Thursday, 7 June 2012

'The tumult and the shouting dies -

- the captains and the kings depart.'

There's little left to say about the Jubilee that is deeply profound.

It's perhaps worth mentioning that the processions, the heraldry, the ceremonies, the rituals, are not mere 'pageantry' or 'fairy tale', put together because they are colourful and give the crowds something to cheer at.

They all have meaning and say something about the evolution over the centuries of the United Kingdom and of the monarchy, and about the monarch's  relationship with his or her subjects.

Before widespread literacy and mass media, these visual signs and ceremonies told people who was who and how they related to each other and to the crowds who watched.

Much of the ceremonial reinforced the fact that the sovereign, in England, has never had absolute power. The ritual whereby the sovereign formally requests the Lord Mayor's permission to enter the City of London reminded everyone, not least the sovereign, of how dependent he or she was on the goodwill of the City.

Other, lesser, conventions of protocol and etiquette also have meaning.

Too often, journalists refer to the Queen being introduced to Mr or Mrs Somebody.

The Queen is not introduced to anyone. People are introduced to her.

Referring to the Queen being introduced to someone implies that the person to whom she is introduced doesn't know who she is, which is nonsense.

A gentleman is introduced to a lady.
A lower ranking person is introduced to a higher ranking one.
A younger person is introduced to an older one.
Among reigning kings and queens, the one who has reigned longest is considered senior to the others.

Going by these rules, there is no-one on the planet who outranks the Queen. 

The proper form of words is
'Mrs Jones, may I introduce (or, more formally, may I present)  my friend Jack Robinson?'

This, theoretically, gives Mrs Jones the opportunity to decline the introduction if, for example, Mr Robinson is a young man of dubious reputation whom she doesn't want anywhere near her daughters.  

Having been introduced they would continue to be 'Mrs Jones' and 'Mr Robinson' unless or until Mr Robinson did become Mrs Jones's son-in-law, when less formal forms of address might be adopted.

Ignoring the conventions did not necessarily make for a pleasantly informal atmosphere. It could cause embarrassment by forcing people into a degree of intimacy they didn't necessarily want, or cause relationships to be misinterpreted - if, for example, Miss Jones and Mr Robinson were addressing each other as 'Maisie' and 'Jack' when they were barely acquainted.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many guides to etiquette were published, on their own or as part of guides to household management.  They advised people  what to say or write in any conceivable situation - a servant giving notice, a housewife complaining to the milkman, a father asking a young man's intentions towards his daughter, a young woman declining a proposal of marriage, a man applying for a job. They used to be easily obtainable in secondhand bookshops.

The BBC should acquire some - and give the first one to the reporter who referred to Her Majesty the Queen as 'Her Royal Highness'. 

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