The King's English 

Rosie Right

In the papers this week was the news that Earl Spencer, brother of Diana, princess of Wales has decided that the name of the ancestral home should now be pronounced AWL-thorp the way most people in England have always pronounced it. The aristocracy, on the other hand, has always called the estate AWL-trupp. You can often tell a member of the English upper class by the way he or she pronounces words in what often seems an illogical way. The change to AWL-thorp, quite obviously, is being made to appeal to the many tourists Spencer hopes will pay to come to see Diana's family home.

This news reminded Rosie of the way classes are often delineated by how they talk and how they write. We all remember Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady." Professor Higgins managed to disguise Eliza as a member of the upper classes by changing her pronunciation and word choice.

For those of us who love words and take a pride in using them in the way we have been taught, the study of grammar and diction is important. For others, however, it is important, also, because there is no question that speaking and writing in a manner that doesn't grate on the ear of the listener can pay dividends in jobs and social life. Would you hire the receptionist who said "He hasn't came in yet," or would you prefer someone who would say, "He hasn't come in"?

One of the excuses that we hear for unorthodox speech and writing is that if people like Shakespeare could break the rules, so can we. But it is always well to remember the context in which Shakespeare wrote and the audience he addressed. His plays were both for the court and for the common people, who stood for hours to see his plays. During his time, Latin was the language that had the strict rules but the vernacular was in a state of flux. Fortunately for our literary heritage, he could get away with much that would cost us our place in society.

Unless we can write as well as Shakespeare it's best to remember that "English grammar rules" weren't really codified until the 19th century but most of us were taught to respect them and we ignore them at our economic and social peril.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (358-1079) or e-mail rmail@richmond.infi.net

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