OPINION: Spelling out a whole load of trouble if we start altering our language

Prince Philip was buried at Windsor.

Prince Philip was a former patron of the Simplified Spelling Society (now the English Spelling Society) - Credit: PA

The celebrations of Prince Philip’s life and achievements provoked some fairly spiteful protests in the days following.

They came from a disenchanted element that spent a fair bit of Twitter time beefing about the temporary loss of what they would claim as their weekend telly territory, such as game shows and cookery marathons as far as the eye could see.

My neighbour didn’t have a lot of time for them, but as a one-time Navy man, just like the Duke of Edinburgh, I would have expected him to be a touch biased.

We met up as we emerged to take our respective constitutionals. “Pygmies,” he growled, bashing the hedge with his stick.

“They can’t spare the time to appreciate what the man did for us.” He bashed the hedge again. “And what about all those wonderful newsreel collections and the archive films from years ago? These moaners will sit glued night after night watching stuff like The Crown which passes for history yet they can’t take the real thing, a history that they should be proud of.”


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I had to agree with him, mostly. There was some splendid stuff of royal events and all the pageantry that went with them, all those jewels and robes choreographed like the very best of ballet, especially the later events when we’d got colour.

You got the impression that the BBC was trying to make up for the waterlogged disaster of that Diamond Jubilee River Pageant on the Thames in 2012.

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OK, even the Beeb couldn’t control the weather but it might have done something about the wet ineptitude of its employees who seemed to have no idea what all these boats were doing in that sodden flotilla. “It’s about the river, stupid!” said one headline next day. Bull’s eye! Earlier some half-witted reporter had clutched his microphone and referred to Her Majesty the Queen as “her royal highness”.

That was then, this is now. The list of the departed Duke’s achievements and life-affirming works was a long one and there was no shortage of people to speak of them and how they had been inspired to plant trees or camp out in winter. I remember the young offender let out so he might climb a mountain for his Duke of Edinburgh Award. “Did you do it wearing a ball-and-chain?” his highness wondered.

After the funeral there was time to reflect on the dozens of progressive pies Philip once had his fingers in. One which was new to me was the English Spelling Society, which aims to reform the way our words are constructed. What’s wrong with the words we’ve got? With the odd modification they’ve served us brilliantly for years; all we have to do is look at them and learn how they work for us. 

But no, this won’t do for the members of that spelling society who have emerged blinking into the light flying a ragged flag for Traditional Spelling Revised, which wants to do away with silent letters such as the “w” in wrong. If the TSR folks (or should that be “foaks”?) get their way about a fifth of the words in our alphabet would be changed.

What’s taxing the TSR people is the belief that about 200,000 primary school children are expected to emerge this year unable to read and write properly. 

How are they expected ever to read and write properly if the words they need are trifled with because they might be a bit difficult to take in? The ability to read and write is best served by teaching children to love words and what they do. 

Ours is such a rich language it needs to be practised, and it needs to be accessible.

Hull University isn’t helping. It recently decided not to penalise students who present work with lousy spelling which leaves a lot people asking: “What are lousy spellers doing at university in the first place?” 

None of this means that the ability to read and write should be exclusive. Good English should be open to all. All we need is the key. If Philip and the spelling reformers had their way he might have finished up being addressed as “dook”, consort of the “kween”, and that simply would not do, would it?

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