What’s Wrong with the Queen’s English?

This is a critical analysis of the true nature of the Queen’s English Society, their agenda and their level of linguistic knowledge as manifested in a recent publication of theirs. This year (2010), Bernard C. Lamb, chairman of the Queen’s English Society, broadcast his ideological approach to language in a book that described and compelled us to learn ‘the Queen’s English’. Please read on to see why most researchers feel that the QES members are wrong in just about everything they say about English, and why Lamb is one of the last people who should be publishing mainstream books in the area. The reference for the book is:

Lamb, B. C. (2010), The Queen’s English and How to Use It, London: Michael O’Mara Books Limited.

‘The Queen’s English and How to Use It’ is the QES manifesto masquerading as Bernard Lamb’s guide for improving English standards. Lamb, who is president of the QES, does a good job of showing why somebody whose specialism is biology and applied genetics should not publish within a field in which he has little more than a passing interest in pedantry, always disguised as a deep knowledge of language and learning, of course. The Queen’s English Society’s (QES) central concept, ‘the Queen’s English’, suffers from a severe lack of clarity (in general and recorded in this book) with regard to what it is, how it is used/abused, who uses it and how it is learnt. Lamb makes some interesting assertions about language that would be hilarious were he not trying so hard to influence policies and make Britain less inclusive and more elitist. Although the purpose of my review is to critique some of his most misleading ideas and venomous ideals, please be aware that a thorough critique of Lamb’s prejudices and misgivings would require a longer book than his; please add comments if anything has been missed.

The book opens with the following three sentences:

“This is a direct, practical book to help people to use the best and most influential form of English, the Queen’s English (p.9). That means to write and speak clear, correct, conventional British English. The Queen’s English is not some high-flown exclusive form but is the most widely used standard version (page 9).”

These statements are immediately misleading; they contradict both the QES’s actual view of ‘the Queen’s English’ and the nature of English today. Beginning with the words ‘clear’, ‘conventional’ and ‘standard’ lays claim from the offset that the Queen’s English is synonymous with ‘normal’, ‘logical’ English, and it is therefore perfectly reasonable to suggest that people should always use ‘it’ (although his explanation of what ‘it’ is still baffles me). I would hazard a guess that the reason for the Queen’s English being the “most widely used standard version” is that, as they define it later, it is the only standard version of English in Britain! Were he to ask if it is the most widely used version of English, the answer would be a massive and empirically supported NO (although he later claims just that!).

Anybody who has read extensively about English today would not claim that the Queen’s English is the most used or the most intelligible form of English, and intelligibility is the second example of Lamb’s misunderstanding: “(The Queen’s English) is the most authoritative and easily understood form of the language throughout the world (page 18).” Oh dear! Research actually suggests that Received Pronunciation, a very rare accent these days, is far from being an effective communicative tool for communication between groups, and ‘refined’ standard British English is far from the most intelligible form of the language, due largely to its communicatively unskilled and demanding users. Also, ‘authoritative’ is an interesting choice of word. The idea that a language can be authoritative outside its users, who according to Lamb cannot use the Queen’s English well, is just a cry for help. It clearly is not as authoritative as he would like. Is an authoritative language really a good thing in an inclusive, multicultural society? It seems to be a word that should be associated with a theory, a respected figure, a protocol or a directive. The way the QES defines the Queen’s English also contradicts the idea that English could possibly be ‘British’. It precludes 66.6% of the nations that make Britain (the majority), and it excludes most people in England. It is very easy for somebody in Lamb’s position to claim that people who speak like him are adept communicators because the QES-endorsed accent and grammar is ‘correct’, and those who cannot understand, or whom they cannot understand, are deficient communicators; however this view goes against basic definitions of communicative competence and all research on language in use, and communicative utility is the QES’s main justification for demanding the Queen’s English for all. I should mention here that I am going to give Lamb the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is limiting his assertions to Britain, even though at times he clearly is not. The judgement that Standard English of Britain is better or more authoritative than the Standard Englishes of all other countries is ludicrous (see the quotes page on this site for support), and the idea that people outside Britain should learn or bow down to the superior Queen’s English is just as discourteous and boorish as he would have us believe the non-Queen’s English is in Britain.

Although the Queen’s English should be used, according to Lamb, for all general communication, he does permit the use of local forms for local communication (page 20), as that “can be enjoyable” for such people (!) (page 23). Lamb is setting out a culturally loaded case that becomes yet more problematic when discussing the power he would like to see exerted over the language, or more to the point, the power he would like to exert through language over cultural practices and social groups that he sees as ‘lower’. He states that broadcasting is an influential medium and so would like to ensure that all broadcasters, especially at the BBC, are fully versed in the Queen’s English. It does not strike Lamb as paradoxical that he justifies this view due to the Queen’s English being, apparently, the most influential form of English (so people should learn it) and with the goal of making it more influential (broadcasting will enhance its wilting power). For somebody who is so quick to attack numerous examples of ‘illogical English’ he hears around him (he includes logic and structure in his definition of the Queen’s English) he should consider whether it is a well-reasoned argument to conflate the reason for and the outcome of using a language variety. This is one of many examples of Lamb using any means at his disposal to promote, justify, impose and defend the Queen’s English. If only he didn’t do them all at the same time, it might be a more coherent text (is that bad Queen’s English or just bad logic? Lamb and I would disagree… but I say logic!).

His confusion over what can be included within the remit of a language is exacerbated when describing ‘non-standard’ forms. In discussing this area, he gives the astonishing definitions of his terms ‘low English’ and ‘corrupted English’, with the former being “… (English that) suggests its users are coarse, uneducated and unintelligent” and the latter “(English that gets corrupted) for reasons other than ignorance (page 23).” Again, the language, accent, grammar and style, apparently informs Lamb of people’s human qualities. This displays the pattern of Lamb’s cultural stereotyping and his attitudes to language that is recurrent in his book and in other QES literature. To suggest that most English deviating from the Queen’s is doing so because of ignorance is ridiculous to the extent that it is difficult to dispute using what I’ll term ‘adult language’ (perhaps I should have heeded the famous warning attributed to both Twain and Einstein: “Never argue with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience”). In short, we all know that the way the QES sees language is not the way it actually works. And key to most linguists’ research is that most human language does work because we are intelligent creatures with an amazing faculty for expressing ourselves.

Needless to say, these statements declare nothing more than Lamb’s own ignorance and snobbery, interwoven with misconceptions of language and culture. As I started reading more about ‘corrupted English’, I was pleased to be spared a xenophobic attack on the recent effects of immigration on Her Majesty’s English; I was surprised, however, to read what I can only describe as the worst examples of ‘corrupted English’ imaginable, along with rather misplaced advice. I will let him advise you: “The corruption may involve slogans such as Beanz Meanz Heinz, Drinka pinta milka day or expressions such as Pick’n’mix. Do not use such English yourself.” Is he suggesting the British public may forget that ‘a’ is an indefinite article that is not randomly joined to nouns, or that plurals generally end in ‘s’, because of overexposure to Baked Bean advertisementz? This is ridiculous in itself, but at the same time as prohibiting such use, Lamb acknowledges the discursive effectiveness of such wordplay and creativity in the realm of advertising. Also, may I enquire how the Queen’s public can discuss pick’n’mix with a friend or in a shop? Should one refer to them as ‘an assorted selection of sweet confectionary goods valued by weight’?

Another point that needs developing is found in those opening few lines: (that) “the Queen’s English is not some high-flown exclusive form but is the most widely used standard version”. This is simply not true on a number of levels; it soon becomes clear that it is simply Lamb’s attempt to assert the QES’s elitist position in a hidden way. He begins by suggesting that the Queen’s English is all English, so it can be misused or, as he prefers to phrase it, abused. This seems to contradict the construct behind the QES’s rhetoric. Apparently, if we use Lamb’s initial descriptions of it, the Queen’s English is completely obsolete as a term, merely meaning British English (again, I am really hoping he is limiting his already flawed argument to Britain). If all English is the Queen’s English, the use of the term can only function to remind us (or tell us) that it belongs to the Queen. We do not, apparently, express and create our identities, localities and purposes through language that is embedded in social processes, discourses and experience; instead we borrow our language from the Queen and some of us are not being careful enough with her property (the Queen’s English is, as Lamb quotes from the Oxford English dictionary, “regarded as under the guardianship of the Queen; hence, (it is) standard or correct English” – page 19). Contradicting their previous statement that all English in Britain is the Queen’s English aside – please note that the definition has suddenly changed to all ‘correct’ English, which in turn means “the English of the educated class” according to the QES website – I wonder if any statement on language could be more problematic. To restate the Anti-Queen’s English society’s (A-QES) position, we are not concerned with the role or status of the Queen, but we resolutely oppose individuals, groups or institutions (monarchy, government, religion, mass-media, celebrity, class, gender or ethnicity) promoting ownership of, and thus cultural dominance through, language that is inherently creative and performative. We also favour descriptions of language that are based on empiricism and understanding rather than politics and emotional responses. The issue with the QES is therefore that their definition of English is fundamentally political, classist and entirely unempirical.

The English they present as this static, authentic and governed variety has changed dramatically since the inception of the term ‘Queen’s English’ (Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 – page 19), and continues to change and adapt to new cultural orientations, users and uses, despite having been established to keep ‘foreignisms’ out of the language nearly five centuries ago. Lamb’s attempts to establish the Queen’s English as something that is something other than elitist and divisive clearly fails; however, Lamb soon gets to the point and gives his flag waving, pretentious supporters what they want to read. Clearly the readership of a book entitled ‘The Queen’s English’ is not going to be offended by a complete lack of cultural deference and a haphazard approach to the cultures and languages of others. 

One of the aspects of the book that should be met with most resistance is the devious, underhanded way that Lamb presents his biases, which begin as opaque but soon become very clear. Rather than opting for transparency, Lamb positions the Queen’s English, and his society, as more reasonable and understanding than they actually are, and he writes as though he is the voice of authority and knowledge in the area, the latter being two things he lacks in this field. The scatterings of statements designed to fend off attacks from informed readers soon disintegrate into more culturally biased accounts which, again, Lamb presents as logic, culture and knowledge. Such contradictions can be presented clearly in the following quotes, which show a sliding scale of extremity:

“The Queen’s English can be spoken in a variety of accents. It does not have to be spoken in what has been called ‘received pronunciation’, ‘Oxford English’ or ‘BBC English’. It is useful, practical English, not exclusive or elitist (page 18).”

*That doesn’t sound so bad does it?

“A spoken version called the Queen’s English is widely preferred for its clarity to any other form (page 18).”

*Really? By whom? Was that agreed at the QES annual conference – and where were they during the other conferences on English?

“’The Queen’s English’ usually refers to the written form of standard British English, but has also been used of a spoken version known as ‘received pronunciation’, ‘Oxford English’ or ‘BBC English’ (page 26).”

*Didn’t he say the exact opposite just eight pages ago? It must be ‘non-standard Queen’s English’ by Lamb again (illogical English), or has he changed the definition again?

“The BBC employs many people whose spoken English is poor in grammar and clarity, sometimes with impenetrably strong regional accents… Fortunately, one can still routinely hear excellent clear spoken English from the newsreaders in the morning on BBC radio 3 (page 26).”

*Note that he is now talking about Received Pronunciation. Clear English has become a rarity – Radio 3, with its trained staff, being one of the few places you can hear it. Has his view narrowed slightly?

The horrifying thing about these quotations, apart from Lamb’s repeated insistence that these BBC Radio 3 newsreaders exemplify how English ought to be spoken by all (which would surely be a nightmare reality), is how empirically unfounded his views actually are. Received pronunciation, which we might as well call ‘the (spoken) Queen’s English’ despite Lamb’s own confusion as to what he means by it, is in fact one of the least effective communicative tools one could take into an intercultural communicative environment. Put simply, intelligibility is governed by accommodation and ‘convergence’ (cooperation, negotiation and finding a linguacultural middle ground) rather than enforced exonormative (outside) standards, which would represent the very definition of ‘divergence’ (the opposite of convergence). Lamb, who demands that English speakers don’t misuse the Queen’s English, is unlikely to find alignment with any cultural- or discourse-specific communicative norms that do not agree with the formal rules laid down by the QES. He certainly doesn’t see that his knowledge and culture might be enriched by exploring and learning from other cultures that don’t share his values, as their communicative norms are trivial and quaint to him at best. As he links the Queen’s English with higher thinking and higher culture (discussed below), he clearly links other cultures with lower culture and lower intellect. He even criticises one of Britain’s most loved poets, the (unfortunately Scottish) Robert Burns. Despite having written in Scotland and at a time when English was very different, Burns is held up by Lamb as an example of how not to use English, with too many local, non-standard words (page 22). I wonder, apart from Burns being Scottish, what the difference would be in exploring the work of Shakespeare and Burns today. Is there not the same educational enrichment in learning how to read their work, understanding how they used language to express themselves and their worlds around them, and seeing how both they and their work have been posthumously disseminated and embedded in culture? Apparently Burns was too far north of London for Lamb to make an effort to understand him. We can see that Lamb frames understanding politically, whereby it is intellectual to study and understand Shakespeare, but Burns is a poor language user because he was Scottish (and ‘the Queen’s English’ is ‘British English’ remember – one of those nouns is possessive to Lamb, the other is certainly not – you decide!).

There are many more naive statements made by Lamb. There seems to be some confusion over what constitutes ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ English, as we have seen and will see more, but he also gets confused over the notion of language variety. He does not acknowledge that everybody uses language in a way that reflects their identity claims and rejections, their backgrounds, localities and their socio-cultural positions. Instead, he sees deviation from ‘the Queen’s English’ as a problem at best, and as vandalism of royal property at worst (well, that’s his normal position). He rejects the communicative styles of particular groups, platforms and contexts while at the same time acknowledging that one of the only places one can actually find the Queen’s English in a pure spoken form is on BBC Radio 3 or from the Queen’s own mouth (QES members excluded of course, unless they are the newsreaders – which might explain something here). I’m sure that BBC Radio 3 being one of the least popular BBC radio stations might tell us something about how much cultural alignment exists between his view of culture and the population at large, but that is something that the BBC might want to address.

Lamb gives us an example of ‘non-standard’ Queen’s English in the form of a footballer saying “I was literally gutted” in a TV interview (with the wrong use of ‘literally’ to mean “my guts were cut open” rather than the intended meaning “I was very upset”) – page 22. It seems that the examples he gives, demonstrated in the language of advertisements (Beanz meanz Heinz, drinka pinta milka day) and products (pick’n’mix) earlier and the footballer’s words here, are more a demonstration of language that Lamb has seen or heard that irritated him rather than having any relation to what the words ‘variety’, ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ actually mean in discussions of language. I sympathise with anybody looking for an actual Queen’s English self-improvement manual, because all the reader gets for the opening chapters is rant after rant that stray further and further off the point – which is a terrible starting point anyway. Yes, you could argue that Beanz Meanz Heinz presents a ‘non-standard form’, but not in a way that has been adopted by anybody or that is evidence of anybody adopting non-standard norms. With the scope of his definition, one could pick up thousands of examples every day, but one wouldn’t be collecting ‘non-standard English’, one would be collecting word-play, creativity, humour or other forms of contextual language in use. “I was literally gutted” is grammatically correct and can be semantically correct, both in the sense of being literally gutted, e.g. by a sword, and arguably even if you take the state of being gutted to mean upset (i.e. if you can be ‘literally upset’, can you not therefore be ‘literally gutted’? The notion is not wrong, nor is the grammar, it simply hinges on whether you see ‘gutted’ as a metaphorical usage or as an adjectival term in itself: a polyseme. This is based in shared meaning construction that is inherently social and changeable, it is not found in grammar books). For that matter, would Lamb accept “I was gutted” as the Queen’s English? I would have thought it was too common, but perhaps it is so common as to have found its way to Windsor.

Debates over correctness aside, Lamb presents poor examples of non-standard usage to argue a case for overhauling language education and language in the mass media. It seems that the QES members believe that when somebody plays with, adapts or is creative with the language, it becomes non-standard and is therefore incorrect. By this definition, ‘standard use’ fits better with a pre-designed tool than the norms of a language – as though the logical Queen’s English pre-existed the world, ideas and people communicated through it. Even linguists who uphold standard language ideologies do not deny the creativity of language users entirely and will always define what they mean by standard and non-standard (grammar, metaphor, structure, lexis etc.), normally doing so for systematic deviation only, not one-off usages or creative wordplay, found in the examples that Lamb chooses to shame.

Another laughable misconception conveyed in the definition of the Queen’s English is that Lamb’s beloved Radio 3 newsreaders speak with little accent, and that this accent is region-free. Referring to an ideal English (RP, standard, Queen’s etc.) as though it is unaccented English and comparing it with English with ‘regional’, ‘heavy’, ‘thick’ or ‘unclear’ accents violates both theoretical understandings of accents and common sense. Recognising that the Queen’s English is spoken with quite a strong accent, and that this accent functions in the same way as any accent, essentially to perform/mark a social identity, would be the first step towards Lamb realising the fallacy of his argument. To claim that the accent associated with the most institutionally powerful groups is the ‘best’, ‘clearest’ and ‘most influential’ is not unusual, but only serves to strengthen the latter and ‘dumb-down’ some of those who are exposed to such views. This ‘dumbing-down’ is different from the dumbing-down that Lamb describes: the native speakers of English in London, Cambridge and Oxford who carelessly, ignorantly and deliberately use English badly – page 21. I wonder why he chooses these locations if the Queen’s English bares no relation to region or class? It is ‘dumb’ indeed to suggest that the Queen, or a trained RP newsreader, would not reflect their atypical social positions through language. It is also naive to think that modern Britain has the social conditions that requires or pushes the populous towards communicative alignment with a newsreader (who is READING by the way!!!) or the Queen, whose English we typically hear in speeches – READING – and at formal social engagements. This does not seem to faze Lamb or the QES, who will push on with their agenda despite it being founded on pure fallacy.

Saving some of the best blunders until last, another aspect of linguistics that Lamb apparently struggles with is the way languages are learnt. The QES may want English to be taught with guns pushed to people’s temples, but this need not be, and is not, the ‘common’ way languages are learnt and used (though Lamb might be surprised to hear that learning and using go together). Prepare yourselves for a breaking new theory of language acquisition from the president of QES, guardians over the English language: “Very young children typically make many errors, especially in grammar, but learn by being repeatedly corrected (page 25).” This statement gets to the heart of many of the outlandish statements he makes, while also showing a complete lack of understanding of how people acquire and sustain languages. No wonder he fears texting, the internet and local varieties of English (which result from poor discipline, remember), and it’s no surprise that he sees the teaching of the Queen’s English as an attainable and desirable target; those cultural ‘others’ simply need to be “repeatedly corrected”. This gives us the simple task of correcting all those Scots (may all acquaintances be forgotten…), Welsh, Northerners, Midlanders, islanders, dockers, farm hands, ‘immigrants’, youths, and not forgetting those naughty people in Oxford, Cambridge and London, whose English is divergent from the kind of English that the QES membership like to hear. We must remember that the QES maintains that the reasons for divergence, far from being linguistic freedom and social diversity in a supposedly free and diverse land, are in fact laziness and deliberate sabotage. Therefore, if we triumph over these linguistic vandals, then we will live in a much better and more accurate society. It seems incidental that there is actually no logical reason why the Queen’s English should be considered any clearer, more accurate or more authentic than any other variety of English, and attempts to label certain usages ‘anarchy’ and others ‘intelligent’ will certainly fail to inspire social groups to drop their own communicative norms in favour of the whims of the pedants. Further to the fact that Lamb’s plan for language acculturation in Britain seems doomed, in terms of authenticity, which Lamb firmly places with the Queen’s English; the only inauthentic ‘variety’ of English described thus far is the Queen’s English, as that is the only idealised, static, barely used, poorly defined and completely unrealistic version in circulation today (if it actually is in circulation; if there is an ‘it’; and if Lamb, the QES or anybody else can actually tell us what ‘it’ is without making glaring errors and contradictions).

Finally, if any more evidence is needed that the QES members are ignorant and arrogant, perhaps the following quote might demonstrate the true social ills that their ideas could cause if they are allowed to go unopposed. This extract is taken from the second paragraph in the book:

“We use English for five prime purposes: reading, writing, speaking, listening and almost constantly for thinking. The better our English is, the better we can do these things. There are thoughts that we cannot consciously have unless we have the right words and an ability to use them in coherent sentences (page 9).”

At the forefront of his vision of the Queen’s English, the very purpose behind the QES, is the notion that those who speak a certain way will think a certain way. This is the clearest modern day example of linguistic determinism I have seen in print – and it has been published in 2010 from a high ranking educator who is also the chairman of an influential political pressure group, a group that is given slots on popular television programmes such as The One Show and Newsnight. Knowing the narrow and intolerant ways that he defines language, this is a dangerous idea that should not be tolerated in any society that should know better (e.g. a country with high standards of language and educational research and the means and freedom to publish results and implement change). History should have taught us about the kinds of ‘final solutions’ that culturally and linguistically deterministic concepts like Lamb’s can result in when they are adopted on a national scale. Again I stress that the QES is pushing for the institutional adoption of their plans. These views are from an age of colonialism, elitism and intolerance that has gladly passed us by. Language, along with other semiotic markers, functions to display social identification and positioning; if people are permitted to mark particular social identities, groups, regions and first languages as ‘stupid’, ‘uneducated’ or ‘vulgar’, as the QES does regularly and publicly, it clearly violates any definition of ‘reasonable judgement’ that should be exerted over such matters and to which people should be exposed on prime time television. The QES is not interested in communicative success, as shown by not having read enough about their subject or simply fabricating their facts to meet their culturally entrenched agenda; their single interest seems to be distinguishing certain cultural groups (the lower/less advanced) from their own (the elite/cultured/educated). Furthermore, considering the varieties of English spoken today and who speaks them, both in multicultural Britain and as a lingua franca for the world, the QES’s position can be seen to promote forms of racism, xenophobia, linguistic/cultural imperialism, ageism and classism (although I am unsure of how indirect they actually are).

I have many more quotes ready to share that show Lamb’s clear biases and misconceptions, but I must bring this review to a conclusion! Not only does Lamb’s book spell out very clearly how elitist and oppressive the Queen’s English Society is, but also how ignorant they are about language and how misguided and unrealistic their agenda is. Reading Lamb’s book has reaffirmed my determination to stand against the QES in everything they say and do, and I can only hope that this overview has left you with similar convictions (and absolutely no inclination to buy the book!). I hope you can help us make more noise than the QES, and help outlaw their ideas. As for guiding my English, the best advice I got from Lamb was “read a dictionary” and “learn the Grammar of English”. The former can’t be done by buying this book, and the latter can only be hindered by this book – you’ll end up confused about what grammar, English and language actually mean. Thank you for reading, please share your ideas.

Robert Baird

5 Responses to “What’s Wrong with the Queen’s English?”
  1. Jill Doubleday says:

    This is a very informative review and I hope that you manage to get it on the Amazon review page in abridged form. I’d suggest starting with the last two paragraphs, as they are the most powerful. Have you sent these comments to the BBC and asked why they invite Lamb onto their shows? Until I read your review, I thought the QES were simply an amusement, but now I see them very differently.

  2. Colin MacKenzie says:

    Regarding the usage of English as a lingua franca for the world.
    I live and work in Brussels, where English is the most commonly used language. However it can often be painful to my ears to hear a Spanish native and a French native attempting to communicate using English.
    They can both understand my English, but can barely understand each other, so perhaps Lamb has a point to some minor degree. For the record, my French is basic and my Spanish virtually non-existent.
    Maybe there is justification for a separate neutral language such as Esperanto rather than simplifying English to the level required for a lingua franca, although personally I feel that Latin would have been more suitable.
    I do not think that the QES has as much support as you say, and it is doubtful that anyone will think that they are anything more than a little pompous and eccentric.
    The book itself is quite amusing. lambs elitism does not really offend, but when individual comments are extracted could be construed as such.
    The book overall might offend some, whilst entertaining others. Is this not the point of a publication such as this?

    • Andrew Rowan says:

      I would agree with Colin’s comments re the book not offending and providing amusement to most.

      I work and live in the Middle East and have myself a strong local accent from a mining town in the East Midlands. If I allow myself to use my local accent most cannot understand a word I say. By most I include British Nationals let alone Indian, Pakistani and of course Arabs. So yes, I tend to agree with Lamb to a point that there is a more universally recognised English be it the Queen’s or the BBC’s and I do try and use it, with varying levels of success. Of course if I was able I would love to learn languages but short of a smattering of school boy French and some arabic my brain seems unable to retain anything other than ‘British English’. Must be my working class genes?

      Having read your review of Lamb’s book I would also agree with the comments regarding people’s inherent assumptions of intelligence and social background. I thought maybe this was human nature rather than an outdated British Raj attitude. In fairness to Lamb I experience it from the majority of people I meet, as an example Arabic friends who have a very good command of English do view those Arabs without as further down the social ladder. This is true with Indians as well. So heaven knows what they must think of me being from the middle of England and using local dialect such as “worrit wer e see it wo duck?” I have learnt that ‘habibi’ is used in the same context as ‘duck’ though!

      I’d buy the book purely because of my amusement with the British colonial way of thinking. I often yearn for the days when I could give the natives a dam good thrashing or at least use my service revolver to ensure conformity with the British/correct way of doing things.

      Lastly, my apologies for my poor grammar and/or spelling, I hope we can all understand what I’m trying to communicate. Personally, I blame the education system in England 1977-1998 and of course MTV and the internet.

  3. patronanejo says:


    …lays claim from the offset that the Queen’s English…

    …I believe you mean outset.

    While I agree with your sentiments regarding Lamb’s pompous, underinformed, and unmerited elitism, I have to confess I am decidedly prejudiced against the sort of solecism exemplified above.

    I’m afraid Bernard C. Lamb’s footballer is categorically in error; by invoking the term literally, he indicates that he is no longer speaking metaphorically. I agree there is nothing unclear about his intent–just as I understand what you mean by offset–but there is nothing polysemous about either usage.

    If effective use of language is to be measured solely by whether one gets another’s message, we could dispense with grammar and syntax altogether; I imagine most of our ideas could be communicated with a nod, a grunt, and an index finger. Lamb’s point is that rather less solipsistic standards–honed by centuries of usage–exist, and that widespread observation of them is the only comprehensive means of communication between cultures that may not share one another’s non-spoken cues. In descriptivist terms, verbal communication is entirely dependent upon idiolectical commonalities.

    To me, Lamb’s failure to acknowledge the essential dynamism of language is less offensive than–for example–the increasing frequency with which I see the subject pronoun I being used in circumstances that call for the object pronoun me (e.g., Dale took Kyle, Ryan, and I to the racetrack). I know what the speaker means, but the louder message is that the speaker is too stupid to realise he is making himself sound even dumber.

    If you believe so insipid a construction could never threaten to enter standard usage, think again. Until recently, similar objections were commonly raised against the use of they as a genderless third-person pronoun. That battle seems very nearly over–and is exactly the sort of slippery slope Lamb most fears.

    Such fears are, of course, no excuse for Lamb’s insistence that the conventions of English language be frozen, having reached their apogee at some point between the First-and Second World Wars. The notion that ignorance engenders every deviation from RP is tantamount to sociopathy. As useless a bunch as QES may be, I agree with Lamb that a mistake is a mistake–no matter how prevalent it becomes:
    • The possessive form its does not take an apostrophe.
    I can never be the object of a preposition–no matter how many others join me.
    Latter and former do not apply to pools of more than two.
    They and their are plural.
    • There is no such thing as ice tea–it’s iced tea.

    I support any effort to identify- and obviate such catastrophic solecisms. I’ll split an infinitive whenever I damn well please, though.

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  1. […] a thoughtful analysis of a book by QES president Bernard Lamb, Robert Baird of the Anti-QES lays bare some of the QES’s […]

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