This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Nuts and Bolts: The Queen's English.

Today, at about 5pm British Summer Time, Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-ever reigning monarch of the Commonwealth.


Queen Elizabeth has, by virtue of her office, the ownership of all sorts of things: every whale, porpoise and unmarked mute swan in British waters, for instance, and amongst these possessions is the Queen's English.

The Queen's English means...well, no one's really quite decided upon what it means. People get passionate about its being to do with correct pronunciation, but listen to how the Queen's pronunciation has changed over the years. The first recording was made during World War II, and the second last year. 

This must make it clear that we can't make up any hard-and-fast rules about pronunciation (and anyway there are a few words the Queen pronounces in a way nowadays very rare indeed: often, for instance, the Queen tends to pronounce rather as the rest of us say orphan).

So what is the Queen's English?

What people generally mean by the Queen's English is what used to be thought of as Standard Southern English. It used to have a certain cachet - and it still does, rather sadly, in some small and self-regarding circles.

But let's look at the problem of definition another way. For what is Queen Elizabeth II famous?

Yes, that - and that - and that, God bless her - but, above all, she's well known for keeping quiet: for not saying what is perfectly obvious to everyone, which is that quite a lot of the time most people are utter, utter fools.

Another point: if we had to come up with the Queen's single most famous quotation it would probably be annus horribilis...which, obviously, isn't English at all.

So: how can we define the Queen's English?

Perhaps by reflecting that sometimes silence speaks much louder, more plainly, and certainly more wisely than any number of words. 

May the Queen Live Forever.

Thing To Do Today For A Little While: be silent. This word comes from the Latin sil─ôre, to be quiet.

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