Two Cheers for Alan Duncan, Grammar Fascist

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Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for International Development, has become perhaps the first Conservative minister in history to describe himself as a fascist, rather than waiting for someone on Twitter to do it for him.

Specifically, "Lofty", as he is known, has awarded himself the title of Grammar Fascist, in a memo to staff at the Department for International Development in which he warned that using “language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand” damages Britain’s reputation. He wants to ban jargon like "going forward" ("loose and meaningless", he rightly calls it); furthermore, "we do not ever ‘access’, ‘catalyse’, ‘showcase’ or ‘impact’ anything", and he "would prefer that we did not ‘leverage’ or ‘mainstream’ anything, and whereas he is happy for economies to grow, he does not like it when we ‘grow economies’."

Similarly, “It irks when nouns are used as verbs, apostrophes are left off (or misplaced), compound adjectives (such as UN-led) are not hyphenated, and sentences are begun with ‘But’ or ‘However’.” Read Chris Hope’s story on the subject for the full text.

Of course, it’s a fine and noble thing that Mr Duncan is trying to do: on the Today Programme this morning, John Humphrys called for him to be given a peerage. But, unusually for a fascist, Mr Duncan has allowed his terrorised subjects the right of reply. The memo ends: “Disclaimer: [Lofty] is always willing to be challenged about his judgement on grammatical standards and will not take offence at a properly reasoned opinion.” I hope that my honourable friend will not mind me challenging him in that spirit.

Access and impact, sad though it is to admit, are now perfectly acceptable verbs. "Nouns being used as verbs" in general is such a common practice that there’s even a term for it, "verbing" (it is, pleasingly, also the finest example of its own definition). But the point I really want to address is this: starting sentences with conjunctions such as "but" or "however" is completely fine, and has been used for literally centuries. There are a solid 1,558 examples of sentences beginning with "But" in the King James Bible alone, and a further 12,846 starting with "And". ("Does God want you to use more initial conjunctions?", asks Language Log, cheekily.)

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