Quest No. 61, November 1995

The quarterly journal of the Queen's English Society



Branch meetings

Back to basics

Black marks for bad English

A 'language fascist'

There 'tis, then

Born before 1940

Never ceases to appall

Book reviews


End piece

Editor: John Langer, 65 Glebelands, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 2BZ

- general comments, book reviews.

Assistant Editor, Features: Peter Bassett, Mill Lane Cottage, Amberley,

Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9LZ - letters, members' news, brief cuttings.

Assistant Editor, Articles: Michael Russell, 2 The Island, Thames Ditton, Surrey

KT7 0SH - articles by members, and those published elsewhere.

Design & typesetting: Dr Hugh de Glanville

WWW page editor: Jon Campbell

English language consultant: J Noel Banfield, CChem, FRSC. 35 Victoria Road, Salisbury, AP1 3NF.

Features and articles for publication should be submitted to the relevant Assistant Editor, as above. Correspondence on all other matters should be addressed to the Editor, who welcomes comment and advice on the content of Quest.

The success of Quest depends on the variety and volume of members' contributions, be they articles or letters for publication. These may be informative or contentious. Please submit matter in typescript or print, or on computer disk (as a plain 'ASCII' text file if possible) accompanied by hard copy. The upper limit for articles is 1000 words and for letters 300. Items submitted may be edited or abridged, or both, at the editors' discretion.

Publication dates are the 15 February, May, August, and November. Items submitted less than six weeks before these dates may have to await a later issue.

Views expressed in Quest are not necessarily those of the Editor or the Society. Copyright on all matter first published in Quest is reserved by the Society, but permission will normally be granted for quotation verbatim so long as the source and the Queen's English Society are mentioned.

© The Queen's English Society 1995.


Traditionally, editorials should be grave and authoritative, but there is much serious reading between this page and page 40, so I take leave to publish two tales. One is true and one fictional but these labels could be interchangeable.

The United States has embarked upon a scheme to promote reading. It is to pay schoolchildren to read books. The project is called Earning by Learning, and already involves 10,000 children in inner-city schools. It is backed by Newt Gingrich, the Congressional leader, with £60,000 of his own money. Children can select their own reading from school libraries and receive about £1 for each book read. The broad-minded Administrator, Dr Mike Myers, says:

'I don't care if they pick trash [in school libraries?]. The idea is to make children comfortable with the written word. We will worry about the content later.'

Martin Ford, an educational psychologist, thinks it is a bad idea and that children will see the rewards as implying that the activity is not worthwhile for its own sake. Unsurprisingly, Newt Gingrich is a former college professor.

Peter Bassett has sent me a mock comprehensive-school report upon a pupil, published in Punch in 1976. It is funny throughout but there is only space here to print the Headmaster's summary. It reads:

'All in all, a highly satisfactory term for Kevin. Having beaten the manslaughter rap in September, he seems to have settled into a quieter pattern, the maiming of Maurice Ngonga having been almost entirely accidental and the explosions being no more than a reflection of the violent times in which we live. Personally, I blame television. While his dedication to the principle of continuing revolution still falls short of what progressive education requires, these are clearly, after all, early days. I think there is every chance of Kevin's closing down a university, some day.'

I recently saw a car window sticker - 'If your child can read, thank a teacher'. Underneath, it advertised the NUT. I should love some stickers which advised what action should be taken if one's child is illiterate.

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Branch Meetings

Arundel: At the Norfolk Centre, Mill Lane (to left of Castle gates) on the first Tuesday of some months. Branch members will be notified of meetings by letter. Please inform the Branch Secretary if you would like to be placed on the list.

Exeter and Birmingham: Please contact the Branch Secretaries.

London: Meetings are all at 6.30 pm on Thursdays at the New Cavendish Club (see opposite), and all QES members and their guests are welcome to attend.

English language consultant

You are reminded that Mr J Noel Banfield (our English Language Consultant) will offer advice to members faced with difficult questions of English usage. To avail yourself of this service, please write directly to him at the address shown inside the front cover.

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Chairman's Report to the 1995 AGM

The need for the QES is as great now as when it was founded nearly 25 years ago. There seems to be a growing atmosphere of 'does it matter as long as people communicate?'. I maintain that it does matter if standards are not to be allowed to fall still further.

A report in a daily newspaper only last week indicated that there are, and I quote: 'clear signs of some really important issues being finally grasped'. It appears that some 30 per cent of children aged 10 years have not yet learnt to read properly, and a team of HM inspectors is to go to 45 inner London schools to study the way reading is taught. This a welcome start to attacking the problem - not confined to London, it is clear.

On reading through the current list of new members, renewals, and resignations sent to me by the Hon. Membership Secretary, I resolved to look back over the whole year in order to compare numbers. An approximate count revealed that 85 new members were enrolled, while 55 had either died, resigned or had been removed from the list for non-payment after two or three reminders. This was a small but interesting exercise which showed that, on paper, we had gained 30 members over the year. Including husbands and wives (who receive only one copy of Quest) the membership number is currently about 640; and so we have still not attained the 1,000 mark.

Clearly we are preaching to the converted within the Society and one of the things we must think deeply about is how to convey our message to the unconverted. If we are to do this, we must look to the future and talk about recruiting people with ideas who can also suggest how to implement them, and people who have voices and are prepared to make themselves heard.

Although we have no completed campaign on which to report this year, a start has been made on a new national survey on the opinions of teachers of English to pupils aged 11 to 18 years. The object is to find out their views on what should be taught, on how this should be done, and on what should be corrected, as well as other aspects of teaching. Of the 450 schools approached so far, 305 have replied - a very good return - and a further 300 letters and forms will be despatched towards the end of October. Meanwhile, we owe a debt of gratitude to Susan Buckingham, Cherry Cawood, and Brenda and Bernard Lamb for the hard work they have already put into this survey.

The Survey of Communication Skills published last year (originally the brainchild of Peter Bassett back in 1990) is still attracting considerable attention, with references in newspapers and periodicals; in addition, we are still receiving requests for copies from official bodies as well as from individuals.

A survey or campaign harnesses the energy of our members and directs it towards an achievable goal. I therefore put to you some ideas for future efforts.

The state of our schools, and their teaching of English, is an ever-present concern of the QES. So how are young students entering teacher training colleges being taught to teach English? Should we not be looking into this to try to find out whether it is true that there is a preponderance of social studies in the curriculum? How could we set about this?

Opinions are divided as to whether children or adults are as literate today as they were 50 years ago. There are, however, difficulties in drawing precise comparisons; we should welcome ideas from members as to how this could be done so that the Society could offer objective evidence on whether there has been a serious decline in standards of literacy.

Let me reinstate another proposal. In 1989 the Society examined the possibility of making an educational videotape to be shown to young people applying for jobs. It would help them understand the advantages of being able to speak standard English, and to write competently in terms of grammar, spelling, sentence construction and so on. The idea had to be abandoned largely because the cost was too great but now that we have more money available, and bearing in mind that the need is as great as ever, perhaps we could reopen the matter and examine the desirability, feasibility and methods of marketing such a tape. We should be glad to hear from any members who have relevant experience in this field as well as from anyone with suggestions as to how we should set about such a task. The foregoing ideas were submitted by Peter Bassett.

As members already know, the Society has received a very generous legacy from the estate of the late Arthur Goodchild. Bernard and Brenda Lamb have suggested that the Society could examine the case for awarding a prize for outstandingly good English. However, the question needs to be discussed in detail before any concrete proposals can be put forward and members are urged to submit ideas for consideration by the Committee.

There is one thing members can do directly, as l wrote in Quest some years ago. Wherever you live, I urge you to find out whether or not your local primary school needs parents and grandparents to help by listening to very young children as they read; where the classes are large and often of mixed ages ranging from just under five to seven years. It is a very worthwhile task - I have been doing it for four years, ladies and gentlemen - and an hour or so once a week would be well spent and rewarding; helping and encouraging young readers, some of whom actually like reading simple poetry.

We receive an appreciable number of telephoned enquiries from various bodies and from members of the public asking questions about grammar or syntax or simply requesting publicity material. The Society also received an invitation from the Leatherhead Literary Society to talk about the origins of the Society and the work we are doing, and Michael Gorman carried out this assignment.

This year's Annual Luncheon, held at the New Cavendish Club, attracted 30 members who enjoyed a splendid meal, followed by an immensely interesting if somewhat esoteric talk by Peter Kitson, who lectures in Old English at the University of Birmingham.

The Committee is currently considering organising luncheons in certain large cities for members who live within reasonable reach and a start may be made later this year in Birmingham. Our members are scattered all over the country and forming regional branches, other than the Sussex branch where the Society originated, is very difficult. An attempt was made a few years ago to form a West Midlands branch but despite all the efforts of Miss Betty Elsmore, the local secretary, this was not very successful. Let us see what a lunch can achieve!

Much has happened during my 10 years in office and I should like to give a brief reprise of those years. My first contact with the Society came about when I was working abroad and I read a letter in a newspaper, in 1979, referring to a borough council which was seeking to 'optimise its finances'. I was not familiar with this expression. The writer of the letter, a Sussex member, put me in touch with the Society and shortly after my return to this country I joined the Committee and in 1984 was appointed Vice- Chairman. Just one year later, I was thrown in at the deep end and became Chairman following the departure in mid-year of Mrs Lamont Jones on family business. Membership at that time totalled between 200 and 300.

Early in 1987, the Committee began to work on an idea submitted by two members: that we should consider organising a petition to the then Secretary of State for Education, Mr Kenneth Baker, urging the Government to include the teaching of grammar, spelling, punctuation and standard English in the National Curriculum. The rest, as they say, is history. After several revisions of the curriculum, it is gratifying to note that our submissions to the relevant authorities, along with those of like-minded groups and other bodies, have had the desired results. The ensuing publicity brought a flood of new members, and an increasing interest in our activities on the part of the media.

An article in the Independent about four years ago, which was a mild send-up but basically friendly, none the less described us as being either pedantic, militant, or genteel; and I was awarded the description of 'the Mary Whitehouse of the split infinitive and the errant apostrophe' in the Sunday Times. Again, we were able to enrol an appreciable number of new members and since than the reputation of the Society has grown steadily.

Latterly this has been as a result of the publication of the two surveys: first, in 1992, A National Survey of UK Undergraduates' English and, last year, A Survey of the Communications Skills of Young Entrants to Industry and Commerce, both of which have been comprehensively reported in Quest. At this point, I should like once again to acknowledge the prodigious amount of work put into these surveys by all those involved.

One of the more immediate results of the publication of these surveys has been the increase in the number of radio and television broadcasts we have been invited to make over the past two years. Most of them have been reported in Quest but, too late for publication in the current journal, came a call from the German News Agency asking for our views on extracts from the recently published Plain English Guide by Martin Cutts.

We have striven to achieve a degree of professionalism not only for its own sake but also because we have no desire to be labelled fuddy-duddy or bumbling amateurs. However, it is important to remember that we are all volunteers - something which is sometimes forgotten - and achieving a balance all round is often difficult.

Whatever we have achieved in the past, we must not rest on our laurels. We must continue to strive to uphold good standards in our language - both spoken and written - for it is now the second language of over half the world's population. It is, to quote our former President, {something dependable, an exemplar in an era whose anarchy has not spared words'.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I come to what is perhaps in a sense the most important part of my address today. There are a great many members of the Society to whom I am indebted for all the help and support given to me over these 10 years, but first, I would like to express my gratitude to our former President, Godfrey Talbot, for his never-failing encouragement, which continues to this day by letter; to the Hon. Secretary at the time when I became Chairman, Ivan Thompson, who guided my hand in the early days and whose help in dealing with the response to our petition and with the other associated matters was invaluable; to Michael Gorman, our quietly efficient Hon. Secretary; to Harry Steward, a continuing tower of strength who guards our finances with a watchful eye; to all those officers and other committee members who have served with me in various capacities; to Eric Hayman, unfortunately unable to be with us today, who is resigning from the Committee this year - to him I owe my thanks for his work on the survey of members and their interests which he carried out a couple of years ago; to Peter Bassett for his stalwart efforts over several years as organiser-cum-secretary of the Arundel branch; to Joan Worth for the many years of toil she put in as Editor of Quest, ably assisted for much of the time by Elisabeth Barber; and to John Langer and the present editorial team whose new-style journal is attracting considerable praise from near and far; also to Cherry Cawood, our Events Secretary, who organises our luncheons and meetings such as this AGM so efficiently. If I have inadvertently omitted to mention anyone, I offer my apologies - as I do also for shortcomings on my part - but then, there has usually been some well- intentioned soul ready to show me the error of my ways!

I have no doubt that members will give to the incoming Chairman the support and encouragement which I have had the good fortune to receive over the years. Tell him what you want the Society to do and how we should go about it, for communication is as important between members as it is in the wide world. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer my heartfelt thanks to you all and my best wishes for the future of the Queen's English Society.

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The Reverend Pelham, of Carshalton, Surrey, mentioned [Times letters, 31 July] that he had noticed in their Travel News that 'facilities to be offered [by hotels] would include a television consul'. 'This holds obvious implications for the whole diplomatic service', he says. 'Could it be long before the appointment of the first holographic ambassador?'

BAd language While we have given English to the world, the version now spoken around the globe has an American accent and vocabulary, embellished with euphemism and management-consultant obfuscation. It is contagious: there are already English/American phrase books on sale at airports [Not to be confused with English-American . . . - Ed].

One of the pleasures of flying with BA used to be that you would be greeted, not only by the day's London newspapers, but by a cabin crew who spoke plain English. However, I fear that BA staff are now aiding and abetting the spread of American. I have heard a captain tell us of an expected early arrival: we were `benefiting from a positive wind coefficient'.

The `senior in-flight cabin services manager' advised us to take all our belongings with us when `de- planing'. I have had a steward offer me the basket with `do you have any bread requirements today, sir?' Tomayto/tomarto - this has all gone too far - let's call the whole thing off!

Richard Littlejohn, The Spectator, 16/9/95. Reproduced with thanks.

Back to basics for our betrayed children

Peter Dawson

The Daily Express has done a great service to the nation by revealing the abysmal standards in many of our schools. All those responsible for education in this country, from John Major and Gillian Shephard down, should examine the results of the simple test which this newspaper set for 14-year-olds. Many readers will be deeply disturbed by the findings. And rightly so. But as a former headmaster of a large urban comprehensive and currently a school inspector, I am not in the least surprised and, for me, that is the saddest thing of all.

Before this examination was set for pupils, the Daily Express invited me to help prepare the questions and ensure we were not making unfair demands on these 14-year-olds. I did so. These are questions that children of that age should be able to answer. Parents should expect no less.

The reasons the pupils scored so badly are many. But an essential cause is that schools no longer teach the things that most adults would regard as crucial knowledge for young people.

So we have a situation where there are appallingly low standards in mathematics, sciences and foreign languages. And, as was highlighted yesterday, one in four pupils cannot locate London on a map, and almost half do not know where Birmingham is.

They do not even know the countries which make up the United Kingdom. For too long, in my view, pupils have been taken on the educational equivalent of Star Trek - they and their teachers go where none of them have gone before.

If the Daily Express had set a test on pop stars or television programmes, these young people would have scored very highly, which shows us where their interests lie.

But schools should be directing pupils' learning in a worthwhile way, as they did in the past. The trouble is that we have a generation of teachers, too many of whom are illiterate and innumerate and probably could not complete the spelling test we set or correctly answer the sums. As a school inspector, I have met some of these teachers. They are a threat to the pupils in their classrooms.

Parents, too, must take some of the blame. They do not expect their children to know enough. But many of these younger parents are themselves victims of the educational carnage inflicted on schools over several generations. The way traditional subject teaching has been replaced by the mumbo-jumbo of project and topic work was highlighted for me recently when I was travelling by taxi.

The driver realised I was involved in education and said to me: 'They don't teach children properly these days, do they?'. I asked him what he meant. He told me how he had been planting potatoes with his six- year-old granddaughter, Susie, the weekend before. They had planted six rows, with 10 in each row. He asked Susie how many potatoes they had planted altogether. The little girl thought about it for a moment and then said: 'Grandad, we don't do gardening at our school.'

This encapsulates the failure to teach the three Rs. Too much education these days is seen as a joint exploration by the teacher and the child, rather than one imparting knowledge to the other. Too often this exploration seems to involve a heavy workload for the school video recorder. It is good for children to research things. But they must also be taught some hard facts by sitting down and rigorously learning them. We have taken the view from the Sixties onwards that children must be happy as they learn. It must be an enjoyable experience. But everyone who has studied to any depth knows that it is not always enjoyable. It is often a hard slog - but worth while in the end.

The project (this word will be familiar to parents with school-age children) is a poison in our schools today. It is the death of hard learning and allows pupils an easy way out of doing what is difficult. The idea that a group of children working together and using books, videos and computers can somehow get hold of all the information they need to know is a heresy - it is giving pupils part of the truth but not all.

Much is spoken about giving young people proper opportunities. But the examination set by the Daily Express shows that these teenagers cannot properly spell the word opportunities. Until they can spell opportunities they won't have any. There is a direct link between spelling and other basic skills and getting on in the real world. Pupils must understand that, and so must their teachers. Employers are fed up with young people applying for jobs who cannot spell, add up or speak properly.

My greatest sadness in the results of the test is the ignorance of history. It is a matter of fact that if we forget our history, and where we came from, we cannot know where we are going as a nation. Many people today feel this country has lost its way (as its schools have) and perhaps one of the reasons is because of the absence of a sense of perspective about British history.

But, as a school inspector, registered with the Office for Standards in Education, I can say that all is not bad. There are some magnificent schools in this country. There is a vast gulf between the best and the worst teaching. There are those schools which say to the pupils: 'You are going to have to learn, whether you like it or not.' And there are those which say: 'If you don't like it, we will do something else.'

The results of the Daily Express exam show which way we must go. The National Curriculum is vital to raising standards, for it lays down what must be taught. Progress will not be swift but it will come.

The quality of teachers and the methods of teaching must also change. When I was headmaster of Eltham Green in the Seventies the Daily Express called me the toughest headmaster in Britain. It was a label I wore with pride.

My methods led to higher standards, and parents flocked to send their children to a school that would teach them properly. That is why private schools do so well. They teach in a traditional no-nonsense, back-to-basics style. If more teachers today took pride in being tough, we would not be in the mess we now find ourselves.

First published in the Daily Express on 11 July 1995; it is reprinted with kind permission. Peter Dawson was formerly General Secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers.

© Daily Express 1995.

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Black marks for bad English

Ben Preston

A crusade to raise standards of written English across all subjects at A level has been launched by the Government's examinations watchdog. Candidates beginning A-level courses in September will be assessed on their ability to present ideas and arguments clearly, using accurate grammar, punctuation and spelling.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has published two reports outlining the new arrangements for teachers and examiners to judge candidates' 'quality of language'. For the first time, they give examples of the different standards of written work as national benchmarks.

Candidates who make minor slips under examination pressure will not be downgraded, provided their language skills are generally good. But students whose quality of language is judged to be poor could lose enough marks to jeopardise a university place.

While students have always needed to write good English in A-level examinations, the authority wants to ensure that examiners judge the presentation of answers as well as their content. The new requirement excludes some examinations where students do not write answers in continuous prose.

The authority's guidance to teachers says that candidates who sustain a complex argument in a coherent and relevant manner should be forgiven isolated errors, such as forgetting the apostrophe in it's as an abbreviation of it is. Officials argue that this is a common mistake made by excellent candidates working against time.

The guidelines suggest that borderline candidates whose essays contain simplistic ideas and arguments might be given less leeway with their spelling and punctuation. The authority highlights a string of errors in a sample geography essay, including the misspelling of business and referring, basic grammatical errors, and failure to link sentences and paragraphs fluently.

Some 5 per cent of marks at GCSE are allocated for spelling, grammar and handwriting, a practice introduced three years ago. It caused confusion at first because some examiners rewarded candidates with extra marks while others made deductions. The change at A level will be more flexible. It is unlikely that a set number of marks will be allocated for the candidates' quality of language.

Examination boards are being advised by the authority to state in each syllabus that candidates will be assessed on their 'ability to organise and present information, ideas, descriptions and arguments clearly and logically, taking into account their use of grammar, spelling and punctuation'.

The Associated Examining Board has welcomed the change: 'It is important that teachers ensure all young people write clearly, consistently and coherently in all subjects'.

This article first appeared in The Times on 12 July 1995; it is reproduced by kind permission.

© The Times, London, 1995.

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A 'Language Fascist' pleads for vocal democracy

Diane Brookens

Gillian Shephard has just launched a campaign for good spoken English in schools, with a steering group headed by newscaster Trevor McDonald, and members who are not (we are reassured) bureaucratic, but are from business, education, the media, unions, sport, entertainment and voluntary bodies. But despite all their efforts there is a danger that they will be sabotaged at every turn unless some very convincing arguments are produced to placate the prejudices of the enemies of Standard English.

A particular threat is that some progress will be made in schools, only to be wiped out by a new government, or by teacher unions, who refuse to implement the proposals. I would like to offer some arguments to counter the do-gooders who say that they champion the well-being of the ordinary children, teenagers and adults around the country.

Now, we who are striving for higher standards of spoken - and written - English will have to overcome the bigotry of those who call us 'language fascists' - a term I heard recently from disc jockey Simon Bates.

But is it to be a language fascist to care about the standard of English, to demand that our children get the best out of themselves, each other and their culture? The debate over the pros and cons of Standard English and Received Pronunciation continues, predictably and unprofitably; long-term educational progress is completely stifled. How much do the critics actually know of the benefits of Standard English, and of Received Pronunciation, its vocal equivalent?

Extremely little, it seems; virtually none is at all conversant with the everyday teaching of these subjects. We must therefore reach the conclusion that we are being treated to political ideology and the deafening rumble of the class war, rather than to consideration of the practical realities of the benefits of written and spoken English. These benefits affect those in the real world, far removed from the ambit of the politicians. So just how valid are their views, and should they be receiving such credibility?

As a teacher running a drama school, I would like to concentrate particularly on the benefits of elocution.

If one cannot express one's thoughts, feelings, ideas and personality as clearly and as fully as one would like, then one has not been educated properly. For many, the skills of self-expression are inadequate; they have not been taught them, they may even not have been mentioned. Many of us have problems with self- expression at times, but imagine feeling inadequate most of the time - whatever your accent.

When I was on the Esther Rantzen show last year, I said that my view on accents was that variety is the spice of life. I wouldn't want any accent to be lost, for the range and contrast of spoken accents is just one of the fascinating facets that make the diamond of humanity shine.

However, there is a difference between a clear and attractive accent, and an indistinct or inarticulate one! Elocution (or 'speech training', although this is a little less clear in its objectives today), gives everyone the opportunity to make the most of their accent, whilst retaining its uniqueness: its music, lilt, inflection, tone, special phrasing and vocabulary and colloquialisms. The results of such training can be heard in many actors' voices.

Taking past examples, because I think they had more character and individuality than today's actors (although this can come more with maturity): the Irishness of the handsome voice of Richard Harris, Michael Caine's Cockney charm, and the Welsh passion in the speech of Richard Burton.

Then we had the late greats, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Sir Laurence Olivier, who made the most of Received Pronunciation, picking out of the well of their subconsciousness techniques that make English as expressive and as limitless as a star-lit sky, often as magical and certainly as breathtaking.

The voice is the way to freedom of spirit, the way to the personality reaching its full potential, and to a life being fully lived. It is the critics, who want to deprive many children of such development, who are the true fascists. Fascists want to control, to make everyone like themselves, to keep the masses in their place.

Teaching Standard English and Received Pronunciation as a matter of routine to all gives the masses a voice. Their own voice. An articulate voice. A voice that can help them to hold their own anywhere, with anyone, at any time. Why should this training not be shared by everyone, anywhere in the country if they want it?

Who wants such training, and why should they want it? Over the last ten years I have had students who were shy of expressing themselves. Some did not have the confidence to open up and say what they would like to.

I have had some people who have felt isolated and frustrated because their vocal habits alienated them from other people, who could not understand what they said. Some people did not like the sound of their own voice, perhaps because it did not express their inner self. Instead, what came out was a boring monotone, or a slurred series of letters, or a nasal whine, or a mumbling, or a catch in the throat, or an immature, high, thin voice, or even a harsh, loud, strongly resonant voice that literally drove people away.

Do these people not have a right to a training that can help them overcome these handicaps, drawbacks and blocks to their own personal progress?

These people come from every age-group, race, cultural background, work-place and professional background. Of course, many people still identify with their background, and declare a strong allegiance and loyalty to their roots. But some have chosen not to tie themselves to their past, but would rather assume a different persona. Both, in a democratic society, should have the right to choose their own road towards personal development.

The benefits are so great for personal growth and development that I believe elocution should be taught in every school. In the past it has been only on the curriculum at public and private schools. This has given those children unfair advantage over others. It has (understandably) increased the prejudice towards the subject and fanned the flames of the class war in the debate - because there is no doubt that an articulate and communicative voice increases the power of the individual.

Ask yourself then, why anyone should be denied the opportunity of claiming their personal power. It is perhaps because a few people abuse RP: they use their voice as a weapon and a tool for leverage. However, such abuse may be attributed to a certain type of overbearing personality rather than the voice itself.

We have today two generations of young people who are more silent and reticent than in any period since the Education Act made education more accessible to all. We no longer have children reciting poetry off by heart, or reading aloud in class, so that their pronunciation can be assessed. Instead, individual pupils read to themselves - in a vacuum. They could do that at home!

Their lack of basic grammar reminds one of those language classes that don't offer any formal grounding but let you flounder in 'group conversation', desperately trying to detect a phrase that you know, and only when at last you do latch on do you feel human, connected and a part of the group again.

People come to me for voice training because they do not like their voice, not because of any feeling that RP - the Big Enemy - is superior, as critics would like to have us believe, but from an aesthetic (perhaps unconscious) acknowledgment that their voice is not easy to listen to. (Just as in music no-one knows why certain types of sounds appeal to the human ear, and philosophers argue in vain over what makes certain kinds of music aesthetically pleasing to each individual.)

One thing is sure, the majority of people would prefer to listen to music rather than to the sounds of a motorway, or an aircraft taking off; people cringe at the screech of chalk on the blackboard, and at the clash of thunder. But they love the sound of a dawn chorus, and its beautiful song. Although one person might like the drama of Wagner and another the romance of Tchaikovsky or the charm of Chopin, all the composers have avoided disharmony, discord, harshness of timbre and painful volume, unless specifically used for effect.

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to listen to good examples of speech as we grow up, but many of us pick up poor vocal habits that inhibit the proper expression of our thoughts. They neither reflect our true self nor contribute to our identity with our roots - why not get rid of these bad habits; they are not aesthetically pleasing?

I often tell my students that the voice is like a flower. You can only appreciate its full beauty when it is open. It is the job of the elocution teacher to open up the voice, so that we can appreciate its full and natural beauty. Life is not a mumble, it is a continuous song about all kinds of subjects and all kinds of experiences. Whether a member of an orchestra or a solo artist, you have the right to a voice that can sing what is truly in your heart!

Diane Brookens, B Ed, is a Founder/Director of the Naturama School of Drama, Pinner, Middlesex.

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Parish council elections in peaceful Hertfordshire may have turned on a punctuation mark! Candidate Ian Senior protested that the apostrophe in King's Langley was left out of candidates' statements. 'The parish has been spelt both ways in the past, but I have been campaigning for over 20 years to have the apostrophe kept', he said. Had he narrowly lost, a new ballot might have been needed. 'Somebody might have been put off voting for me because I had spelt it Kings. And, anyway, the apostrophe is an endangered species.'

Quoted in The Times 'Diary', 2 May 1995

There 'tis then

Roscoe Howells

Now that the back-to-basics joke has reached its sell-by date, there can hardly be much mileage in it for those who seek to contribute to a column such as this.

But hopefully I can be said to have a safe pair of hands, and I think I may say I can field any questions which may come my way on the subject. Nor would I seek to stone-wall them. Hopefully.

Hopefully, there must be somebody out there who will wish to monitor this quantum leap. This is not an expression which has anything to do with a politician jumping into bed. It is merely another way of saying that you are getting your act together and want people to think that you know what you are talking about when it comes to the bottom line.

I hear what you say because you must remember I have been into this columnar business a long time, and I know how to test the temperature of the water. I would not seek to set myself up as a role model, but I am usually conscious of any sea change and quick to detect if there is a ground-swell of opinion. What is more, I have a pretty fair track record, right across the spectrum, particularly in an environmental context.

This is not quite the same thing as saying that I wish to draw a line under it, but hopefully we are singing from the same hymn-sheet in a very real sense. Hopefully.

It is, I believe, received opinion that in this columnar business there has to be a degree of forward planning, and it needs to be a whole new ball-game on a level playing field, otherwise the Editor will show the contributor the red card. That is when he has to bite the bullet. (The contributor, not the Editor.) Then hopefully the ball is in somebody else's court. Hopefully. End of story.

These are some of the reasons why I feel that it is down to me to update you in a meaningful way on an escalating situation which needs to be beefed up. Indeed, if I may say so, it is a key factor in establishing the pecking order. At the end of the day, anyone who is in the business of looking for a knee-jerk reaction has to have a cutting edge. Without it, he would have no clout whatsoever. Not even nice Mr Major.

These indeed are the nuts and bolts which have to be taken on board, totally, and the icon of a quantum leap. A columnist has it all to do in an ongoing situation and has to go right up to the wire. Anything else is a dead duck, and you can quote me on that as well. Well, hopefully.

In a word, therefore, what we should be saying is that, while we have to stand up to be counted, it is the ultimate obscenity at grassroots level in a caring society if the lads are not allowed to play it by ear when they take the litmus test, especially when they have it all to do. That is a proven syndrome.

In targeting this issue, which many sound judges regard as a different animal, synchronised transitional flexibility can never be a satisfactory alternative to replace the proven qualities of any functional intermental concept. And, basics or not, at the end of the day, that's the name of the game. If not, I think we should be told. And there 'tis then.

First published in the Western Telegraph on 7 March 1994. Reprinted by kind permission.

© Western Telegraph 1994.

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To those born before 1940

We were born before television, before penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, videos, frisbees and the Pill. We were born before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ball point pens; before dish-washers, tumble dryers, electric blankets, air-conditioners, drip-dry clothes . . . and before man walked on the moon.

We got married first, and then lived together (how quaint can you be? ). We thought `fast food' was what you ate in Lent, a `Big Mac' was an oversized raincoat and `crumpet' we had for tea. We existed before house-husbands, computer dating, dual careers, and when a meaningful relationship meant getting along with cousins, and `sheltered accommodation' was where you waited for a bus.

We were born before day centres, group homes and disposable nappies. We had never come across FM radio, tape decks, electric typewriters, artificial hearts, word-processors, yoghurt and young men wearing earrings. For us `time sharing' meant togetherness, a `chip' was a piece of wood or fried potato, `hardware' meant nuts and bolts and `software' wasn't a word.

Before 1940 `Made in Japan' meant junk, the term `making out' referred to how you did in your exams, `stud' was something that fastened a collar to a shirt and `going all the way' meant staying on a double- decker bus to the Bus Depot. Pizzas, McDonalds and instant coffee were unheard of. In our day cigarette smoking was fashionable, `grass' was mown, `coke' was kept in the coal shed, a `joint' was a piece of meat you had on Sundays and `pot' was something you cooked in. `Rock Music' was a Grandmother's lullaby. Eldorado was an ice cream, a `gay person' was the life and soul of a party and nothing more whilst `aids' just meant beauty treatment or help for someone in trouble.

We who were born before 1940 must be a hardy bunch when you think of the way in which the world has changed and the adjustments we have had to make. No wonder we are so confused and there is a generation gap today. But, by the grace of God, we have survived!

This item was kindly supplied by Miss E F Currie, of Kincardineshire; its author is unknown.

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English is a wonderful language for puzzlers. Each double definition below refers to a single word. Answers on a postcard, please, to Michael Russell. The first correct solution picked at random on 1 January 1996 wins a £10 book token.

  1. Extra shine
  2. Soft offer
  3. Conforming curve
  4. Place support
  5. Flounce award
  6. Agreeable sport
  7. Strike pressure
  8. Deliver suit
  9. Strange immigré
  10. Rough accent
  11. Far unlikely
  12. Small time
  13. Tedious mill
  14. Story thread
  15. Will invent
  16. Little rudeness
  17. Turning weight
  18. Evolve suit
  19. Quarter line
  20. Royal fairy
  21. Fascinating plotting
  22. Parade design
  23. Prison food
  24. Master target
  25. Wind act

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The hardships faced by the early explorers never ceases to appall . . .

Never mind 'the early explorers' - it's we 'literate readers' who are appalled!

The heading comes from The Geographical Magazine, August 1995. A review (ibid.) of a language course explains: 'Start with the introduction to language basics, which teaches you how words are pronounced, then move on to basic expressions before choosing your themes - whether it is arriving at the hotel, using a telephone . . .'.

For a magazine which is aimed at A-level geography students, this hardly earns top marks - but it has been worse. Together with wobbly grammar and punctuation, earlier issues contained such gems as artilery, acountability, accelarated, competetive, comittments, concequence, consiousness, decends, scources, and many more.

The material is good, I'll warrant you; but I found it difficult to enjoy, so I sent the editor some marked-up copies. They never were acknowledged, so I can't with any certainty claim responsibility, but I must say the standard has been rising steadily ever since.

But although the language is better, I can't say the same about the proofreading. Sixth-formers cannot be blamed while inacuracy, impratical, vetinary, cannister, palaentologist, and approprite all fluorish unrestrained.

I was also disappointed by the Marshall Cavendish Tree of Knowledge, which supplements the National Curriculum's programme of study. Unnoticed errors spoil the otherwise high standard: the eye is filled with vitrious humour; a spider sucks up its liquified prey; screens were linked to powerful, but sensitive computers.

We find Anne, both of Cleves, and Boleyn - later they are both Ann; pwrful, horses hooves, and ants nests are just sloppy. The homophonic cells, instead of the cels [celluloids] used in cartoon-making, needed more thought, and I wonder what even Olive Oyl would have made of:

'after Disney came the Fleischers, with Popeye, a spinach-munching sailor with massive biceps and Betty Boop, a curvy showgirl with a childish voice.'

It seems to me that editors are quite prepared to cut costs and publish shoddy material rather than use professional editing services. I shall now make a habit of writing (politely) to editors of such material, especially when it is aimed at students.

May I persuade many members of the society to join me - we have to show that they are wrong to think that no one will notice!

Janice Booth

[Janice Booth also asks whether her uneasiness with 'Rochelle neither wants to come with us nor be left behind' is shared by other members (an example of 'correct' usage in the Collins Gem English Grammar). She prefers '. . . nor wants to be . . .'. While she is strictly correct, my view is that modern speakers certainly, and writers too, very often unwittingly omit a phrase, subconsciously feeling that listeners will replace it for them - I had to read the sentence several times to get her point.

This is very like our old friend the `hanging participle' and similar constructions: `As a teacher it is invariably those under the age of 30 who have never been taught grammar` (letter to The Times). All that is needed to emend this 'mistake' is the insertion of 'I find that' after 'teacher' - Ed.]

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Book reviews

The Plain English Guide. Martin Cutts. Pp 162 OUP, 1995. £10.99. ISBN 0 19 869259 5

Martin Cutts, a leading voice in plain language education, was a founder member of the Plain English Campaign, a company which is active among national enterprises in the reduction of unnecessary circumlocution - or waffle. He set up on his own in 1989, using the name Words at Work. In 1994 he established the Plain Language Commission, principally to agitate for the plain wording of our laws.

On the publication of the Guide in August this year, the media had a field day, proclaiming that OUP had sanctioned the end of grammar as we know it. When one looks at the book, however, one is disappointed - or glad? - to find that this is not so.

All that Mr Cutts advises us is that many old shibboleths may be discarded. Split infinitives are the first to go, closely followed by ending a sentence with a preposition, and starting one with a conjunction. As these never were true rules of grammar (but only of style), nothing has changed.

Martin feels that 'you can be a good writer without learning hundreds of grammatical terms'. This is true, but those who have a poor grasp of grammar may well need more than a list of a dozen or so definitions such as verb and paragraph to rectify their missing knowledge of the basic rules of grammar.

Nowhere does he mention the use of verbs in different tenses, or singular and plural; we do not learn of the nominative and accusative at all. But there may be enough here to make one aware of the need for such knowledge - some suggested reading would therefore have been helpful. What he calls 'grammarphobia' is in fact just the abnegation of any sort of teaching: learning stuff is hard - let's not bother. 'A little grammar goes a long way', he says. Indeed, sir, but most of the writers of poor English have no grammar training at all - they should surely not be encouraged to think that this is nothing to worry about!

But if the author is saying that the old-fashioned rubric, requiring the parroting of technical descriptions of the parts of speech, is irrelevant in the creation of good basic writing - then he is on much firmer ground.

The book begins by quoting first a 132-word sentence, then two sentences with four errors in 43 words. Here we meet what could be the book's watchword, 'get it tight, get it right'.

Plain English is the best medium for communication: don't waffle. Use no more than 25 words per sentence, the simplest possible words, the active voice, vigorous verbs and lists; be positive, use appropriate punctuation.

The author prefers stop to cease, send to despatch and use to avail yourself. Also and so on to etc, thus to sic and for this purpose to ad hoc. These are in many ways unexceptionable, but we are all used to a neat '[sic]' (thus really doesn't do this justice: it's really yes, I know it looks wrong but that's the way it was), just as we all know what etc means.

Many worked examples are given, showing just how to prune verbose matter into a terse sentence or two, so the book will be really useful to all who are responsible for official reports, letters and brochures.

But I personally have misgivings: many books on grammar give 'correct' answers that are indeed blameless - but my, how dull the prose! And when Mr Cutts has done his stuff the dross may have gone, but little gold remains.

Has not Mr Cutts heard of 'charm'? One example - he dislikes:

'May I draw your attention to the final account dated 28 June from which I note that six payments were credited to your account, totalling £108?

He prefers:

The final account dated 28 June shows that six payments . . .'

and removes eight words that he terms 'useless'; in my view he also removes the human touch. One has more sympathy with most of the examples, however, especially with:

'Arrears at present subsist on your mortgage account in the sum of £1000 with a further payment becoming due on the 11th April'


'The arrears on your mortgage account are £1000 and a further payment is due on 11 April',

a reduction of 35 per cent, from 23 words to 17.

Sadly, he does not let us go without a sermon on Sexist Usage. 'Any habit that builds a barrier between you and half your readers . . .', he writes. Now I hesitate to cavil: that half my readership are women I doubt not, but I do doubt that many are wimmin. The problems of describing, for example, a medical incident involving patient, doctor, nurse, and consultant where the gender of any participant is no longer material, let alone predictable, are solved only with an ingenious mix of job title and the use of they as a singular pronoun - all other pronouns are void.

But, like Peter Kitson in Quest No. 60 (qv), the more relaxed among us are perfectly happy with chairman and fireman, neither seeing any condescension in the -man nor willing to accept the crass etymology of chair or firefighter.

Being a looker-up of little memory, I was sad not to find an index.

In sum then, if one does not take this as a grammar, but as a guide for those with some grammatical knowledge, I have to say that it meets its aim very well.

It seems unlikely that (writers of QES reports apart) any member need rush to buy: but it is an ideal book to recommend to those we find responsible for poor English in our daily lives - and a really practical, not to say seasonal, gift.


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I have a spelling checker,

It came with my PC;

It plane lee marx four my revue

Miss steaks eye can knot sea.

Aye ran this poem threw it,

I'm shore your pleas two no,

Its let her perfect in its weigh,

My cheque her toll me sew.

To rite with care is such a feet,

Of witch won should bee proud.

And wee mussed dew the best we can,

Cos floors are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye do prays

Such soft where four pea seas,

And why I brake in two averse

My reed erse two a pease.

Seen by Ruth Chapman, Tasmania, in the Frank Devine column in The Australian July 29 1995; also quoted in part in Forum, the Organisation for Quality Education, according to the Campaign for Real Education newsletter, August 1995.

English in the National Curriculum, England and Wales. Department for Education. London: HMSO, 1995. £5.95. ISBN 0 11 270882 X

The National Curriculum applies to pupils of compulsory school age in government-maintained schools. It is organised into four key stages (KS): KS 1, ages 5-7 (KS 1 does not apply in Wales in Welsh-speaking classes); KS 2, ages 7-11; KS 3, ages 11-14; KS 4, ages 14-16. For each key stage, programmes of study set out what pupils should be taught and attainment targets give the expected standards of pupils' performance. For KS 1 to 3, standards of performance are given as eight level descriptions of increasing difficulty, with an additional description for exceptional performance. At KS 4, public examinations are the main means of assessment, and new GCSE syllabuses reflecting the revised National Curriculum will be introduced for courses beginning in September 1996. The revised programmes of study and attainment targets are legal requirements, coming into effect from August 1995 for KS 1, 2 and 3, and later for KS 4.

The programmes of study are to be taught to the great majority of pupils in each KS, `in ways appropriate to their abilities', with provision for pupils with `special needs'. The `General Requirements for English: Key Stages 1-4' are generally very sensible and include the following.

1. English should develop pupils' abilities to communicate effectively in speech and writing and to listen with understanding. It should also enable them to be enthusiastic, responsive and knowledgeable readers.

a. To develop effective speaking and listening pupils should be taught to:

- use the vocabulary and grammar of standard English;

- formulate, clarify and express their ideas;

- adapt their speech to a widening range of circumstances and demands;

- listen, understand and respond appropriately to others.

b. To develop as effective readers, pupils should be taught to:

- read accurately, fluently and with understanding;

- understand and respond to the texts they read;

- read, analyse and evaluate a wide range of texts, including literature from the English literary heritage and from other cultures and traditions.

c. To develop as effective writers, pupils should be taught to use:

- compositional skills - developing ideas and communicating meaning to a reader, using a wide-ranging vocabulary and an effective style, organising and structuring sentences grammatically and whole texts coherently;

- presentational skills - accurate punctuation, correct spelling and legible handwriting; a widening variety of forms for different purposes. . . .

4. Pupils should be given opportunities to develop their understanding and use of standard English and recognise that:

- standard English is distinguished from other forms of English by its vocabulary, and by rules and conventions of grammar, spelling and punctuation;

- the grammatical features that distinguish standard English include how pronouns, adverbs and adjectives should be used and how negatives, questions and verb tenses should be formed; such features are present in both the spoken and written forms, except where non-standard forms are used for effect or technical reasons;

- spoken standard English is not the same as Received Pronunciation and can be expressed in a variety of accents.

I think that members of the QES would support those general aims. They actually represent the very successful outcome of a long fight by this Society and others, ever since the appallingly lax recommendations of the 1988 Kingman Report, and the unsatisfactory recommendations of the Cox [not our President!] Reports. We made detailed responses to all these reports and to various National Curriculum consultation documents.

At the different key stages, the National Curriculum deals with: reading, including phonic knowledge and grammatical knowledge; and writing, including punctuation, spelling, handwriting, standard English and language study. Some of the examples are 'non-statutory', shown in italics.

The list for reading by pupils at KS 3 and 4 is excellent. It includes: two works by Shakespeare; drama by major playwrights, e.g. Christopher Marlowe, J B Priestley, George Bernard Shaw, R B Sheridan; two works of fiction of high quality by major writers published before 1900 and two works of fiction of high quality by major writers with well-established critical reputations, published after 1900, e.g. William Golding, Graham Greene, James Joyce, D H Lawrence, Muriel Spark; poems of high quality by four major poets published before 1990, and four published after 1990.

I have two major criticisms of the Curriculum. First, there is too little on teaching knowledge of topics such as aspects of English grammar; the emphasis is on confidence and use, rather than knowledge. 'Pupils should be encouraged to be confident in the use of formal and informal written standard English'; '. . . should be given a range of opportunities to use the syntax and vocabulary of English'; '. . . opportunities to learn about . . .'.

Secondly, the Attainment Targets at eight levels, plus 'exceptional performance', are far too vague. For example, Speaking and Listening, Level 4, includes: 'They use appropriately some of the features of standard English vocabulary and grammar', while Level 5 includes: 'They begin to use standard English in formal situations'.

These criteria are so vague that it must be almost impossible to grade pupils on them. Even worse, such elementary skills are about half way up the scale of achievement! In the Attainment Targets for writing, the top normal level, Level 8, includes: 'Writing shows a clear grasp of the use of punctuation and paragraphing'.

In conclusion, the new National Curriculum for English is much better than any of the previous proposals from Kingman onwards. Its basic principles are excellent and the literature examples are sound. It should place more emphasis on knowledge and specific teaching, rather than just use and 'being given opportunities to learn about . . .'. I would like to see some advice about correction of errors, clearer attainment levels and to have illustrations of work achieving particular attainment levels. I would also like to see a section on sentence analysis and parsing, as these unfashionable and often-derided skills really can help pupils to detect and correct errors themselves.

Bernard Lamb

Cause of Literacy - Proceedings of the SWWJ Literacy Seminar. Dr Joyce M Morris, OBE, Editor. London: Society of Women Writers and Journalists, 1995. £5.95* [No ISBN]

[*inc. postage & packing, from: Beresford, Boileau Parade, Boileau Road, London W5 3AQ

To mark their centenary, the Society of Women Writers and Journalists carried out a survey of members' opinions on 'What should be done to raise standards of literacy?'. On 10 March 1994, Dr Joyce Morris reported the results of this survey at a one-day seminar. Other speakers were the Secretary of State for Education at that time, John Patten; Christabel Burniston, Founder of the English Speaking Board; Elizabeth Henderson, a head teacher and authority on dyslexia; Jennifer Chew, teacher of English at a sixth-form college and well known for her writings on educational standards; Professor Sir Randolph (now Lord) Quirk; and Baroness James (P D James). The contributions of all these speakers have now been published by the SWWJ in the form of a short book, edited by Dr Morris and with a Foreword by Lady Longford.

In his speech John Patten said that he was depressed by the current position in which, although some £30 billion a year was being spent on education, about four million people in England and Wales were still struggling with reading and writing. To help teachers cope with the realities of the classroom, school- based teacher training had been introduced, and more time was to be given to methods of teaching children to read. Almost o5 million a year was going to the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, to help improve the literacy of students in colleges of further education.

The SWWJ survey gave members their first chance to express their opinions collectively. Those participating were asked to give their views on the relative importance of ten suggested ways to improve standards of literacy, e.g. that 'Parents should frequently read stories to their pre-school children',' there was 97 per cent agreement with this. That spelling should be explicitly taught in schools was accepted by 92 per cent. Slightly fewer (87.5 per cent) took the view that 'whatever their dialect, children should learn to speak clearly, using Standard English grammar and vocabulary'. Almost the same percentage (86) agreed that 'school children should be taught to write Standard English grammar as an essential foundation for "true" creative writing'.

Surprisingly, only 71 per cent of the participating writers considered it very important that `systematic phonic instruction' should be given to 'beginning readers' so that they should 'learn the relationships between speech sounds and the letters representing them'.

Perhaps the most unexpected result of the survey was the low proportion - only 32 per cent - of respondents who supported the theory that children should `learn by heart from a canon of great literature', one of the established rites of traditional teaching of English. One might have assumed that such an exercise would find especial favour among a body of authors and journalists! Not so. Some respondents quarrelled about the ingredients of the canon, while others pointed to the trauma suffered by children who had difficulties with memorising and to the psychological damage the exercise could cause them.

The report contains much that could be described as bland: there are frequent references to `Standard English' and `correct grammar' as being necessary, but no attempt to define either. Authors and journalists must, after all, approach syllabuses and teaching methods from a perspective similar to that of parents and, without first-hand teaching experience, must not be expected to offer circumspect, creative advice. Maybe this is why the reviewers were struck by only two contributions: those of Elizabeth Henderson and, especially, Christabel Burniston, both of whom are teachers. Their speeches provided some fascinating insights into the problems facing those in education's front line and a refreshing change from the general tone of predictability.

After the speeches, was the meeting thrown open to question and debate? It would have been very interesting to query Randolf Quirk's apparent cold-shouldering of grammar in favour of a diet of vocabulary - which is more important to `Standard English'? - or to delve deeper into the interesting conclusion reached by Jennifer Chew that the reading standards of today's 16-year-olds lag three years behind those of children of the same age in 1960. Since then the notorious exclusion of Latin studies from matriculation syllabuses has taken place which, in the belief of many, has played a crucial part in the lowering of language standards. The answers of these two speakers might have led to the constructive conclusion that the Society of Women Writers and Journalists had been seeking in its centenary year.

Joan Worth and Geoffrey Kitchin

Mother Tongue. Bill Bryson. Penguin Books. £6.99 ISBN 0 14 014305 X

Bill Bryson was born in 1951 in Des Moines, Iowa, and grew up there, but he has spent most of his adult life in Britain. He is married, with four children, and lives in North Yorkshire.

We often hear of Europeans going to settle in the U S. It is rarer to read of Americans coming to settle in Britain and taking up the defence of the English language.

Mr Bryson stresses the importance of English as a world language, and attributes this to the richness of its vocabulary. He passes in review the idiosyncracies of the different tongues. (I will not quote them here, as they make delightful reading. I will just leave you to discover them.) Naturally the idiosyncracies of English are not spared. If you have ever tried to teach English to foreigners, you will know some of them already.

All aspects of the language are studied: the history of language, the acquisition of language by the very young and the way language develops. There are chapters on pronunciation, spelling and good English versus bad.

Is different than a regrettable Americanism, or was it used in English years ago by famous writers? You will find the answer in chapter 9. Should a dictionary be prescriptive or descriptive? Webster's Third New International Dictionary, we are told, gives infer as a synonym for imply, flout as a synonym for flaunt. (I can see Bernard Lamb shudder.) Bill Bryson considers that 'clarity is generally better served if we agree to observe a distinction between imply and infer, forego and 'forgo', fortuitous and fortunate, uninterested and disinterested, and many others'.

There is a fascinating chapter on names. Did you know that the pub The Cat and the Fiddle is recorded in the Domesday Book as Caterine la Fidele, and that the Ostrich Inn in Buckinghamshire began life as the Hospice Inn? And what about plays on words? Puns, anagrams, riddles, palindromes, rebuses, holorimes, clerihews, metaphasis (or spoonerism ), they are all there.

And what about the future of English? What are Mr Bryson's predictions? He is optimistic. He states: `The suggestion that English will evolve into separate branches in the way Latin evolved into French, Spanish, and Italian seems to me to ignore the very obvious consideration that communications have advanced a trifle in the intervening period.' (The Daily Mail predicted in the late 1940s that American expressions would soon be incomprehensible to the average English person.) Mr Bryson considers that the cinema, the television, books, magazines, record albums, business contacts and tourism are powerful binding influences.

This is a most interesting book which I would highly recommend. Bill Bryson puts his case very well. If his biography did not appear in the introduction, you would never know, from the way he writes, that he was not born in Great Britain. Indeed, he identifies with the people of this country. He talks of `our ancient history'. May his book serve to bring us nearer to our American cousins.

Janet Raffaillac

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'. . . he fell into a comma and died.'

Zimbabwe Chronicle


The English Language: our heritage?

Our Chairman Emeritus, Mrs Anne Shelley, has complained to English Heritage about the 'trendy' and ungrammatical Americanisms with which their publicity material is strewn: 'I refer to the Discovery card, on which an extra video cassette is offered for free. Why not simply free or for nothing or even free of charge? These ugly phrases do nothing for our language: both for free and for real are creeping in under the guise of change and linguistic evolution, but change does not always equal progress.

`Please, English Heritage, discourage your copywriters from using these terms next time! '

English Heritage replied: `. . .we are trying to adopt some of the promotional techniques used in the wider world . . . we recognise that the cost is sometimes in terms of style . . . we would confine such "modifications" to promotional techniques only.'

And Mrs Shelley brings to our delighted gaze a notice in her local hospital pointing to 'Assisted bathroom'! This must be set alongside the notice, sent to us by Mrs J M Ferris, Loughborough, seen on the door of a food-warming trolley at Glenfield General Hospital, Leicester: 'THIS DOOR MUST BE KEPT CLOSED DURING RETHERMALIZATION'.

But if you think English Heritage's command of advertisement English leaves something to be desired, what do you think of the terms in which Vauxhall Cars extol the virtues of the brakes fitted to one of their latest models?

Mr Jon Campbell, Kincardineshire, sends us a two-page advertisement from the Sunday Times describing the gruelling testing to which they submitted this vehicle: 'The driver uses the gears as little as possible and accelerates into every corner forcing him to brake hard and often . . .. All this sadistic behaviour guarantees that the Omega's braking system has been comprehensively tested. So unlike our engineers, your driving experience in the Omega should be totally stress-free, comfortable in the knowledge that the brakes and every other facet of the car has [sic] been rigorously tested . . ..' [Fellow members, what shall we award the Vauxhall advertising copy-writers for their English? An omega? -Ed.]

Something nasty in the woodshed?

Mr Jon Campbell also draws our attention to an 'On other pages' item in the Aberdeen Press and Journal: 'Dead biker on way to see girlfriend'.

And Mr Walter Buchanan, Ross-on-Wye, sends us an advertisement from Horticultural Week: '2 ACRE NURSERY FOR RENT. £4050 per year, 5 no polytunnels plus sand beds. No trading to the public aloud . . ..'

Mr Buchanan thinks that the only answer to '5 no polytunnels' must be '5 no spades'.

[And definitely no street barkers - Ed.]

To -IC- or not to -IC-?

Mr John Crofts, Enfield, quotes from Quest No. 59, page 5, under the heading Broadcasting: 'There followed an interview with a lecturer at Birkbeck College, whose opening words included "speaking as a linguist" - clearly no one had explained to her that she was in fact a linguicist.' Mr Crofts explains 'As linguicist is to me a new word, I have looked for it in the Concise Oxford E D and also in Collins' E D, and can find it in neither. Linguist, however, is in both. I wonder whether someone in our Society would like to foist upon us a horde of anatomicists, anaestheticists, artisticists, botanicists, dramaticists, psychiatricists, scientificists and others.'

[We must plead guilty to an excess of zeal, Mr Crofts. Our contributor wished to draw a distinction between someone who has learned to speak several foreign languages and someone who has made a scientific study of language and its mechanics, a quite different branch of learning. Thus, your anatomicist is not quite a fair comparison. To lump both types of specialist together under the one label linguist seemed inappropriate. As you rightly say, linguicist does not appear in the dictionaries and we shall in future avoid its use. But linguistician does appear (COD, 1990) and this is the word we should have used. Thank you for pointing this out. - Ed.]

The Adventure of the Flying Coastline

Mrs Mary Tilney, Beccles, sends a cutting from the Eastern Daily Press containing this remarkable statement: 'In next to no time after taking off from Norwich Airport the Dutch coastline came into view.' And Mr Male, from Gloucestershire, quotes from a business letter: 'As one of our most respected customers, I am writing to you to . . .'.

[Participles a-dangling, up tails all! -Ed.]

That St Thomas' apostrophe

Mr Male also quotes from Quest No. 60, page 23: 'the hospital should be called either The St Thomases' Hospital or The Two St Thomases Hospital.' He asks: 'Did [the author] intend there to be no apostrophe in the latter version? Whether to write Prince Charles' speech or Prince Charles's speech is clearly a great dilemma for many!' He offers the rules given by Professor Quirk and his colleagues in their A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. 'One may pronounce Mr Jones' car as Jones or Joanzez: where a name ends in a letter s sounding like a z (i.e. a voiced s), an apostrophe only should be used; where a name ends in a written s sounding like an s (i.e. it is not voiced), an apostrophe s is required. Hence Mr Jones' book is great, but Mr Davis's book is even better.'

[The plot thickens - we doubt if we have heard the last on this subject! - Ed.]

Mrs Gemma Hooper, Cambridge, is a professional proofreader and has been recording the errors she has noticed in her off-duty reading: 'Spelling mistakes are legion: no publishers seem to be above reproach.' She has found millenia, brussel sprouts, situacon, disgused, flckered and villian in Penguin Books; practice used as a verb in Abacus/Deutsch; Folkstone in Faber; and depositied, acknowleged, chustnut, partidge, and treament in Virago.

[What are our other members' experiences? Books today are mere merchandise - gone are the days when publishers cared whether or not their books were free from error! - Ed.]

Do you remember when we had A R P precautions?

Mr Tom Cawte, Arundel, points to the increasing use of acronyms as if they were proper words with intrinsic meanings. He cites 'An NOP poll' and 'The aircraft was attacked by SAM surface-to-air missiles'. And he laments a common mistake: 'One in four children have [sic] difficulties with spelling.' Mr Cawte also deplores the widespread misuse of fulsome: 'The first in the queue at the Lying-in-State of King Edward VII were six seamstresses whose loyalty told as much of the fulsome praise of the King as that shown by those in high places.'

[To this one might add the modern tendency to write only the first letter of an acronym in capitals, the rest in lower case, as in Aids. - Ed.]

Heavy breathing in the Groves of Academe

Miss Cherry Lavell, London NWl, draws our attention to the establishment of a Chair in Gender Relations at Dundee University, its first professor being someone called Elizabeth Gerber. But it has been pointed out that only words are of different genders: people (and other creatures) are of different sex, so la Gerber should be styled 'Professor of Sex Relations', reminding us slightly of someone out of James Joyce's Ulysses.

English, the world language (though not much used in England)

Mrs J Raffaillac, France, writes: 'I am pleased to report a marked improvement in the English spoken by the newsreaders and presenters on the channels I receive by satellite here in France - Sky News and BBC World. Apart from Richard Littlejohn (Sky News), who could do with a few elocution lessons, they speak clearly and distinctly and accentuate their words in the "traditional" way (e.g. controversy, with the accent on the first syllable). I thought this was worth noting, and hope that programmes in England are following the same trend. If they are, I think it is thanks to the continued efforts of the members of this Society. Carry on the good work!'

And Mrs Raffaillac enters the `non-aspirated h' controversy: 'I have always considered it optional to say a hotel (with an aspirate h), or an hotel (with a non-aspirate h), but I know opinions differ.'

[The story goes that one day, after a gruelling meeting, the trade union leader J.H. Thomas was leaving a committee room in the House of Commons and, turning to his companion, Lord Asquith, said 'I've got an 'ell of an 'eadache', to which Asquith replied 'Why don't you take a couple of aspirates?' - Ed.]

Department of Grunts

Mrs K R Knight, Shoreham-by-Sea, sends us a copy of Sussex Life, a glossy monthly magazine of would-be superior aspect, and she sheds tears over the mistakes therein: 'Rave's for Jesus' (Raves); '. . . condemned for having been in cohorts with the Devil' (cahoots); 'Chippendale and Hepplewhite may be long gone but their styles lives on'; 'Roedean owes it's impressive reputation . . .'; and 'The ever-so- popular Cavalier has departed and to take it's place is the versatile Vectra'.

What's in a word?

Mrs M E D Jay, King's Langley, reminds us of the use of dialect in Yorkshire: 'After my marriage I lived in Yorkshire, where they would say "He is not coming while Sunday", while meaning until.'

[We recall that, until recently, traffic lights controlling the traffic across a narrow bridge in Yorkshire had a large warning sign: WAIT HERE WHILE LIGHTS ARE GREEN- Ed.]

Let us stick to our last

Mrs Ruth Phillips, London N6, reprimands us for our use of bad language: 'I have a problem with problem. Even our esteemed Treasurer said it at the A G M: "If anyone has a problem with these figures. . . ". Whatever happened to difficulty? "Do you find that difficult?" implies (to me, at least) that it is hard to do or understand. "Do you have a problem?" carries psychological implications, a sort of trembling of the lower lip . . . another instance of the creeping social- worker syndrome that seems to have insinuated itself into common parlance. I was sorry to hear it at the A G M.'

Pity the heathen Chinee

Mrs B M Gray, Reigate, writes: 'The English language must be very difficult for foreigners: "He was doing his hair with a comb but was suddenly killed by a bomb and his body was put in a tomb." "I wanted to buy two shirts but they were too expensive".'

A mobile telephone?

Mrs Evelyn Tabernacle, Newbury, complains about the lax constructions of Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, writing in the Sunday Telegraph: 'Having had close connections with the Centre for Policy Studies, my telephone, since returning from Spain, has not stopped ringing . . .'.

Accentuate the positive

Attendant upon the publication of the letter from our past Honorary Secretary (Quest No. 60), Mr S E Woods, Banbury, adds his support: 'Mr Thompson dislikes the practice of stressing the wrong syllable in such words as formidable. So do I, but even more do I object to

pry-merrily, momen-terrily, mili-terrily, etc. I should like to hear a lot less about ree- search, too.'

And Mr D T Watts, Hunstanton, complains that a majority of broadcasters stress the wrong word in some phrases: 'The words black hole (meaning a void in space) should be pronounced black hole with the emphasis on the latter word since it is the hole (the noun) that we are talking about and black (the adjective) is descriptive of it and of less importance. Black hole would only be correct if we were contrasting the hole with another of a different colour, e.g. a white hole, when the descriptive words become more important.

Similarly, head teacher is incorrect (this would mean a teacher of heads); head teacher (meaning a person at the head of a teaching organisation) is correct. Again, permanent secretary (meaning a person at the head of a government department) is correct; permanent secretary implies there is a temporary secretary and is incorrect in this context. Similarly, the High Court is correct; the High Court is incorrect because this implies there is a Low Court.'

[We wonder if our members will agree with these strictures - Ed.]

If you want to know the time ask a peeler

Mrs Diana Ellis, Northants, tells us that: 'Our local free newspaper had a short article reporting that our village bell-ringers were offering a service for special events for a fee of £25. A bell-ringer said: 'We provide a quarter peel [sic] which lasts about 45 minutes . . . a full peel lasts three hours.'

[The ringer is in the wrong place - clearly he should be ringing at St Clement's - Ed.]

The power of the spoken word: or, things best left unsaid

Mr Anthony Allott, Banbury, quotes a top businessman speaking on the BBC's The World at One news programme: 'The media is [sic] a very powerful . . . [pause while he searched for the most appropriate word] . . . medium.'

Is there a legal eagle in the house?

Mrs Josephine Crilly, Cheshire, has been having her car seen to: 'My excellent local car- servicing business has a clause in its Terms and Conditions for payment: "We shall be entitled to a lean over the vehicle until payment has been received in full". '

[We thought that car mechanics spent their time underneath cars, not liening over them. - Ed.]

Quis custodiet . . . ?

Mr James Marr, Hornchurch, provides a footnote to the article by John Clare, reprinted in Quest No. 60, concerning the sad decline of a village school in Wales, Y Bontfaen School, which, he says, reminds him 'of a short conversation which I had with a young man who informed me that he was a teacher of English. Glancing at the photograph of him, gowned, hooded and proudly clutching his degree certificate, I remarked: "Thank God there is one school where the pupils are taught the difference between a preposition and an adverb." "I don't know about that", came the frank and unabashed reply, "I'm not very clear about that kind of thing myself". '

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We've mortgages rising by half a per cent,

So homes are cheap neither in Sussex or Kent.

'Deceptively spacious' means nothing at all -

Quite small but looks large? Or immense but looks small?

If Maximus hadn't been killed by a spear

Then he may have survived and be presently here.

Now fasten your belt and remain in your seat

For the plane's momentarily landing in Crete.

Its hard for a horse which is casting it's shoe;

Such prose begs the question - just whose teaching who?

Between you and I, having started to write it,

This rhyme's getting worse - but I'll press on despite it.

A childrens' emporium, certain to please,

Stocks 100's of ice's and colour TV's.

Its bound to contain a percentage of toy's,

Comprising of things for both girl's and for boys'.

Oh pity the teacher who's subject is grammar

She'll either develop a squint or a stammer.

Not only does usage cause venom and rages

But also discussions that drag on for ages.

I'm certain the English above isn't your's

So lets have a mutual round of applause!

Janice Booth 20.9.95

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The QUEEN'S ENGLISH SOCIETY The objects of the Queen's English Society are to promote and uphold the use of good English, and to encourage the enjoyment of the language. The Society aims to defend the precision, subtlety and marvellous richness of our language against debasement, ambiguity and other forms of misuse.

The Society strongly advocates a return to the formal teaching of English in schools; it agrees with the testing of pupils and with the need for all teachers to correct their pupils' errors in a helpful way. Children must be brought up to recognise that there is a formal structure to the language, and that the literature of the past is a worthy and useful source of writing style. Although it accepts that there is always a natural development of any language, the Society deplores those changes which are the result of ignorance, and which become established because of indifference.

There have been enough media reports to convince all of us that young people now leave school with quite a meagre understanding of grammar, punctuation and spelling: one might even say that many are completely unaware of the existence of any formal rules. These reports are certainly substantiated by surveys conducted by the Society.

But there is still much to be done. More members are needed to help us in the tasks we have set ourselves: comments to editors in an attempt to improve standards; conducting surveys of competence in English among selected bands of the population; providing a forum for debate; supplying responses to requests for views or information; appearing on radio and television to expound our views.

The Society hopes to attract those who are interested in, and knowledgeable about, the English language. It is not necessary to be academically expert: it is your keenness to help us fight against the palpable decay of English that matters most.

There are regular branch and Society meetings, to which guest speakers are invited, and at which are debated a wide range of germane subjects. The Society's journal, Quest, is published quarterly. The Editor welcomes original articles, material from other sources, and letters. The Society is a corporate member of the New Cavendish Club near Marble Arch, London, and holds its meetings there. The Club is also available to any member who wishes to use its comfortable environment as a convenient place to eat and drink, and to while away some time on a visit to London. The annual Club membership fee is included in your QES subscription.

For more information, and an application form, please write to the Hon. Membership Secretary:

Hon. Membership Secretary, QES

Michael Plumbe

104 Drive Mansions


SW6 5JH.

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