the QES doesn’t know the difference between a portmanteau word and an auto-antonym.* There’s some further great fun with the clotpolls, and then he proceeds to the grand news that the QES has inspired a couple of antagonists: the Anti-Queen’s English Society and the Proper English Foundation. The former is level-headed and sensible (and on Facebook!). The latter is satirical, establishing the Académie von anglais. I wish them well, but I fear that satire has its work cut out for itself catching up with the original QES.

Someone dropped a letter on my desk yesterday—I get the letters to the editor complaining about The Sun’s grammar and usage. It was from a gentleman objecting to a preposition at the end of a sentence, which he had been taught in his youth was an error, a view he has held fast to for decades. No return address, so I don’t have to engage in a bootless effort to reason with him.

So even though the eminences of the Queen’s English Society and its bogus Academy look like figures invented by Waugh, they retain a capacity to do harm, to the extent that readers, particularly if any of them are teachers, heed their humbug.

 

*A portmanteau word is generated by the combination of two other words, such as smog, from smoke and fog. The QES thinks that a portmanteau word is a “Janus word,” which can carry opposite meanings, such as sanction. Such a word is rather an auto-antonym. There is, by the way, no particular objection to either category.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:07 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Comments

As an eastern Kentucky native, the classist undertones of most grammatical prudery has always struck a sore spot.

I have many acquaintances who, upon leaving area for greener pastures, have felt the need to modify their speech patterns and word choices so as to not mark themselves as 'different.'

Linguistic discrimination is still, more or less, socially acceptable.

I thought the Proper English Foundation put all this to rest. Their page on American English just about sums up the whole thing nicely.

Horace Gold (magazine editor): "That last story of yours was really meretricious."

Isaac Asimov (author and polymath): "Really what?"

Gold: "Meretricious!"

Asimov: "And a happy New Year to you!"

They never spoke again.

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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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