Home > cultural commentary > Proper Engish, proper morals?

Proper Engish, proper morals?

I’ve lately been reading Henry Hitchings’ The Language Wars: A History of Proper English. This is a discussion of the development of the current multiple forms of English grammar, usage, styles and so forth.

On pages 108-9 there’s a discussion of Thomas Dilworth’s A New Guide to the English Tongue (1740) which in its day was ‘the most widely used spelling book on both sides of the Atlantic’. Hitchings points out that the book included sample sentences to be used as dictation/transcription material for students. The sentences included the following, and you can read them as messages from 1740:

– Pride is a very remarkable Sin.

– Personal Merit is all a Man can call his own.

– Riches are like Dung, which stink in an Heap; but being spread abroad, make the Earth Fruitful.

Allowing for the use of ‘Man’ rather than ‘person’ (it was written in 1740, remember), it strikes me the values expressed in these aphorisms remain as important now as they were then. Politicians and bankers take note!

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