A rose by any other name

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact

I’m going slightly off tangent today, for which I make no apology, as it’s a day to celebrate one of the things that makes us as a nation who we are.

No, I’m not talking about St George. Noble knight though he may have been , slaying the dragon and all that, he certainly was no Englishman. Sure, St George has given us some nice, easy to spot primary colours to adorn our flag-waving. But today’s birthday boy has given us so, so much more. More things, in fact, in heaven and earth than we can dream of in our philosophy. See what I did there?

If you have ever said that something has ‘seen better days’, that you’ve gone ‘full circle’, told someone that the ‘world is (their) oyster’ or described someone as ‘a piece of work’ then you owe today’s birthday boy some thanks.

If you’ve ever been on ‘a wild goose chase’, wondered how something could ‘vanish into thin air’, waited with ‘bated breath’ or had a cheeky pint, just to ‘break the ice’, then please give thanks.

If your best friend has a ‘heart of gold’, if you’ve had ‘not a wink of sleep’, found yourself ‘in a pickle’ or heard something to ‘set your teeth on edge’, had a child who you feared would ‘eat you out of hearth and home’ or dismissed a friend’s new beau with the words ‘love is blind’ then bow down before the master wordsmith.

Language, and how we use it, defines us as a nation. We all know what we mean by the ‘Queen’s English’. We may be a people with myriad dialects and accents, but the basic way we construct our sentences binds us together. Not for us the German habit of sticking the verb at the very end.

As a journalist with an English degree, clearly I have something of a bee in my bonnet (and yes, that’s another one) about how we use words to convey what we mean – and sometimes what we don’t mean.

Communication is important, that’s a given. And as the ways in which we can communicate with our friends, colleagues and customers increase, so do the ways in which we can communicate and mis-communicate. No longer is face-to-face the be all and end all (and there we go again) of business communications.

Clearly, iambic pentameter isn’t the way to go when you’re emailing the sales team or a customer. However, neither should bad grammar and ugly sentence construction.

I’d like to think that, in future, every time I write an ugly, over complicated sentence, I will delete it and think instead of how the Bard would have written it. No, I know I won’t either, but it would be nice to think we might occasionally do that.

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare. 450 years old today.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

Check Also


Reclaim the night

Because the night, belongs to lovers Because the night, belongs to us I’m going to …