08 August 2012

A prescriptivist society bites the dust

On 30 June, the Queen’s English Society (QES) downed its shutters. For 40 years it championed the cause of proper English. The assumption was that the royal use of language should be the model for all good writing and speech. The notion of prestige associated with the way the aristocracy used English has given rise to an enduring debate on the subject between prescriptive and laissez-faire grammarians. QES admitted to being prescriptive, committed to protecting the language from declining standards. The society, however, did not seem to enjoy general support. Only 22 people attended its annual meeting and no one offered to take up any official role...

There were many critics who wrote obituary notes on QES. They did not take kindly to the role that the society intended to play, namely to take control of the English language. The general complaint was that the society tried to preserve old rules of grammar, which really had no validity today...

What detractors of prescriptivism object to is the attempt by individuals to impose artificial and arbitrary rules on usage. A rule should be seen as a codification of existing practice. Grammarians point out that prescriptivists create such controversies by trying to fit English structure on to a Procrustean bed of Latin grammar. The history of English shows that language changes under the influence of good writers and speakers, not of academies of the French model.
From an essay by VR Narayanaswami at Mint (via lost; if it was your blog, let me know), via The Dish.


  1. Now who will boldly tell us not to split our infinitives?

  2. Saw this featured on the Daily Dish... could that be the source (I know you sometimes have some crossover).

    1. I'm pretty sure that was it (The Dish is one of 12 sites I visit every day). Thanks, anon.


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