Simon Kelner: Flagging up a decline which patriotism can't arrest


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The Independent Online

So how was it for you, these four days of celebration, contemplation and jubilation? Were you surprised how surprised Paul McCartney always looks these days? Did you feel a sense of betrayal by our weather, directed by a force even more influential than Her Majesty?

Did you wonder at the light show when Madness were playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace? Did you despair at the tide of bilge that floated down the Thames with the royal party, manufactured by the flotilla of TV commentators and pundits? Did you have an attack of patriotism at the sight of all those flags and bunting? And, at the end of it all, did it make you feel more British? On Monday night, under a big, bright moon, I stood on the top of a hill in Oxfordshire watching a beacon being set aflame, and, as the gathering of people burst into a spontaneous rendition of the national anthem, I must say I felt something. I'm not quite sure whether it was raw patriotism, but it was definitely a sense of shared endeavour, or even struggle. Up and down the country, there was a level of communal engagement that you won't normally experience outside a World Cup. (It had the added benefit, too, of not having a crushing anti-climax, unless, of course, you count Jimmy Carr managing to keep it clean for The Queen.) But while beacons were being lit and fireworks let off, something was, sadly and ironically, being put to rest. In yesterday's paper, Robert Smith of Surrey eloquently mourned the demise of The Queen's English Society. What a weekend on which to call time on a voluntary organisation that, for 40 years, has stood as a bulwark against falling standards in the use of English. Almost as depressing as the fact of its closure was the reason behind it: basically, no one could be bothered (bovvered?) any more.

In the era of the Big Society, when we're to rely on volunteers to preserve our quality of life, the Queen's English Society is disbanding because just 22 people attended its annual meeting, and no one stepped forward to take any of the major posts. Who's now going to police the creeping Americanisation of our language? As Mr Smith said yesterday on our letters page (actually, should that be letters' page?), "we should resist accommodating the arrogance of approximate verbal skills". Quite right, I say. And I speak as a man whose teeth are put on edge by someone using a split infinitive in speech!

So let's have a war on the use of "amazing". Or, on the adjective used incessantly by BBC commentators over the weekend: "iconic". This is not pedantry. But this is: in the statement delivered by the chair of the Queen's English Society, she said that one of the reasons for her organisation's decline was that "lives have changed dramatically over the last 40 years". Surely, that should be the past 40 years.

You're right. Who cares?