A Smug Snob Who Should Get Back to Grammar School

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Smug Snob Who Should Get Back to Grammar School


Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

Never Mind the Full Stops BBC4

AFTER John Prescott was discovered to have been doing to his secretary for years what he's been doing to the English language for decades, he naturally turned to me for advice; which is how he came to accompany me recently on a linguistic refresher course to the Greek island of Lexis, a curious place devoted entirely to grammar.

After our ship had docked at the port of Litotes (and we were not a little pleased to be there), we made our way to the unbelievably, superlatively, incredibly wonderful capital, Hyperbole, then visited the seaside at Meiosis (Prescott didn't half like it!), and the old town of Zeugma (which we left with weeping eyes and hearts).

Unfortunately, the deputy PM decided to badly split his infinitives on the third day, and developed a nasty case of subjunctivitis (as it were), so his tour came to a premature halt.

He flew back from Aposiopesis (if only he had stayed ...), but I remained, only to be hoist by my own petard on the final day when I failed to spot the difference between flammable and inflammable, and ended up in my tiny, small, wee little hotel room with a bad dose of multiple pleonasms.

If you're dismayed by my oh-so-smug foray into the gaslit end of the OED in an attempt to make you smile, you'll be squirming like a salted slug should you ever catch Never Mind the Full Stops. Partly because of this new panel game's self-satisfied claim to "chastise the bad and perform drastic plastic surgery on the ugly" aspects of the English language, but mainly because of its stentorian Peter Bullish chairman, Julian Fellowes, the kind of bore who's here today and here tomorrow.

A self-confessed social snob who likes the world to know that he's "landed" and that his wife is a lady-inwaiting to Princess Michael of Kent (a proud boast indeed), he's now pretending to possess a superior grasp of the English tongue, even though his script is almost entirely written for him, and disaster beckons whenever he strays off piste.

Oh, and he likes everyone to know that he was educated by monks, but it's a great pity that it wasn't a Trappist sect who instructed him, because they might at least have taught him to keep his shut.

I shall refer discreetly to last night's guests as panellists A, B, C, and D, because they have families and careers to think of, have done me no harm, and presumably had no idea how shameful the proceedings would be.

With their "verbal scalpels in hand", they were first encouraged to talk about their linguistic bugbears, whereupon A moaned about too many exclamation marks in emails (yawn), B about young people whose rising intonation turns statements into questions (big yawn), and C about split infinitives like "to boldly go" (zzzz).

Having trotted out every tired cliche in the book (except that one), they played a dire-lect game which involved laughing at the regional accents of funny working-class people who don't come from London, yokels from Dudley and Durham who think they're speaking English, but are actually Uncle Tomming so they can be mocked in a television studio by condescending Metropolitan types.

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