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John Jenkins Jul 11


The July column from the former editor of Writers' Forum

John JenkinsAs a publisher and editor I have been answering queries from writers for something like 20 years and as a result I have recently published a book FAQs and the Answers for Ambitious Writers.


Guarding the Queen's English

by John Jenkins

The good thing about attending the Winchester Writers’ conference year after year is that you meet old friends, make new ones and re-affirm your best attentions. So it was this year when our website was well represented by Chas Jonesauthor; formerly nerd responsible for keeping the site running; spent over 25 years in computer business; started out dusting bugs off valves, but in time graduated to writing software and managing projects; as published author with stack of waiting-to-be-published manuscripts tucked away, WritersServices is answer to his silent prayer; his book 'Ordinary Heroes' An extraordinary true story of wartime adventure; recently published book about Battle of Fulford-'Fulford the forgotten battle of 1066', published by Tempus ISBN 0752438107 and me. Or should that be Chas Jones and I?

Therein lies the clue to this piece. One of the regular leading lights at the conference is Dr Bernard Lamb, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at Imperial College, London. In one sense it is reassuring to have such a distinguished medical figure in attendance but he was wearing a totally different hat as: President of the Queen’s English Society.

He carries the title well and is, unusually these days, totally the right man for the job. If further proof is needed he has just published another book; one which I can recommend to all writers and would be writers, particularly those bewildered by me and I, who and whom, it’s and its, that and which, who’s and whose.

Sorry to bang on about that but I have just finished marking a batch of examination papers from a group of would-be journalists. (I, too, find it astonishing that there are still young people wanting to enter the profession. What on earth is wrong with becoming a bank manager, estate agent or prostitute?)

But back to Dr Lamb. His book is called: The Queen’s English and how to use it. It’s beautifully produced by Michael O’Mara Books and costs a modest £12.99. The ISBN is 978-1-84317-482-0. If you find better value for £12.99 this year I will be surprised.

He sums it up the subject quite neatly:

A professor once told his tutees
Write English just as you please,
Grammatical rules
Are simply for fools
And spelling is only for bees.

His colleague said: No. To excel
You’ve got to use English so well;
If you know how it works
You can cope with its quirks
And write books which can easily sell.

We writers are guardians of the English language. We man the barricades against the Bush-Prescott Tendency; the purveyors of jargon speak from Whitehall where the ability to use five words when one will do is impossible to parody. This is the axis of linguistic evil.

Mr Bush

The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.
Do you have blacks, too?
--to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso

Mr Prescott

More than 100 writers, actors and broadcasters voted for Mr Prescott as the public figure who most mangles the English language. Two examples:
The sceptre of unemployment is stalking the northeast. And a promise to build on Labour's legacy of creating green belts.
Faced with a surfeit of such rubbish how one longs for a Lincoln, a Lloyd George, a Churchill, Nye Bevan, Michael Foot, or Tony Benn. Passion for a cause never inhibited their command of language.

Mr Whitehall under a heading: Better equipped
The supported housing sector has never been larger or better equipped to provide needed services – and it is supported housing, rather than sheltered, that is primarily responsible for the size of the pot. ODPM officials have said older people constitute four fifths of SP clients but only a tenth of the funding. Providers haven’t done this alone – there has obviously been massive cost shunting of costs previously borne by Social Services. Around 40% of the funding appears to go to the 10% of clients who have learning difficulties, health or mental health problems.

Can you wonder that Churchill, when Prime Minister, would write in the margin of such rubbish:

This is the kind of language up with which I will not put
Pray let me have your views on one side of a sheet of notepaper.

One can only marvel at his restraint.

Then there is Mr Witness who feels he has to adopt some strange town hall lingo or Plodspeak to describe how he called for help when two boys were hurt in a rugby match.

At approximately 3.10pm on Thursday afternoon 2nd March a call was put into the emergency services and some 16 minutes later an ambulance and two paramedics arrived. The first boy was thought to have suffered a serious injury to his tibia while the second was probably suffering from concussion, abrasions and unspecified wounds to his right wrist. After emergency treatment from the paramedics, who dealt promptly and professionally with the event, the boys were taken to the A & E department of the County Hospital some three miles away. The parents have been informed and the school is to hold an inquiry as to how the accident happened.

We can only be grateful he never got a job as a war correspondent. It would have been over before he had described the first battle. It was probably his wife who appeared in the witness box and solemnly swore that:
I saw sexual intercourse taking place between two cars outside my house.
Jaguars perhaps?


The re-appearance of Led Zeppelin was responsible for a surfeit of this nonsense. For anybody over the age of 24 to speak up against this style is to risk being labelled a wrinkly or a disciple of Jeremy Clarkson.

Peaches Geldof jinging her jang in Joe Lean's jong

Some romances are destined to echo through the ages. Edward and Mrs Simpson, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, my mum and the milkman. To that list, probably, can today be added the names of Peaches Geldof and Joe Lean from out of "hotly tipped" Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong. According to Smart Gordon, the scion of the Boomtown Rat dynasty and the only bloke to be named…

Let us leave the comment to musician and film director, the late Frank Zappa:

Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.

If only they could all hve hd Dr Lamb’s book!


If you have a question you would like John to answer please email it to:

The latest book from John Jenkins is FAQs and the Answers for Ambitious Writers

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