Use proper English, but be nicer about it!

The Queen’s English: And How to Use It
by Bernard C. Lamb

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I started this book a few years ago, put it down and forgot about it. I just read The Story of Human Language by John McWhorter and decided to give Queen‘s English another chance. By chapter two it was very clear to me that these are two very different books.

McWhorter is all about the development of language. It‘s about natural changes and not at all judgemental. It’s a very organic reading experience. 

Lamb on the other hand is about the proper use of a very static language. It’s a reference book of English grammar, albeit not a comprehensive one. I had expected more. Besides being disappointed in the very narrow scope of this book, its patronizing tone put me off. A lot.

I use ‘low English’ to describe such bad English. It is ungrammatical, badly pronounced and poorly enunciated, with a severely restricted vocabulary, and usually laden with swear words. It suggests that its users are coarse, uneducated and unintelligent.

I give you three more adjectives: rude, pompous and presumptuous. 

Besides being jarred by the tone of the book repeatedly, I did learn a few new facts (or was reminded thereof?). For example:

„Adjectives can cause ambiguity when followed by more than one noun. Consider the brown bird’s nest or the black cab driver. Is it the nest or the bird which is brown, or the cab or the driver which is black? We can use hyphens to resolve the ambiguity: the brown bird’s-nest or the brown-bird’s nest; the black-cab driver or the black cab-driver. 

chapter 10

I much more enjoyed McWhorter lectures on the development of language. For a reminder of the grammar of British English I would have preferred a more comprehensive and objective approach.

The grammar rules presented in this book were informative. The writing style and tone, as mentioned, rubbed me the wrong way. The author sounded patronizing and judgemental. Don‘t get me started on the childish sketches. Additionally the book has aged badly. Or possibly felt old already, when it was published in 2011.

  • Content: 3 stars
  • Presentation: 2 stars
  • Total: 2.5, rounded down because I feel irritated.