x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Queen's English is, like, literally over. LOL

The Queen's English Society may be at an end, but we still need some language rules.

The Queen's English Society may be at an end, but we still need some language rules.

It's official – no one wants to speak like Queen Elizabeth II anymore. After 40 years of correcting the grammar and diction of Britain's broadcasters and journalists, Britain's Queen's English Society (QES) announced recently that it will cease operating at the end of this month. Judging from what the organisation itself says, it may not be greatly missed. In an era where texting and emailing require speed and brevity over being correct, the chairman Rhea Williams has conceded: "People today just don't care."

Is this really true? Certainly, the concept of the Queen's English as the proper standard is an outmoded one in a world where the British form a fairly small minority of global English speakers. While having common rules helps, people speaking English in a country such as the UAE are not going to worry about whether their language tallies with that of British aristocrats. Even on Her Majesty's islands themselves, the vowels and vocabulary of the 86-year-old monarch's English sound, as one might expect, rather old-fashioned.

David Crystal, a global English expert and the author of a book on "textspeak", feels that the QES view of correct English is hopelessly outmoded: "I'm glad the QES is gone - it was time for it to go. It means those of us who really care about language will be able to get on with our job without being distracted by incessant sniping. It's time proper public attention was paid to the real issues facing the English language worldwide - the attitudes to emerging 'new Englishes', the character and status of English as a lingua franca, and the forms and functions of English on the internet. This is the world we're living in, but not one the QES liked very much."

It's certainly true that the relative flexibility of English is one of its chief advantages, compared with languages such as French, whose rules are governed by a central academy. The "proper English" of yesteryear now sounds not just quaint, but often wrong, so it's no bad thing that we are not being urged to cling to it too much. Jane Austen's characters had no problem employing the now incorrect usage "he don't care", for example, while using the (still officially correct) impersonal term "one" instead of the newer "you" sounds so old-fashioned that using it, well, it makes one sound like the queen.

Hearing your own language change does grate on many people, however. While younger generations do it constantly, many older English speakers still wince when they hear someone splitting an infinitive with an adjective, as in Star Trek's famous pledge "to boldly go where no man has gone before". Equally, it's easy to sympathise with people bewildered to discover that "awesome" now just means very good, and that "attitude" now means someone is being feisty (another word your grandmother wouldn't recognise). But as English entrenches itself as a world language, it's not surprising its vocabulary is drifting away from its old British moorings.

At the same time, in an era of globalisation, it becomes doubly important that global English has enough common standards that everyone can understand each other.

Many people would be confused by the polite Pakistani-English use of the word "hotel" to mean a nice restaurant, for example, while most Anglophones agreeing to visit a "bachelor" would not expect to find, as in Canada, a studio apartment at the end of their journey. We may not need a self-appointed group such as the QES telling us off, but we are going to need to stick to some rules that make it possible for emails, articles and books to be understood wherever English is spoken.

Here are some mistakes that we think still matter:

Misplaced apostrophes These little squiggles seem to strike panic into millions writing in English, who add them where they don’t belong (such as in plurals – eg two apple’s) leave them out where they’re needed (to mark possession or missing letters) or simply put them in the wrong place. They can be tricky, but if Germans and Slavs can manage whole languages with changing word endings, we should be able to cope with one tiny rule.

Confusing “Their”  “They’re” and “There” “Their” means “belonging to them”, “they’re” is short for “they are” and “there” means “in that place”. Risk ridicule, silent or otherwise, if you don’t know the difference.

“I could of gone” instead of “I could have gone” The common (and correct) spoken form “I could’ve gone” does, to be fair, sound like it has an “of” in it, but written down this makes anyone look illiterate.

“Five items or less” The word “less” should only be used with uncountable nouns, such as milk, air and money. Otherwise the correct word is “fewer”.

Misplaced commas This may sound nitpicky, but the important difference between the words “Call me John” and “Call me, John” is lost if you don’t follow the basic rules here.


And here are some misused English words we’d like banned – not because they’re wrong but because they’re annoying:

Literally – “I was literally dying of hunger.”  No, you weren’t.

LOL, LMAO, ROFL – Be honest, you’re not actually laughing out loud, are you?

Chillax – “Chilling” and “relaxing” are the same thing, so why is this vile compound necessary? We can also get rid of “chilling” while we’re at it.

Savvy – Completely unnecessary when we already have the word “aware”.

Bling / blingtastic – The 1990s are calling.  Please can they have their “cool” buzzwords back?

Solutions – As in “hair-care solutions” or “office-maintenance solutions”.  In the old days, everyone got by just fine with the words “shampoo” or ­“cleaners”.

Foodie – We don’t need a special word to describe someone who likes nice food.

Pamper – Used only for women, “pampering” supposedly suggests luxurious self-indulgence.  In reality, it just means rubbing cream in.

Burgeoning – Please just say “growing”.

Amazeballs – This word is actually fine. As long as you’re under the age of nine.

Natch – short for naturally, apparently. Do we really need a short word for naturally?