"The English language is one of our great sources of inspiration and strengths
and no country, or combination, or power so fertile and so vivid,
exists anywhere in the world.

Winston Churchill.


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The 2003 Christmas Lecture
is by

Ian Bruton-Simmonds

Ian Bruton-Simmonds

The Queen's English Society.

The title of his lecture is:-

A Criticism of Modern Linguistics

with Suggestion for Improvement of English through the BBC.



I propose that the anything-goes attitude to English of some modern linguists has done much to weaken English-speaking education around the world. The samples of this attitude are from highly influential exponents of current Linguistics. I suggest reasons for there having been insufficient dissuasion from their linguistics credo; and how the BBC could supply an instant remedy.


Language is the driving-force of Humanity.

It seems likely that the human brain is one of the most complex structures in the universe, and that language is the most complicated function of that brain. If so, language research is an immense continent unlikely to be mapped in our lifetimes. Its vastness encompasses physics, psychology and physiology, to molecular biological level in brain function. It extends to sociology and, of course, to philosophy, which has been prominent in the weighing of words for more than two thousand years and all these now in the nexus of mathematics strengthened by immense computer power. Modern Linguistics has horizons that were invisible to the phoneticians and grammarians of a hundred years ago; its present corpus is far beyond the compass of any individual scholar, and growing by the day.

Graduates in Linguistics legitimately class themselves as scientists. The Cambridge Paperback Encyclopaedia, whose editor is a prominent professor of the subject describes Linguistics as The scientific study of Language. So no surprise that confidence in their discipline gives many of them assurance of being better fitted to pronounce on language than even consummate users of it. Here is that belief stated authoritatively by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill, editors of the book,
Language Myths:

Laurie Bauer
Laurie Bauer

Peter Trudgill
Peter Trudgill

. . . you might wonder whether journalists, editors, poets and psychologists are not, despite everything, precisely the people who should be telling us about language . . . Perhaps not surprisingly, we take a different line. We believe that if you want to know about human respiratory physiology you should ask a medic or a physiologist, not an athlete who has been breathing successfully for a number of years. If you want to know how an underground train works you should ask an engineer and not a commuter. And if you want to know how language works you should ask a linguist and not someone who has used language successfully in the past.

Three points. First, breathing has no intellectual content; serious writing has. Second, psychologists as scientists have done a huge amount of good research into language function. Take William James, brother of Henry James, as an example. His PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGY, presented in beautiful lucid English in 1900, put psychology firmly on a physiological basis and placed him with the greatest intelects of Western Civilization. Third, if an intelligent regular commuter points at what he considers a defect, the tube-train engineer is well advised to listen with respect.

The influence of new Linguistics on the English-speaking world and beyond has been enormous, and continues to be so. The British Council, with its worldwide connections, is an influential backer of it, and advertises its tenets to foreigners eager to study English. In Britain the English departments of most universities, polytechnics and teacher-training colleges are Applied Linguistics based, and so inevitably is the teaching of English in most schools.

Linguistics has first-rate scholars worthy of respect, but as is to be expected, the first-rate in every large gathering of humans is a very small minority, and, alas, in these modern times it is those of less ability who trumpet loudest.

It seems that the two chief tenets of Applied Linguistics are:

(1) There can be no correctness apart from Usage; that languages should be accounted for as they are rather than by prescribed rules of correctness.

(2) English should be described and learnt through speech rather than writing.

Fowler and Jespersen would not have denied these tenets. But both those giants lived in an era prior to the Great Flood of Electronic Broadcasting.

(1) Usage The Supreme Arbiter

For English, as for every other great literary language, this has always applied, because in the past if a new usage took root and grew into the language it had to pass through two fine sieves, both slow: the speech of the common people, and the taste of the intellectual elite. This tandem of genius got it right.

Almost two thousand years ago Quintilian cited usage of Latin as the supreme arbiter, and nearly four hundred years ago Ben Jonson did the same for English. In the mid 20th century this maxim was restated by the influential American linguist Charles C. Fries.

Charles C. Fries
Charles C. Fries.

In the past, usage worked well enough for English. There was indeed no need to institute an academy to adjudicate on English, as the Academie Francaise, founded in 1634, did on French, and although Defoe, Swift and Pope argued for the founding of an English academy, nothing came of the idea.

Jonathan Swift
Daniel Defoe
1661 - 1731

Daniel Defoe
Jonathan Swift
1667 - 1745

Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
1688 - 1744

(2) A Language should be Described and Learned through Speech rather than Writing.

All mother-tongues are learnt through speech; that is how you and I came to English. Writing is but a by-product of speech. There are old Zulus who pronounce wisely in faultless Zulu, who cannot read or write, so it can be presumed that there were preschool children in Periclean Athens not yet able to read or write who yet spoke beautifully and grammatically because they copied the conversation of cultured parents, further tuned by great plays and fine oratory. So, language comes through the ears in childhood, and throughout life it is copied from models we respect.

Now as I agree with those main tenets of Linguistics and acknowledge that the current linguistics graduate knows a great deal about the mechanisms of language that Shakespeare, Tolstoy, William James and Fowler did not know, how did I come to the view that Applied Linguistics has had a baneful influence on education, and hence on society from top to bottom?

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
1828 - 1910.

William James
William James
1842 - 1910.

I shall present the two most crucial steps to that realisation under two headings:-

Inappropriate Disrespect, and Straw Argument.

As I said at the outset, all my quotations are from prominent exponents of Applied Linguistics or Sociolinguistics expressing the dicta of their cult. That these exponents are of high standing is crucial. I mean, it is easy, as is so often done, to parade weaklings of the other side as stalwarts; to set up straw arguments for easy knocking down; to string together red herrings as standing for the practice and doctrine of an entire class. But such obfuscations of true character are a reproach to academic argument and scientific method. The people I quote here are prominent professors of modern Applied Linguistics.

Inappropriate Disrespect

I quote Professor Roger Lass from his book, The Shape of English (1987)

A major source of insecurity for many English speakers is the existence of supposed 'authorities': dictionaries, grammars, the works of Fowler and other self-appointed linguistic guardians. There is a wide-spread assumption that these ought to take priority over native-speaker judgments.

On the same page he cites the Roman grammarian Quintilian, The norm of speech I take to be the agreement of educated men, and Professor Lass remarks, There is no need for external authority; the judgment of cultured speakers is sufficient.

Cultured speakers! Native-speaker judgments! Was Fowler not a native speaker? Was he not a cultured speaker? And note the pejorations: self-appointed linguistic guardians and supposed authorities, with authorities in inverted commas.

I should not have to remind you that Fowler was editor of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. He did not appoint himself. His Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which still lives illustriously after more than seventy years, was published by Oxford University Press, not by him personally.

Jespersen disagreed with Fowler on some major points, but he disagreed with respect, and always with instances to support the disagreements.

My next quotation under Inappropriate Disrespect is from

Professor David Crystal,

Professor David Crystal, OBE

in his book, Linguistics, published in 1990:

One of the main weaknesses underlying traditional approaches was that criteria for analysis, data selection, and so on were rarely made explicit. It does not, of course, follow from this that these grammars made mis-statements about language, but it does mean that many of the statements they did make could not be given consistent or clear interpretation. Often we simply cannot see why a sentence was parsed in the way it was, or why one word was called an adverb while another was not. And the smart child who raised a hand in a grammar class and asked But why is that word an adverb? was voicing a perfectly legitimate criticism. The frustration which many children felt after doing grammar in school stemmed largely from the fact that there was never any answer given to such questions apart from Because it is. Intelligent people want reasons for things, in grammar as in anything else.

That is the old trick of parading a weakling for knocking down.

I do not know any teacher knowledgeable in traditional grammar who would have given that fatuous answer. Why one word is called an adverb while another is not is explained in traditional grammar with clarity sufficient for a normal primary school child. First, the adverb is defined: adverbs are words that add meaning to verbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and other adverbs. Then such adverbs are exemplified: he spoke softly (the adverb softly adds to the verb spoke); she is very beautiful (the adverb very adds to the adjective beautiful); he swam half across the river (the adverb half adds to the preposition across); he was respected merely because he could dance (the adverb merely adds to the conjunction because); he spoke very softly (the adverb very adds to the adverb softly).

Later it might be explained to a class now intelligently interested in English grammar why adverbs and prepositions are closely related, but that explanation would come only after the class had a sure understanding of all the parts of speech.

Straw Arguments.

One of these is that traditional grammar frowns upon a preposition ending an English sentence. Again I quote Professor Crystal:

Traditional grammar books still teach us that sentences should never be ended with prepositions, even though to do so is quite normal in the spoken language of educated people.

But Fowler in an article occupying two whole pages in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage of 1926 says:

The legitimacy of the prepositional ending in literary English must be uncompromisingly maintained . . . almost all our great writers have allowed themselves to end a sentence or a clause with a preposition.

Eric Partridge, in his Usage and Abusage (which I have no hesitation in recommending), confirms Fowler and other traditional grammarians in the venerableness of prepositions at the end of English sentences. His Usage and Abusage is highly influential. It has had umpteen printings since 1947, and its 1999 edition is in the book shops, yet it is not mentioned in the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language (1997) edited by Professor Crystal. The Encyclopaedia does, however, mention Partridge for his indexing of slang and unconventional English. (His inclusion of f**k is noted.)

Fowler's, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage gets half a sentence, but professors of linguistics are abundantly noted. Amongst these are Robert A. Hall, Peter Trudgill and David Crystal. Crystal has five books and six lengthy quotations, and Peter Trudgill is also quoted at length. Here are some snippets of Dr Robert A. Hall's sociolinguistics thinking; he was Professor of Linguistics at Cornell University two generations ago. I quote from Lincoln Barnett's History of the English Language (1970), which I also recommend highly:

A dictionary or grammar is not as good an authority for your own speech as the way you yourself speak . . . Words do not have any  'real'  meaning as opposed to other  'false'   meanings. Any meaning people give to a word is automatically its real meaning under those circumstances . . . There is no such thing as good and bad (or correct and incorrect, grammatical and ungrammatical, right and wrong) in language . . . Correct can only mean socially acceptable and apart from this has no meaning as applied to language.

To me all that is such a disconnection from sense the asylum run by the lunatics as to need no refutation.

Perhaps the most damaging straw argument of Applied Linguistics is the one used for the dismissal of Latin. I believe Latin to be particularly helpful to English. I quote from Michael Beresford's book, Modern English (1997):

Latin tradition dominated and distorted the teaching of English . . . Only when the science of linguistics came to the fore in the late 19th century was it generally realised that English could not be satisfactorily described or explained in terms of the rules governing Latin. The Latin Fallacy, the belief that what applies in Latin must also apply in English, was abandoned as the prescriptive approach to grammar came under challenge from Linguistics scholars . . . In the 20th century it has come to be recognised that all aspects of language are relative to time and situation, that grammatical rules are not sacrosanct for evermore, and that each variety of English is correct in its own sphere of use. This has led some linguists to regard the inculcation of standard English in schools as a form of linguistic snobbery. To this view must be added the belief, common among educationalists, that grammar teaching has a harmful effect on creative writing and cramps the pupils style.

Two professors of Oxford widely separated in time rebut the calamitous sophistry of the Latin Fallacy. Roger Bacon


Roger Bacon
Roger Bacon.

Geoffrey Chaucer

..............................Geoffrey Chaucer
..............................1343 - 1400


more than 100 years before Chaucer said  "He that understands grammar in one language, understands it in another as far as the essential properties of Grammar are concerned".  And

Professor Sir Michael Dummett
Professor Sir Michael Dummett

in his book, Grammar and Style for Examination Candidates and Others (1997), after specifying where Latin grammar is extremely different from English grammar, said:

The advantage claimed by the proponents of the teaching of Latin, that it improves the students mastery of English grammar, rests on the fact that in learning Latin, this terminology, and a grasp of the distinctions it draws, is essential, since one cannot otherwise learn the inflections for case, tense, and mood, whereas a native speaker of English may never appreciate the need for them . . . when you are next told for the thirtieth time that alleged grammatical rules of English are all based on false analogies with Latin, you should insist on being told in what respect, and consider whether the analogy is false or not, and whether, if false, it has ever been claimed.

Finally on this matter of Latin grammar I cite the American linguistics philosopher

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

who disturbed sociolinguistics in the 1960s with the postulate that prescriptivism in grammar is not a sin, as all grammar has innate linguistic universals that are encoded in the brains of our species.

I call the argument of Applied Linguistics against Latin calamitous, because it drove Latin from ordinary schools of the English-speaking world where it had been for hundreds of years. This withdrawal of Latin affected the understanding of myriads of English speakers passing through higher education, because it impeded their comprehension in a most remarkable way, bringing about not only slowing of comprehension, but fuzzing of semantics, and it did these most amongst those who by Social Science degree or diploma were in the intelligentsia from which many administrators, executives and head teachers were chosen. For our society it is ominous that this semantic impedance is now apparent more amongst those who have passed through higher education than amongst those who have not. So often I hear clear compact meaning from artisans, and flaccid approximation from intellectuals.

English is most strongly related to Latin in kinship that is not through Grammar but through Vocabulary. More than half the English lexicon is Latinate that has entered our Teutonic language mainly through French, making English a unique marriage of Teutonic and Latinate. The easy, brief words most used are short Germanics  (and, in, but, so, to, an, the, of, at, that, good, bad, get, happen, go, who/whom, house, death, love, sting),  whereas most longer words used for precision and many abstract notions are from Latin and many of those Latins come alive when their etymology is grasped. Take four common examples:  compunction, remorse, deduction, induction:  deduction and induction are key concepts for logic and science, and compunction and remorse for ethics.

Note how Latin signals the differences:

DEDUCTION: A leading from: de = from + ducere = to lead

INDUCTION: A leading into: in = into + ducere = to lead

REMORSE: Deep regret for having done wrong: re = again + mordere = to bite; remordere = to torment

COMPUNCTION: A scruple, a prick of conscience: com = intensive + pungere = to prick; compungere = to sting

Note how Shakespeare, well-grounded in Latin at school, balances remorse and compunction, the first a lasting torment of regret, the second a transitory prick of conscience that may lead to remorse.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare
1564 - 1616.

Lady Macbeth:

"Stop up th' access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose . . .

Deduction, induction, remorse   and   compunction  are, with thousands of other English words, pure French.

In former times, when Latin was taken by all in grammar and public schools, literate English speakers were secure in grammar and meaning in the gamut of any English sentence. Their grammatical competence grew from their having translated Latin into English and vice versa. Formal lessons in English grammar then were unnecessary because the essential grammatical mutuality of the two languages was brought to the fore in the translation processes; and Latin meanings were fitted into English long since ready to receive them. So the most junior officer was tuned to the precision of

Lord Nelson
Lord Nelson
1758 - 1805.

Duke of Wellington
Duke of Wellington
1769 - 1852

Nelson's or Wellington's language; the dimmest parliamentarian might not have comprehended the full stretch of Burkes or Disraelis imagination, but he had immediate grasp of a multi-clause sentence with the Latinates of those great orators.

The French do not need Latinate guidance, because French vocabulary is entirely Latinate; nor do the Germans, because German is pure Germanic: both languages are one-tiered, and every person is at home in the base tier of his language. But English vocabulary is two-tiered, with its basic tier of easy Germanics and its second tier of more exacting Latinates. So English speakers without some conversance with Latin or French lack the sure grasp of meaning of longer words that educated English speakers of past generations had. In short, elevated English floats on the confluence of two broad rivers, the Teutonic and the Latinate, and has done so for over eight hundred years.

Once it is acknowledged that language is the driving force of humanity, it surely cannot be too big a step to see that pollution of language (a pollution that weakens understanding) is the very worst pollution, because it fogs the path to action: imprecision in words, and inefficiency in action, are inseparable twins. Never has there been a great military commander without excellent language. As Shakespeare put it of a first-rate general:

Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter; that, when he speaks,
The air, a charterd libertine, is still,
And the mute wonder lurketh in men's ears
To steal his sweet and honey'd sentences;

And now I come to what is to me the most astonishing underestimation - astonishing in that deeper scholars than I have failed to remark on what ought to be as obvious as an elephant in a drawing-room, namely that broadcasting in television and radio is the prime influence on language, a far bigger influencer of English than either school or parents; that electronic broadcasting is the new power that drives age-old usage from its rightful place as arbiter of English.

Its ousting of particulars can be headlong. A popular erring broadcaster speaking instantly to a vast audience has far greater influence on word and phrase than the finest author or newspaper journalist. There is no sieve. His blunder is flashed into a million ears with high-voltage authority, to be taken up by the indiscrimination that abounds in modern business, politics and teaching. Two new ill-usages that are not yet in Standard English: suspect, without its powerful connotation of distrust or suspicion, equated with expect   I suspect it will be a fine day tomorrow.  And risk, shorn of danger or hazard, equated with likelihood or possibility  There is a risk of clouds tomorrow. 

I could give many more examples of ill-usage that I hear every day from professional broadcasters that weaken English more than the two lapses I have given. Let me present just one irreplaceable word that has been completely spoilt by broadcasting and is now rife in every field around the English-speaking world  meticulous.  Meticulous is from Latin meticulosus . . . fearful. Until its particularity was ruined its meaning was over-careful from fear. Thus


1850 - 1894.

in Memories and Portraits:  Their speech, indeed, is timid; they report lions in the path; they counsel a meticulous footing . . .

Meticulous is used now instead of thorough, conscientious, scrupulous, painstaking, fastidious, or just plain careful.

Meticulous is irreplaceable. There is no single English word that carries its core meaning.

Even more serious than the ruination of meticulous is the vulgarisation of like by its being used instead of  as.  This usage is now universal even in educated circles.

Like implies mere similarity. As points to complete identity, and grasp of this difference is as vital to everyday logic as it is to philosophy, mathematics and technology.

Up to the 1950s most educated ears would automatically have corrected   She got an A just like I knew she would  - to . . . as I knew she would,  but the weight of ill-educated broadcasters tipped the scale. I am, however, convinced that most conscientious broadcasters nowadays would soon grant that the second sentence is the better if the two were presented to them with straightforward reasons.

If he is below the age of sixty, the broadcaster probably has no inkling that he has uttered in bad grammar, distorted meaning or rotten style: no one gave him sensible guidance when he was at school, and no one gives it to him now.

If he were a Frenchman he could not have reached a comparable position in French broadcasting. In France even disc jockeys and sports-commentators must have solid standard French before they are admitted to the airways; and thereafter the French Academy listens and if necessary advises them; and that advice, coming from the highest educated talent in France, is respected because it is taken for granted that the language of France is a precious national resource. This control is, of course, only for functionaries of broadcasting. Actors and ordinary Frenchmen interviewed are free to utter in their own way, but always the French broadcaster exemplifies good French.

In Britain it is completely different. The only language advisory facility that the BBC has is a unit for Pronunciation. No unit for Vocabulary or Grammar, which are far more important. And the BBC is the most influential broadcaster in the English-speaking world! And its indifference to Standard English prevails in broadcasting throughout the English-speaking world and it therefore prevails in the schools.

Nine years ago, in an address to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, Randolph Quirk, our most eminent grammarian, specified Vocabulary as the real key to language. He then said:

"There is the myth, for example, that Standard English entails a particular accent talking posh. It does not. Only a trifling minority of Standard English speakers have any such accent and Standard English is spoken equally by Bill Clinton, Paul Keating, Virginia Bottomley and Jimmy Knapp not to mention Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk".

And he later decried the myth that Standard English is only for formality, officialdom, and writing, as follows:

". . . the false equation of Standard with strict formality is exploited by those seeking to marginalise Standard English as merely one variety of English among many, each as useful as any other. This is simply not so. Standard languages have such status precisely because they have been lexically enriched and rhetorically polished so as to constitute the only form of the language in which expression can be given to any subject whatever, from Wimbledon commentary to quantum theory:

General indifference to Standard English has enabled a relatively small sect to ride shoddy thinking into education on the fallacy that there is no such thing as exemplary English, that all such value-judgments are subjective and therefore relative and so to be repudiated.

Acceptance of that seminal fallacy at university level (seminal, because every academic study is grounded in language) has allowed respectability to other conceptions that in our grandfathers' times would not have passed the common sense of an intelligent fourteen-year-old scholar.

What has caused our English-speaking world, which is on a six-hundred-year continuum of high culture in literature, philosophy and science nowadays easily available in book shops, libraries and good broadcasting, to come to an indifference to almost any standard in language?

I suggest two causes. First, the death of so many bright youths of Britain and the Dominions in the two World Wars. In the first conflict all the great powers of Europe entered with full conscription. Britain did not. British conscription came only after the stupendous casualties of the volunteers. In the Second World War, when the main British punch was from the air, the list of airmen killed looks puny beside the total of Russian military dead, but those airmen were from the very finest in physical and mental fitness. Britain is a relatively small country, and the Èlite in every population always form a very thin spread.

A keen sense of the ridiculous is an ingredient of bright intellect. I think that much of the political correctness in Linguistics and other fields would have been laughed away two generations ago by public opinion had those two successive stocks of brightness lived to their proper intellectual influence.

The second cause of this signal English-speaking indifference, which has been so much forwarded by the immense undermining influence of Applied Linguistics, is the character of modern Linguistics its bulk and esotericism.

As with any science, some bulk and esoteric language is unavoidable, but far too much of the jargon of Linguistics is not only needless but obfuscating, and worse, inaccurate. By constantly serving up indigestible language to its students it has dulled their judgment, and hence weakened their ability to spot the shoddy thinking I cited earlier. And thus, by spreading a pall of reconditeness over almost every simplicity it has acquired an aura of deep scholarship, even amongst good scholars of other disciplines. How easily good scholars can be hoodwinked by reputation I shall instance later. Meanwhile I ask you to apply your own judgment to a typical bloater from a Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (1997). I quote part of its off-target definition of anaphora.

[anaphora:] A term used in grammatical description for the process or result of a linguistic unit deriving its interpretation from some previously expressed unit or meaning (the antecedent). Anaphoric reference is one way of marking the identity between what is being expressed and what has already been expressed. In such a sentence as He did that there, each word has an anaphoric reference.

Defining pronoun is the perfectly adequate term that traditional grammar has for the backward pointing of  He did that there , and elementary sense tells that  He  is for male, that for an action, and there for a place, each substitution having been named by its antecedent. To labour such simplicity is sheer pedantry.

Now listen to Fowler. He puts anaphora not under grammar, but more appropriately under rhetoric:

[Anaphora (rhet) bringing back]: Marked repetition of a word or phrase in successive clauses or sentences. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

You see that modern linguistics has turned anaphora from repetition, its former core meaning, to a meaning already perfectly covered by substitution of antecedent; and note that Fowler at the outset gives the classical etymology of anaphora,  bringing back,  which with his example makes the concept clear and memorable.

The Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics has a multitude of heavy Greeks and Latins, but few glosses to help a classicless modern student.

How easily even good scholars can be hoodwinked by authority is wonderfully shown in the recently published book, Intellectual Impostures by two professors of physics.

In the book these two competents in physics and mathematics examine the work of eight post modern philosophers of the twentieth century, whose influence has permeated into just about every university and teacher-training college of the West. In the introduction they say

We make no claim to analyse post modernist thought in general: rather, our aim is to draw attention to a relatively little-known aspect, namely the repeated abuse of concepts and terminology coming from mathematics and physics.

After analyses of the eight that are both detailed and damning, they have twenty-five pages of Epilogue, from which I quote:

We met in Paris a student who, after having brilliantly finished his undergraduate studies in physics, began reading philosophy and in particular Deleuze. He was trying to tackle Difference and Repetition. Having read the mathematical excerpts examined here, he admitted he couldn't see what Deleuze was driving at. Nevertheless, Deleuzes reputation for profundity was so strong that he hesitated to draw the natural conclusion: that if someone like himself, who had studied calculus for several years, was unable to understand these texts, allegedly about calculus, it was probable they dint make much sense. It seems to us that this example should have encouraged the student to analyse more critically the rest of Deleuzes writings.

In this book  (Intellectual Impostures)  is a momentous article by

Alan Sokal

Alan Sokal

one of the authors, that was first published in 1996 by the American cultural-studies journal   Social Text  under the title   Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.  Its forty pages make the foundation of the book. Citing more than two hundred works, it draws on great luminaries of science and mathematics as well as on other prominent modern scholars. Kurt Godel and

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein
1879 - 1955

are amongst those cited.

The entire article was a hoax, a parody of trendy modern intellectualism (I quote Sokal and his co-author) "brimming with absurdities and blatant non sequiturs". It aimed at the repeated abuse of concepts and terminology coming from mathematics and physics.

It is simply incredible that the editors of  Social Text  did not see the trap. No doubt the citing of one of  Social Text's  editors as an authority contributed to the trap. I quote from Intellectual Impostures:

The article's first two paragraphs set forth an extraordinarily radical version of social constructivism, culminating in the claim that physical reality (and not merely our ideas about it) is at bottom a social and linguistic construct. The goal in these paragraphs was not to summarise the views of the Social Text editors much less those of the authors cited but to test whether the bald assertions (without evidence or argument) of such an extreme thesis would raise any eyebrows among the editors.

It seems that no such eyebrow was raised until revelation of the hoax and world-media comment, such as that in the Financial Time's: 'A forensic examination of sack loads of ordure from the post modern stable'.

All classes of English-speaking society have always had a deep respect for erudition so university professors, who are at a peak of learning, are given credence as teachers and those that have an added aura of science to boot — well, that really is the summit!

The wide extent of linguistic study, its recondite terminology peppered with mathematics, the cock assurance of the stock linguistics professor it must be our own insufficiency blinding us. Our intuition, even our common sense, must be wanting. But no, it is a case of The Emperors New Clothes.

Thus, respect for learning has allowed corrosive silliness, particularly in cultural studies at university level, to pass insufficiently challenged into the credenda of an influential intelligentsia and thence into bureaucratic policies that are detrimental to the populace: when a top academic joint goes phut, many lower articulations are affected.

My final instance is a detrimental bureaucratic policy in the guise of scientific expertise that bulldozed experience and common sense and so diverted a clear stream of science into a miasmic bog.

From the early 1930s to the demise of Stalinism a generation later, the notorious geneticist,

Dr Trofim Denisovich Lysenko

Dr Trofim Denisovich Lysenko
1898 - 1976

made Russian genetics ridiculous to the scientific world by proclaiming that the Communist dogma of quick easy uplift of humans by environment alone could also be applied to vegetables. He played down the role of genetic inheritance, and asserted that superior new varieties of wheat, rye or tomatoes could be produced from existing ones in one generation simply by altering the environment.

As President of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Selection and Genetics, he, with his politically-correct clique of time-servers and bigots, despite warnings from experienced farmers, enforced this dogma onto Soviet agriculture, to its vast detriment (I do mean vast it led to mass starvation of the peasantry).

To conclude: The Gordian knot of indifference to the best English can be cut with the principle that the best, properly presented, always drives out the inferior.

The solution is as follows:

The BBC being a most influential exemplar of English, I suggest that it install a really first-class Language Adviser who would be fed criticisms and suggestions in writing with times, names and exact words of the broadcasters by a network of highly competent unpaid monitors. The Language Adviser would pass these to the relevant broadcaster or scriptwriter with his own comments,
always leaving room for discussion.

I believe that such a process would be welcomed by good broadcasters, and that the BBCs example would be followed in every English-speaking country.

I urge the BBC through the poet

Robert Bridges

Robert Bridges
(1844 - 1930).

whom it once respected as a guide:

Then to the world let shine your light . . .
IMPROVE THE BEST: so shall your sons
Better what ye have betterd once.



Bacon, Roger Opus Majus translated by Robert Belle Burke University of Pennsylvania Press, 1928.

Barnett, Lincoln History of the English Language Sphere Books, London, 1970.

Beresford, Michael Modern English Grammar and Style Duckworth, 1997.

Bridges, Robert Founders Day In The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse OUP, 1922.

Crystal, David Linguistics Penguin, 1990.

Crystal, David (ed.) The Cambridge Paperback Encyclopaedia CUP, 1993.

Crystal, David A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (4th edition) Blackwell, 2000.

Dummett, Michael Grammar and Style for Examination Candidates and Others Duckworth, 1997.

Fowler, H. W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage OUP, 1937.

Lass, Roger The Shape of English J. M. Dent, 1987.

Partridge, Eric Usage and Abusage Penguin, 1963.

Quirk, Randolph Proceedings of the 1994 Literacy Seminar of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists edited by Joyce M. Morris.

Sokal, Alan and Brickmont, Jean Intellectual Impostures Profile Books, London, 1998.

Trudgill, Peter and Bauer, Laurie (eds) Language Myths Penguin, 1998.









'What We Should Have Been Taught In Primary School'.

"A man's character appears more by his words than, as some might think it does, by his looks" Plutarch (Greek historian).


"I would make boys all learn English; and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour and Greek as a treat.

But the only thing I would whip them for is not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that" Winston Churchill ( My Early Life)


Copies of 'Mend your English' can be ordered from the Society. Price £10 plus postage (£1.58)






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