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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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13 February 2012

Embarrassing phrases to avoid: #1

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee—which will be officially celebrated in early June—took place from a historical point of view on 6 February, the date of her father King George VI’s death. It was another four months before she was formally crowned. But the date issue has not been the only source of confusion for bewildered outsiders. There is a language problem which has been the cause of a number of red faces amongst the non-носители community in London and elsewhere. The reason for that provides a good illustration of the perils of colloquial English for the outsider.
     The British—alright, the English press!—have been making a noise about the fact that “Her Majesty has now been on the throne for sixty years”, giving loyal service to the country and Commonwealth, etc. blah, blah, etc. Nothing wrong with that, at least until some gushing Russian, seeking to get into the spirit of things at a smart dinner party, turns to the Sloaney blondinka sitting on his left and, between mouthfuls of succulent, heather-fed Highland lamb, says, “Представлаешь! Oh, excuse me! Isn’t it wonderful that the Queen has been sitting on the throne for sixty years!”
     Miss Rumpeh-Pumpeh blushes to the roots of her flaxen, Viking-style hair, and our Boris does not understand why.
     The fact is that the phrase “to sit on the throne” is a colloquial way of saying “to sit on the toilet”.
     “Are you still on the throne?” an impatient flat-mate might call down the corridor when you have been quietly reading County Life in “the smallest room” for the last ten minutes.
     Quite obviously, the Queen has not spent the last sixty years sitting on the toilet. Apart from anything else, she has been seen in public regularly, usually in a standing posture, or walking. On the occasions when she has been seen sitting, as at the State Opening of Parliament, it has been clear from the visual context that she has not been doing “her Number Two’s”, as another mystifying English colloquialism has it. In her hand she holds the Prime Minister’s programme of legislation for the next session of Parliament, and not a roll of lavatory paper. Though what Her Majesty does with the Prime Ministerial programme after she withdraws to her private chambers at the end of the ceremony is entirely her own business, and it is not for us to speculate.