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Mother tongue

What does the fashion for books about the state of the English language tell us? People care about their language because it forms part of their identity, and part of the resistance to changes in English is a resistance to change itself. But correct usage is not an elite affectation; it is a badge of competence

By Richard Jenkyns   January 2005

When you had finished reading your October Prospect, were you purple with rage? One contributor, writing about Gordon Brown, described him as an “heir apparent” who might find that someone else inherited after all. But an heir apparent must necessarily succeed; the term the writer should have used was “heir presumptive.” A second contributor discussed why parliament is “like it is”; that should have been “as it is,” or so we used to be taught at school. A third contributor wrote about the norms of something being “flaunted,” when he meant “flouted.” So it seems that even Britain’s intelligent conversation…

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