Churchill’s Preposterous Prepositions

Fifty years ago a chap called Winston Churchill passed away. Many people left this mortal coil that year, as they do every year. But Winston’s send off was a bit more notable than most. He is one of but eleven non-royals to be afforded a full state funeral, joining the likes of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington to have such an honour bestowed upon him. I suspect that the old chap expected absolutely nothing less.

His funeral remains the most recent state function to have occurred. Mountbatten, the Queen Mother,Margaret Thatcher and his relative through the Spencer line, Lady Di, had to make do with simple ceremonial funerals. There hasn’t been a proper state funeral in my lifetime. Dear Elizabeth isn’t getting any younger though, so I may not have to wait many years. On the other hand, if she goes on as long as her mum, then perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath. For the time being, I’ll have to just watch old footage of Winston’s do.

It’s an interesting video, don’t you think? I love watching British Pathe films – there’s tens of thousands of them on YouTube. The footage itself offers a glimpse into the past. But it’s the commentary that really adds life to the videos, putting what you see into the context of the era. Did you stifle a giggle at the thought of Churchill being a mere commoner? Technically, he may have been. But the chap was born in Blenheim Palace. Hardly a pauper’s start to life.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was played at Churchill’s request. It would seem a strange choice only if you didn’t know of his American roots on the maternal side of his family. A British hero of partial American descent? Scandalous. Still, the Yanks helped give us Winston. We contributed to the gift of Obama. We’ll call it even?  Another lesser reported fact is that he was also born two months prematurely. Alternatively, he was conceived two months before his parents tied the not. The former was a more acceptable account of events for the society of the day.

What Churchill was really famous for was his rhetoric. His speeches have lasted the ages, and various British media organisations have been asking readers to provide their favourite quote. That’s a risky business. Churchill was, as they say, a man of his time, and spake as such. Even then, some of his comments were extreme. Others were taken out of context. The internet, mostly Islamophobes, have of late taken to quoting his warning of the dangers of Islam. Yet the truth is always more complex that a convenient soundbite.

My favourite quote? It’s controversial only in that it cannot with absolute certainty be truly attributed to Churchill. But it appeals greatly to my interest in language. It’s witty. And, whether the quote belongs to him or not, it is certainly very Churchillian. He was, the story goes, upset when an editor decided to rearrange one of is sentences. It was a breach of linguistic decorum to end a sentence with a preposition.

This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.


6 thoughts on “Churchill’s Preposterous Prepositions

  1. I’m quite a bit older than you, and I can still remember watching the TV coverage of Churchill’s funeral.
    I love the quote you selected. I too find that rule about prepositions at the end of a sentence to be annoying and at times impossible to follow!


  2. Like William, I watched the funeral on television. In the living room of our radical republican home. My parents were quite fond of the old boy — my mother adoring him as much as she despised a man with similar social background: FDR. My dad admired both of them. I still remember the launch floating down the Thames with Churchill’s body. In our household, he was Britain. The queen was simply a tourist attraction.


    • Churchill, more than most politicians, transcended party politics in the UK. Every one had a claim on him. But then, he did swap his political allegiances more than once…

      I still have it in mind to visit both Blenhein and his grave nearby. I heard recently that they’re installing some new stained glass windows in the church in his honour. Perhaps this coming summer.


  3. my favorite quote of his. …’Lady Astor (first woman MP in the House of Commons): “Mr Churchill, if you were my husband, I’d put poison in your tea.”
    Winston (getting unsteadily to his feet): “Madam, if I were your husband … I’d drink it.”
    you gotta love his wit.


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