Note: For the benefit of readers, I am giving below the so-called banned words and phrases shunned by Mr. Jacob Rees Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons under the Boris Johnson administration, to enable you to better appreciate the contents of the letter.
Very / due to / ongoing / hopefully / unacceptable / equal / too many ‘I’s / yourself / lot / got / speculate / invest (in schools etc.) / no longer fit for purpose / I am pleased to learn / meet with / ascertain / disappointment / I note / understand your concerns / And a few rules: provide double space after a full stop / no comma after ‘and’/ use imperial measurements, not metric etc.
Dear Mr. Rees-Mogg,
I am not sure I can address you thus, given that I have already bestowed upon you the recommended ‘Esq.’ appellation in the heading to this open letter. But a repetition of the term ‘Esquire’ might have meant too much of a good thing – even for a man of your ancient linguistic proclivities. That’s three more ‘I’s in that opening sentence than might meet with your approval. Further, I am not quite sure what an ‘open letter’ entails, but the phrase is oft employed these days, meaning presumably that any hobbledehoy who has access to this blog can read it. As very (another one of your bete noires) few people actually read my blogs, there is every chance it will not come to your notice. And, that would be a disappointment. That last sentence begins with ‘And’ and a comma after it. Woe is me! You have every right to squirm, JRM.
You will have further noticed that I prefer to provide just the single space after a full stop. The eye has grown accustomed to this apparent aberration. What’s more, if I were to provide a double space after a full stop, as advanced by your good self, it looks wrong and Microsoft Word flashes a red squiggle to remind me that I must close the gap. Or, in the immortal phrase of the London Underground, Mind the gap. Do I then go with the Rees-Mogg method or the Bill Gates manual? While I yield to no one in my admiration for your passionate, if antiquated, obsession with 18th century English, on this matter I must come down on the side of Mr. Gates, or William Gates Esq. Just to show there’s no ill feeling.
While I note and understand your concerns, Mr. Rees-Mogg, I find it strange, ironic and (this will get your goat) unacceptable that under the forward-looking, dynamic dispensation of Mr. Boris Johnson Esq. (note that I shoved in a Mr. and an Esq. to bookend BoJo’s name, not wanting to take chances with the PM), you should be so dogmatic and obtusely single-minded in sticking to Dickensian English, when the world is attempting to inject new life into Anglais. As an Indian, I could have also said Angrezi, but knowing how much you love the French, I felt that would have got your attention more readily. And what have you got against lot? Or, for that matter, got? I can understand your concern if I were to convert lot into Lot, with your Biblical worries about being turned into a pillar of salt, as was the case with Lot’s hapless wife. However, no such threat looms here.
Hopefully, you will reconsider your position regarding this ongoing controversy which has led to many people around the world wondering if you are equal to the onerous task of being the leader of the House of Commons. Will a beep go off during Parliamentary debates every time an MP utters any of the ‘banned’ words or phrases? Like that old, wonderful BBC radio programme, ‘Just a minute’, when a loud hoot would indicate that the speaker has hesitated, deviated from the subject or repeated himself. Should be fun. While I have no wish to speculate on what may or may not happen in Westminster’s Lower House, I am invested in the beauty of the English language and would be disappointed to see it stuck in a subjectively selected time warp of English history. I mean, why 18th century, why not Shakespeare’s English? All those stirringly rousing speeches written by the Bard, just waiting to be rephrased and regurgitated. Churchill’s We shall fight on the beaches springs to mind. Perhaps you feel, in your infinite wisdom, that Shakespeare’s English is no longer fit for purpose, but you should speak to all your fellow MPs and ascertain their opinions first.
A quick word on your exhorting your colleagues to revert to imperial measurements, which I am pleased to learn. You have a point there, I readily concede. I mean, I have always felt that Mike Powell’s world record for the long jump of 29 feet 4.25 inches sounds far more impressive than 8.95 metres. Ditto Javier Sotomayor’s high jump record of 8 feet 0.46 inches, as opposed to a piffling 2.45 metres. This is perhaps the only point from your linguistic ‘Style Guide’ that I find myself in consonance with. Style Guide, lovely moniker for your new age / old age language guide! Professor Henry Higgins would have approved. Coupled with your own impeccable sartorial elegance to complement your plummy voice, the terminology is apt.
Finally, something you have not thought of, Mr. Rees-Mogg. No, I am not referring to whether people should any more be burdened with hyphenated, double-barrelled names, which brings to bear its own redolence of imagined regality, urbanity and sophistication, just as your distinguished pater, Lord William Rees-Mogg so grandly sported and, which you have inherited. I daresay as Editor of The Times, he could have punctuated his name whichever way his Fleet Street fancy took him. After all, he was a ‘belted earl,’ to pinch one of Wodehouse’s phrases. No, no. Rather, I am speaking of an Englishman’s (that should properly be English person’s) unvarying habit of introducing strange wordless sounds when he or she speaks, yourself not excluded, Jacob old chap (forgive the informality but after all this, I feel we’ve become close chums). For instance, the sound ‘uurrmm’. Listen to some of your speeches, or Boris Johnson’s, or Cameron’s or even Thatcher’s. I could go all the way back to Churchill or Chamberlain. When they are not reading from a prepared text, this is how they are likely to sound. You may cavil and nitpick that Thatcher was not an Englishman (‘man’ being the operative word), but many will disagree. In common with Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher has often been described as ‘the only man in the cabinet.’
‘Mr. Speaker, I have uurrmm, come to the inescapable conclusion that Britain, uurrmm, is not yet ready to leave the European Union. Europe and Britain are, uurrmm, inextricably joined at the hip, and we should, uurrmm, be ever mindful of this. Brexit has placed us, uurrmm, squarely on the horns of a dilemma.’ I realise those words, with or without the ‘uurrmms,’ are from a ‘Remainer.’ As a confirmed ‘Leaver’, those words could never have issued from your lips, but you get my drift.
There you go, Mr. Jacob Rees-Mogg. What’s an ‘uurrmm’ between friends, eh? If you’re partial to ‘eh’ that is. You have been burning the candle at both ends, to say nothing of the midnight oil, waxing lyrical and warning us of words and phrases we should not use. Here’s an ‘uurrmm’ you can and do use and should be formalised and officially enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary.
Speaking for myself, I come from India and there are many of us who feel there are more Indians who speak English better and more chastely, even if a tad archaically (as this missive exemplifies), than do many denizens of the UK. And if you have a smidgen of doubt on that score, we can set the dazzling, silver-tongued Oxford Union debater (he of the exaggerated British accent) and present MP from India’s Congress Party (no longer fit for purpose), Mr. Shashi Tharoor Esq. on you – a man who runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds with equal felicity.
I remain, yours faithfully,
Suresh Subrahmanyan Esquire