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Opinion

A Word, Please: New leader of Britain’s House of Commons imposes unusual grammar rules

 Jacob Rees-Mogg
“Pick some just-for-control-freak’s-sake style imperatives, toss in a few throwbacks to another century, then add just a pinch of narrow-minded isolationism and you have the style rules just imposed on the subordinates of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the newly appointed leader of Britain’s House of Commons.”
(Jack Taylor / Getty Images)

If you wanted to put together a list of writing rules for an organization you run, there would be nothing wrong with that.

“OK, team. Let’s make it a policy to always include ‘Inc.’ with our company name. Let’s use serial commas. Let’s make ‘healthcare’ one word, and let’s follow the American punctuation style of always putting a period or comma before a closing quotation mark.” No problem here.

Note that none of these are universal rules. You could pick the opposite in every instance and be just as correct. Either way, it’s perfectly reasonable to lay out guidelines for how your subordinates should write official correspondence. No one will be offended. The odds you’ll make national news headlines are slim to none.

No, if you want your style guide to draw international media attention and tons of scornful commentary, you need to be a real jerk about it.

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Pick some just-for-control-freak’s-sake style imperatives, toss in a few throwbacks to another century, then add just a pinch of narrow-minded isolationism and you have the style rules just imposed on the subordinates of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the newly appointed leader of Britain’s House of Commons.

“The Conservative Party politician, who is an Old Etonian and stickler for tradition, has outlined an extensive list of words that his staff are banned from using in correspondences with his constituents and fellow MPs,” writes CNN.

Here are some writing rules the U.K. politician seems to have pulled out of his ear.

Don’t use the expression “meet with.” Um, OK.

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Don’t use the word “speculate.” (And, I would add, don’t bother to speculate why anyone thinks that should be a rule.)

Don’t use the word “ongoing.” Ah, yes. The unbearably offensive “ongoing.”

And you must use two spaces after a full stop — a practice rejected by every major publisher in the English-speaking world since typewriters gave way to slightly better typewriters.

From there, Rees-Mogg’s dictates go from irrational to perverse.

Take, for example, the rule that his staff must use imperial measurements anytime measurements come up. No metric system. That would be too scientific. Plus, all the other countries in Europe seem to like the metric system, so converting everything to pounds, quarts and inches will make working with neighboring countries just a little more difficult.

But the divisiveness doesn’t stop at the border. There’s some homegrown partisan contempt motivating his style guide, too.

“It’s just a thing listing banned words, which are sort of New Labour words like ‘unacceptable,’” he told the Daily Telegraph.

And if you didn’t realize the word “unacceptable” was unacceptable because of its associations with U.K.’s left-leaning New Labour contingent, join the club.

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The pièce de résistance in Rees-Mogg’s style guide is best explained in CNN’s own words: “Yet perhaps most archaically, Rees-Mogg requires all non-titled males to be referred to as ‘esquire’ as a sign of respect.”

Apparently, there’s no exception to be made for males who don’t deserve respect, which strikes me as ironic.

Rees-Mogg’s language peevishness isn’t the only factor contributing to his nickname, “Honorable member for the 18th century.” He also has an affinity for oh-so-not-au-courant double-breasted suits.

Yet, while he’s happy to impose his archaic linguistic tastes on his staff, he’s not as outspoken about their personal grooming.

I have a theory about why that is. Rees-Mogg was appointed by the famously slovenly Boris Johnson. There’s no doubt in my mind that, had Rees-Mogg been appointed by just about anyone else in British government, he would loudly and proudly insist that everyone on his staff possess a comb.

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