Prep School Style

Thomas Jones

No sooner was Jacob Rees-Mogg installed as Leader of the House of Commons than he sent out a ‘style guide’ to staff, essentially a list of words and phrases they were now ‘banned’ from using, along with demands that they address ‘all non-titled males as Esq.’ and use imperial measurements. No sooner was the document circulated than it was ‘leaked’ exclusively to ITV news. Within moments, it was all over Twitter, and Twitter was all over it.

Apart from the idiocy about esquires and imperial measurements, the rules in and of themselves are fairly innocuous: don’t use ‘hopefully’, ‘due to’, ‘got’, ‘ongoing’ etc. Rees-Mogg could have been given the list by his prep school English teacher. There’s a weird injunction never to use a comma after ‘and’ (Twitter is bristling with counter-examples) and, chances are, that’s a hangover from prep school too.

The whole business is a fairly transparent publicity exercise: ‘Trying to think of a better way to get journalists talking about you,’ Will Davies tweeted, ‘than issuing a bullshit *style guide*.’ Even the LRB has obliged. It’s all part of what James Meek calls Rees-Mogg’s ‘rolling re-enactment of steak-and-kidney-pudding Edwardian Britishness’: narcissistic and self-serving, certainly, but not so much a distraction from his schemes for self-enrichment as intricately bound up with them, ‘facets of a single worldview that shows the actual nature of Faragist Britain’.


  • 27 July 2019 at 8:25pm
    Jeremy Bernstein says:
    Rees- Mogg Esq should come over here and do something about "like." In the day this usage was the province of Los Angeles surfers as in "like that was like a great wave." Now it has spread like a dread virus as in "President Trump like spoke to like Kim and he like said that he was going to like test a nuke." I do not know if this usage has come to Britain but like a backstop should be erected to like keep it out.

    • 31 July 2019 at 12:23pm
      picklewick says: @ Jeremy Bernstein
      It has been here for some years with almost every school kid using, you know ....

  • 27 July 2019 at 11:37pm
    garyamdahl says:
    Reminds me of Thomas Pynchon's substitution of "as" for that kind of "like" in the speeches of children in Mason & Dixon....

  • 28 July 2019 at 12:14pm
    Joe Morison says:
    The curious thing about people like Rees-Mogg is that while they’re perfectly happy to accept that things, in this case language, have constantly and beneficially changed in the past; they insist that all such change after some recent time is intolerable. He’s like an English Amish.

  • 29 July 2019 at 6:35am
    Graucho says:
    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

  • 30 July 2019 at 8:50pm
    Thomas Hackett says:
    "Due to" is perfectly good English if it follows the verb "to be" (or anything conjugated from it) and is in the predicate of the sentence e.g. "Jacob Rees-Mogg Esq. is a Member of Parliament due to the support of his nanny". The alternative of "owing to" can be used as follows: "Jacob Rees-Mogg Esq. risks losing his seat in Parliament owing to the lack of his nanny's support."

    • 31 July 2019 at 8:35am
      MichelinPoitiers says: @ Thomas Hackett
      I don't want to get into an argument about what is "perfecty good English" as that way madness lies. I would point out though, that Thomas Hackett's explanation of the difference between "due to" and "owing to" is not the one normally given in grammar books. There, "due to" is described as adjectival and thus should ony be used to qualify a noun or pronoun while "owing to" is adverbial and should oe used to qualify a verb.

      An example pinched from one such book:
      His accident was due to excessive alcohol consumption.

      His accident occurred owing to the fact that he was talking on his cell phone.

      I doubt that many of the occupants of the hell-bound handcart we are currently in are much exercised on this point.

  • 31 July 2019 at 6:41am
    Paul K says:
    And..."going forward"?
    What does JRM hope to do? Fossilize the language in an age before even he was born? Maybe we need an equivalent to the Académie Française ? Oh, and will he personally censor all communication that crosses his desk? Good luck with that.

  • 31 July 2019 at 9:55am
    steve kay says:
    A small engineering comment. The combination of metric and imperial measurements is inseparable, the workshop learns to deal with both. Some imperial is universal, railway gauges of 4' 8 1/2", 5' or 5' 3" The Napier with which Edge won the first Sun Rising Hillclimb in 1903, a while before JRM was born, was recorded as 20 hp but capacity was 4 1/2 litres. Fastenings can be metric or imperial diameter but thread will be tpi. As for the sheet of ply required for shuttering or patterns, that may be 3mm but a sheet of 8' x 4'.

    "Welcome to the workshop, Jacob. Now mind where you go under that silly hat, be careful of the pit, oops. Pity about the blood, and sorry but we don't seem to have a primo auxilium buxum. We'll just send you home to nanny."

  • 31 July 2019 at 1:37pm
    Peter Hutchinson says:
    Actually, there is nothing grammatically wrong in using 'hopefully' the way Rees-Mogg Esq. seeks to proscribe - someone please lend him a copy of Fowler - but then, frankly, who gives a damn.

  • 8 August 2019 at 2:41pm
    Reader says:
    In insisting on all males being referred to as "Esquire", JRM is himself guilty of ignorance. According to the Wikipedia entry, which I have no reason to question: "Today, the title of esquire is defined as a social dignity that refers to people of the Scottish gentry, who hold the next position in the Order of Precedence above Gentlemen. It is also used as a common courtesy in correspondence. Traditionally, this was one who was classified as a 'cadet for knighthood'." If he is a real traditionalist, JRM should use "Esquire" as a title, not as a mere "common courtesy". Common, indeed!

  • 9 August 2019 at 9:07pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    I've recently been made aware of some grammarian's objection to using "due to" to mean "as a result of", "because of", or "on account of".

    Therefore the example of "His accident was due to excessive alcohol consumption" would grieve this grammarian. In the US, I think it's OK, because it is understood to mean the same thing as the three recommended alternatives. That is, usage can create a new definition of a word or phrase ("prescriptive grammarians" are opposed to this idea). It seems like a case of normal language evolution to me.

    There are many Americans who also understand that "due to" has an older, different meaning in sentences like, "He received all the credit due to him." Sometimes its just "due him". Rather than "owing to" this phrase means "owed to". Therefore, a dictionary might show both of these meanings, which are quite different from each other.

    Due to pressing other matters, I will stop here.

Read more