Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Grinding to a Full Stop

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Grinding to a Full Stop

Article excerpt


The Pedants' Revolt


AS SOMEONE who has always loathed neckties, I was delighted to read a report in the British Journal of Ophthalmology a while back, showing that the pressure exerted by ties on the jugular vein can exacerbate the serious eye disease glaucoma.

This confirms my theory that the necktie is nothing more than a symbolic halter, specifically designed to cause physical distress, so when haughty restaurants insist on us "dressing for dinner", what they're really doing is inviting us to a masochists' convention, then asking us to foot the bill for their perversion.

A few years ago, I was even refused entry to The Heights restaurant (atop St George's Hotel, near Broadcasting House) because I wasn't wearing a tie, so next day I phoned the same maotre d' who had barred me, pretending to be Prince Edward's secretary.

"The prince will bring a party of six. Just one thing, he cannot abide formality, may I assume he will not have to wear a tie?" "No problem at all, sir," came the reply, "jeans and a T-shirt would be fine for His Royal Highness." "Then why didn't you let me in last night?" I said, dropping the accent, "don't you have peasant on the menu?"

St George's Hotel was singled out for criticism last night by Victoria Coren during The Pedants' Revolt. And rightly so, because although it once laid down strict rules of etiquette for others (forcing diners to garrotte the very tube down which the food passes), it wilfully flouts the elementary rules of punctuation by calling itself Saint Georges Hotel, without an apostrophe.

According to the presenter, our written language is under threat as never before, its integrity undermined by slack grammar, wofull speling, a willingness to recklessly split infinitives, and participles left dangling obscenely in full view. Things are so bad that Britain now has an illiteracy rate twice that of the rest of Europe, with millions of people who simply don't know the Queen's English (which is utterly ridiculous, because she lives in Windsor, dropped the German surname decades ago, and it even says she's English on her birth certificate).

Originally made and shown (and missed by me) a year ago, when Lynne Truss's Eats Shoots & Leaves had just taken the best-seller lists by storm, the programme had not aged at all well.

That's partly because middleclass obsessions seldom last longer than a few months (punctuation is no longer fashionable, this spring's bourgeois fixation being with the state of school dinners, a Tony B Liar pre-election ruse that will have been forgotten by Christmas), but mainly because the presenter was the least convincing kind of pedant, caring deeply about flawed grammar and punctuation, without being in full command of the standards she wished to uphold. …

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