Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

The Queen’s English?

with 15 comments

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I wanted to like this website, I really did. I was going to add it to my blogroll, for it is no less than the website of the Queen’s English Society. Yes, indeedy. Except — er — doesn’t the Queen write very good English, then?

I don’t know how to break this to the good burghers of the society, so I’ll just moan about it here instead: the website is littered with grammatical errors and poor writing. Here’s a cringe-inducing example from the ‘Rogues’ Gallery’ page on which the society has the cheek to highlight errors made by others:

This is the page on which no-one will want to appear.  If you do find your name here, hang your head in shame because you are by definition a person of English mother tongue with a good education, and you occupy a public position in politics, TV, the press, public service or the like and should know better than to have said or written that which is being reported here.

‘No one’ should not be hyphenated. I leave you to judge the clunking prose of the rest of the paragraph (a person of English mother tongue? …and should know better than to have said or written that which is being reported here?). And could you just hang on a tick while I get my breath back after reading that 59-word sentence. Perhaps the Queen is running short of full stops.

Spot the random and missing commas on other pages, more laboured prose and inexplicable capital letters scattered here and there. Oh, and here’s a good one:

We, the Queen’s English Society, must increase our efforts to seek-out, expose and complain about instances of terrible English standards in the broadcast and print media, particularly when such sins are committed by publically-funded bodies, such as the BBC.

So — ‘seek out’ should not be hyphenated; ‘publically’ should be spelt ‘publicly’; and ‘publicly funded’ should not be hyphenated.

Here’s the hubristic statement that follows:

 …writers, programme makers and the people who appear on TV and radio, or write for our newspapers, must if necessary, be embarrassed into striving for the highest possible standards in the use of English.

A few red faces at the society wouldn’t go amiss either.

The society’s website is a prime example of Muphrey’s Law in action.

You will be bemused to learn that the Queen’s English Society has taken it upon its grammatically challenged self to set up an Academy of English with the express aim of ‘setting an accepted standard of good English’. It hopes to rank alongside such august institutions as  L’Académie Française, the Real Academia Española, and the Accademia della Crusca.

I’ll just leave that thought with you. Don’t have nightmares.

Visit the Sentence first blog to read an excellent post followed by a detailed discussion on this topic.


Written by Wordwatch

09/06/2010 at 10:11 am

15 Responses

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  1. The phraseology – as well as the spelling – does rather suggest someone who has learned English as a second language. Or is suffering from terminal pretension.

    That, or they work for the Guardian 😉


    09/06/2010 at 10:26 am

    • That made me laugh, thanks, Ron. I’m just amazed that the society gets so much kudos and seems to be taken so seriously. Its lofty attitude to others’ mistakes while being blind to its own was the final straw and prompted this post.


      09/06/2010 at 10:33 am

      • A very British failing, sadly.

        We mock foreigners for taking their best shot at an alien language, but seem oblivious to the fact that far too many Brits are quite happy to mangle their own language.


        09/06/2010 at 11:12 am

        • So true.


          09/06/2010 at 11:20 am

        • I’ve always felt that what we need is something along the lines of L’Académie Française, because English, written and spoken, has deteriorated dreadfully during my lifetime, and very few seem to care.

          True, language evolves, but what’s happening to English isn’t evolution, it’s mutation, and possibly not viable.

          I doubt 400-500 years in the future, that 20th century English will be as accessible then as, say, Shakespeare, or Boswell, are now. Stephen King will occupy the place currently reserved for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.


          09/06/2010 at 11:29 am

          • Yes — an Academy of English, but not run by the Queen’s English Society!


            09/06/2010 at 11:46 am

  2. Well, I have to say the first thing that I find off-putting is their attitude. Yikes. And if you have to be so self-important as to play language police, then yes, you better not mangle that same language yourself.

    Also, Ron and Deborah, I can totally sympathise with the horror about modern language evolution mutation. It’s the same with German, my first language. There have been quite a few instances on a bus or the train where I could only just stop myself to not butt into a conversation saying: “No, German has not suddenly lost its prepositions and its articles so could you please, please use them. Correctly.” Gah.


    10/06/2010 at 6:07 am

    • Hi, TaleTellerin — I’ve just been replying to Mikey on my ‘Protesting too much?’ post about how language changes. I said there that this can be both a blessing and a curse (although always interesting to observe). It can also, of course, be great fun as people are endlessly inventive with language. I love some of the neologisms that were coined when the computer age dawned such as ‘wetware’ meaning brain. In addition, we are gradually becoming more enlightened about the sexism, ageism and other prejudices that are embedded in the everyday language we use. On the other hand, things seem to be getting pretty dire when the Queen’s English Society can’t even spell properly.


      10/06/2010 at 8:12 am

      • Oh yes, I also love and adore the creativity of language. German is particularly grande as you can create endless composita like Sprachkreativitatesgroßartigkeitsmerkmal (losely translated as ‘marks of greatness of language creativity’). 🙂

        I guess, what I find hard to stomach about the example given above is the too fast change in grammar.


        10/06/2010 at 9:41 pm

  3. […] This post was Twitted by Squirrelbasket […]

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Peter Thompson, Pat English. Pat English said: I love this blog about the Queen's English Society from @Wordwatch http://bit.ly/9taHbY #language #words […]

  5. […] Deborah Bennison, on her blog Wordwatch, writes that the QES’s website is “littered with grammatical errors and poor writing”, and she provides examples of its “laboured prose and inexplicable capital letters”. […]

  6. I liked this pithy review of the QES:

    David Mitchell, in The Observer, says: “This is absolute horses***. By what authority would they sit in judgment?”

    Michael Farrell

    15/07/2010 at 4:33 pm

    • I’m not sure what Mitchell is trying to say there. I wish someone would just have the courage to condemn the QES outright.


      15/07/2010 at 5:22 pm

  7. From David Crystal’s blog archive: more QES opinions are dismantled.


    26/08/2010 at 10:53 am

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