Daily Frolic 21: A question of etiquette

“Wow, this Hunter Davies …”

“Yes?”

“He must be awfully important.”

“Well, he is a well-known author.”

“There must be more to it.”

“You mean his OBE? I believe he’s just been awarded one.”

“What’s OBE?”

“Order of the British Empire; it’s the most junior order of chivalry in Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth.”

“Are you saying he hasn’t been sufficiently chivalrous to merit something more substantial?”

“No, no, it’s still an honour.”

“Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right.”

“What?”

“Well, I’ve been reading this week’s Sunday Times; he wrote an article for them.”

“Oh yes, yes, he is a regular contributor.”

“But he implied that he was more important than the Queen.”

“More important than the Queen?  You must be joking! Nobody is more important than the Queen.”

“That’s exactly what I thought, but, apparently, the Palace people had to instruct your Queen on how to greet him during the awards ceremony.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“It’s not me who’s ridiculous; look, it’s here in black and white.”

 “I did remember to bow after she shook my hand, as instructed, which was the signal to leave, but I forgot to call her Your Majesty.”

 “Oh this! It’s a classic!”

“What – this etiquette?”

“No, no, this ambiguity! It’s word order that’s at fault here.”

“Word order?”

“Actually, the title is a bit misleading because the order of words within an English phrase is fixed.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, could you change the order of words in the phrase: ‘the expensive leather jacket he owned’, for example?”

“After five double brandies – more than likely.”

“Behave! You can’t – because it’s fixed. But this happens only within phrases. The point is that both phrases and clauses can move.”

“Where to?”

“No, no, I mean in a sentence. And it’s quite easy to arrange them in ways which cause ambiguity or even unintended hilarity.”

“But this Hunter Davies – isn’t he supposed to be a writer?”

“Look, this happens to everybody – that’s why it’s such a classic. But it’s easily remedied: you simply move the offending phrase or clause to a more appropriate position.”

“But he didn’t.”

“Neither did the sub-editor. But stuff like this is easily overlooked.  What he was trying to say was this.”

 As instructed, I did remember to bow after she shook my hand (…).

 “I bet your Queen will be relieved.”

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4 thoughts on “Daily Frolic 21: A question of etiquette

    • Yep! This example is perhaps slightly subtler than some others, but I quite liked this quote when I saw. As you can see, I am trying to smuggle a bit of grammar into my posts but am still not entirely sure about how to strike the right balance between the serious and the jocular. That’s why readers’ reactions/ comments are so helpful.

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    • I completely agree: it WAS subtle. To me, such analyses are absolutely fascinating – that’s why I see myself predominantly as a grammarian. Mercifully, I am also a satirist and thus try to marry the two sides. Thanks for commenting! :)

      Liked by 1 person

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