I Couldn't Care Fewer.

I just read this post on Bad Linguistics about the Queen’s English Society. And I’d like to like them because I can be a stickler for language. I love that their chairman is a woman and they call her the chairman and not the chairperson because it turns out artificial language patches are just patronising. But I am not impressed with the Queen’s English Society, and mostly that’s because of their total failure to live up to their own standards in anything at all. Their website is an affront not only to web design, typographical and technical standards, and any sense of perspective or priorities, but also to the very subject they strive to promote.

I mean, these are people who use two spaces after a full stop, which warrants a place in the first circle of Hell on its own, but since HTML doesn’t render consecutive whitespace they’ve tricked it by using a space followed by a non-breaking space. So not only are there big ugly gaps after sentences, but the indentation is fucked up. The site itself is divided into “Cover Page”, “About”, “Academy”, “Books”, “Contact”, “Join”, “News”, “Page One” and “Site Map” in that order so apparently they’re more keen on alphabetisation than on logic, structure or counting.

As for their attempts at English, an example will help. Their news page shows a photo of the Stella Artois advert which says “less glass/less CO2 emissions”, and comments

Should it not read.....Less C02 emission, or better still, FEWER C02 EMISSIONS?

Leaving aside the dismal attempt at an ellipsis, and the almost random application of capitalisation, and generously assuming the author had just finished a Paul Auster book and forgotten what quotation marks are, there is no such thing as ‘a CO2 emission’. “Fewer CO2 emissions” isn’t “better” and in fact doesn’t make any sense. Not only that, but they’ve written the number zero instead of the letter ‘O’. If they’re going to insist I learn the subjunctive, I’m going to have to insist they learn basic science or have the decency to look it up. This is the equivalent of grammar sauntering up to me at a party and saying “what was that subject you used to go out with? Susan?” “Science.” “Whatever. Shall we dance?”

That’s a particularly offensive sentence, but grammatically it’s fairly representative. The site is littered with clumsy, run-on ambiguities like

Today, we have a membership of around one thousand, mostly United Kingdom residents, but interest is growing worldwide.

and Deepwater Horizon punctuation-explosions like

Mrs Williams, (a short profile is available here,) is also a QES English Academy Board member.




We can raise issues in our journal, QUEST or in our blog pages:- listen to the radio, watch television and read the papers and tell them when they have got it wrong:- form pressure groups (branches of the Society), in the regions and make ourselves known to the Education Authorities, libraries, local newspapers and broadcasters.

Colon dash! What the hell is colon dash? And that’s not even a dash – that’s a hyphen!

These are people who have appointed themselves guardians of the English language, and not only do they not understand its intricacies, they don’t understand the basics. I actually half expect them to spell ‘lose’ with two Os somewhere.

Their slogan, pasted in ugly italic print across every page on the site, is “Good English Matters in Education, in Business, in Life and in the Future”. Surely that should be “…and will matter in the Future”? I mean, I don’t care. I think it’s fine how it is. It’s clear what it means and scans better this way. But that’s because for once I’m not the joyless pedant.