Hey, let’s get the Americans to speak the Queen’s English

Did you know that there’s an organisation called the Queen’s English Society?

No? Nor did I, until today.

On its website, it shouts out its key message – in capital letters (but gentlemen shouldn’t shout, so I won’t inflict them on you): “Good English matters – the world uses it – we must keep it safe from declining standards.”

The Queen’s English Society was established about 40 years ago, but it has now announced (June 2010) its plans to set up The Academy of English, an English version of the French Academie francaise, aimed at keeping the language pure.

The society’s press release said: “Other languages, French and Spanish for example, have supreme authorities that try, while moving with the times, to define what is good and acceptable usage and what is not. They do not stop the language from changing over the years, but they do provide a measure of linguistic discipline and try to retain valid and useful new terms, while rejecting passing fads.”

The academy would “set an accepted standard of good English” in our “hectic, modern, digitalised world.” It would protect the Queen’s English from alien impurities, bastardisations and text-speak horrors.

Poxridden and pathetic

Stephen Fry was slightly dubious about the idea. He tweeted: “Of all the foolish, ignorant, poxridden, pathetic and tragically misbegotten notions, this one beats them all.”

A London Times report gives an insight into the mentality of the founder of the academy, Martin Estinel; he said he still used the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘happy’ but “grudgingly accepted that its newer definition was now in the dictionary”.

There are a number of problems about this plan, apart from the poor use of English in the press release (what, for example, is a ‘fad’ that does not pass?).

One of those problems is that English is spoken by quite a number of people, who are not, incidentally, subjects of the woman of German origin who sits on the throne of England, such as more than 250 million Americans, 79 million Nigerians and 49 million Filipinos.

It also happens to be a near-universal language, spoken by millions more as a second language.

In their use of the term ‘the Queen’s English’, the people behind the academy seem to think that English is owned in some way by a feudal relic who rules over a small corner of the English-speaking world (and who probably still believes in ‘the divine right of kings’). Not any more, chaps.

The anarchic millions

Certainly, current English displays a lot of sloppiness and execrable jargon, but it’s not likely that a group of stodgy verbal police will be able to exert much control over those anarchic millions. In particular, it’s unlikely that the academy will make much headway in getting all those millions of American linguistic vandals to speak the Queen’s English, since they and their forebears have been doing their own independent thing now for a few centuries. (For Pete’s sake, they can’t even spell ‘colour’.)

No, the new academy won’t even be able to control the tongues of the majority of English people, who refuse to ‘speak proper’ (after all, the BBC has to keep them off the airwaves in case they offend polite people). But they’ll go on doing their thing, committing appalling grammatical and syntactical crimes in strange local accents.

Ah well, maybe English will survive. After all, it’s a uniquely rich language thanks to the fact that it’s really two languages – a Germanic foundation hugely enriched by the French during the century or two when they ruled England. And then there are all those added riches contributed by foreigners who immigrated to Britain and that were absorbed during the centuries that English wandered around the world.

Yes, English will go on growing and changing and surviving linguistic crimes as it continues to spread – and Mr Estinel is going to be very ungay when he realises that there’s nothing he can do about it.

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2 comments on “Hey, let’s get the Americans to speak the Queen’s English
  1. Katharine says:

    Mr Estinel is right – good English does matter. It’s just a shame that somebody who finds it difficult to accept change and development in the language has nominated himself as its champion. What about the new meaning of words like ‘deadly’, ‘wicked’, or ‘savage’? Young Irish people would be seriously restricted if the Queen’s English Society were to impose their rule.

  2. Edith M says:

    Interesting how English has changed. I’ve been reading a diary written by a 21-year-old girl in 1916, with such phrases as:
    “a most rum affair”; “I felt very queer”; “we stopped for bait” and “a killing jacket”. I had to look up “bait” and found that it’s a stop for rest or food, usually on a journey, whereas she used it in the sense of a short break from work for a snack.
    I think it’s good that language evolves and changes – it’s the mark of a living language.

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