Much ado about grammar in UK's new 5-pound note | world-news | Hindustan Times
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Much ado about grammar in UK's new 5-pound note

Fans of the iconic Winston Churchill say he would not have minded what the British news media called "a major grammatical blunder", but quite a few grammar fundamentalists don’t quite like the fact that his famous quote in the note’s text does not include quotation marks.

world Updated: Apr 30, 2017 22:27 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
To quote or not to quote, that’s the question
To quote or not to quote, that’s the question(HT Photo/ Prasun Sonwalkar)

A new polymer 5-pound note issued by the Bank of England in September 2016 has been much in the news: from its supposed indestructibility to the use of beef tallow in its production to rare serial numbers – now a new one concerns grammar in its text.

Fans of the iconic Winston Churchill say he would not have minded what the British news media called “a major grammatical blunder,” but quite a few grammar fundamentalists don’t quite like the fact that his famous quote in the note’s text does not include quotation marks.

This is the latest example of objections to the ways in which the English language is used in public and official discourse. A Bristol grammar enthusiast was recently in the news for furtively going around correcting apostrophes and commas in signs and shop boards.

It seems not many can pardon the respected Bank of England for using Churchill’s words in his inaugural speech to the House of Commons as the prime minister on May 13, 1940: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” -- without the quotation marks.

As the British news media went to town on how nobody had noticed it, a spokeswoman for the National Literacy Trust said: “If you are referencing a quotation word-for-word, use double quotation marks at the start and end of the quoted section.”

But Lisa Appignanesi of the Royal Society of Literature believes the mistake probably wouldn't have bothered Churchill: “I don't know, orator that he was, whether he would have noticed the missing punctuation.”

Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham told The Daily Telegraph: “We are living in a post-punctuation world created by big institutions. Some people may dismiss omissions as pedantry, but they have lost sight of the fact that precision of expression reflects precision of thought.”

According to Tara Stubbs, English lecturer at the University of Oxford, such omissions were “condescending” and accused the Bank of England of trying to “dumb down” grammar: “It is a bit peculiar because it looks like it’s the Five Pounds that’s speaking and not Winston Churchill”.

But Geoff Pullum of the University of Edinburgh dismissed the claim that the text in the note was grammatically incorrect as “a silly myth”, and added: “The general principle that a full stop is required applies to connected prose. Quote marks would be serving no purpose on the note as it’s obvious that the quote belongs to the great Sir Winston.”