The Pedants’ Revolt

I mourn the demise of the Queen’s English Society. Its leaders jacked it in earlier this week (June 2012) in the face of universal apathy. Their crusade to stem the deterioration in our use of language is finally over after 40 years.

Their heart was surely in the right place, though their motives were often mocked. Their greatest challenge, I believe, was to persuade people that good English mattered. And, seemingly, they failed. Those who supported them didn’t need persuading; the rest had never heard of them (probably never would), and didn’t care anyway.

The QES’s mistake was, perhaps, a refusal (or at least a disinclination) to accept that language changes. Few of us can read Beowulf in its original Old English, though that was the language we all spoke at the time it was written. Even Charles Dickens, less than 200 years ago, wrote in a style that we might nowadays find rather wooden.

Then there was the anti-Queen’s English society. Their agenda seemed to be little more than to deride the QES and everything it said and did.

But both societies were dreadful language snobs. They came across as a bunch of reactionary, elitist pedants; academics wishing to stand in the way of progress. Their writing seemed to contain the longest, most obscure words imaginable, rather like newly qualified graduates trying to impress their managers and clients. At least the QES and anti-QES, unlike many marketing graduates, used the words correctly. But they totally missed the point, which is that …

Language is all about communication – getting your message across as clearly as possible.

That’s it.

If the writer’s style is elegant then that’s a welcome bonus, but clarity is the goal.

Pedants might deplore the odd grammatical mistakes I make, but ‘good’ is often not the same as ‘correct’. My business is communication, and if my readers understand exactly what I’m trying to say then I’ve succeeded.

Despite what my domain name (www.Queensenglish.co.uk) might suggest, I have no connection with the Queen’s English Society, though we do share a passion for the English language. But that’s also where we differ. The Society aims for correct English, both written and spoken, whereas I concern myself with well-written English only. And, yes, there is a difference.

Correct English can sometimes be a barrier to communication. I frequently end a sentence with a preposition; not because I’m ignorant or perverse but simply because it makes the sentence flow more easily.

Do you remember Winston Churchill’s famous comment on this subject?

“That is the kind of pedantry up with which I will not put.”

Ok, he was only joking (perhaps a little heavy-handedly), but I would happily write

“That’s a curious word to end a sentence with.”

Strictly speaking it should be

“That’s a curious word with which to end a sentence.”

 But I prefer my version. It flows more easily, sounds less contrived, and is unambiguous.

Clients of Queen’s English can rest safe in the knowledge that their work will always be handled carefully and responsibly.

Whether we are proof-reading your work, editing and amending where necessary, or writing original copy for your brochures, articles or websites, we will guarantee that your readers will understand exactly what you are aiming to say.

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