Today we speak of "BBC English" as a standard form of the language, but this form had to be invented by a small team in the 1920s & 30s. 1/
It turned out even within the upper-class London accent that became the basis for BBC English, many words had competing pronunciations. 2/
Thus in 1926, the BBC's first managing director John Reith established an "Advisory Committee on Spoken English" to sort things out. 3/
The committee was chaired by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and also included American essayist Logan Pearsall Smith, 4/
novelist Rose Macaulay, lexicographer (and 4th OED editor) C.T. Onions, art critic Kenneth Clark, journalist Alistair Cooke, 5/
ghost story writer Lady Cynthia Asquith, and evolutionary biologist and eugenicist Julian Huxley. 6/
The 20-person committee held fierce debates, and pronunciations now considered standard were often decided by just a few votes. 7/
Examples included deciding "garage" would rhyme with "carriage" rather than "barrage" and "canine" (the tooth) sounding like cay-nine. 8/
In 1935, there was a crisis over what word BBC radio should use for "users of a television apparatus" (whom we now call "viewers"). 9/
To solve this conundrum, a 10-member "Sub-Committee on Words" was set up, chaired by the American, Logan Pearsall Smith. 10/
The Sub-Committee came up with the following list of possible new words for the users of the television apparatus: 11/
The Sub-Committee ultimately chose none of these, settling on "televiewer," which was shortened by the main committee to just "viewer." 12/
Emboldened by this early "success," the Sub-Committee on Words began to run amuck, inventing new words willy-nilly out of whole cloth. 13/
In particular, Sub-Committee chair Logan Pearsall Smith wanted to beautify English and "purify" it of foreign influences. 14/
He also disliked words with too many syllables and preferred English plurals to foreign plurals (eg. hippopotamuses over hippopotami). 15/
Some of the new coinages were reasonable and have survived. For example, "airplane" replaced "aeroplane" and "roundabout" was invented 16/
to replace the then-common "gyratory circus." Similarly the word "servicemen" was invented to describe members of the armed forces, and 17/
BBC radio was instructed to stop saying "kunstforscher" and instead say "art researcher," which has since become "art historian." 18/
Other ideas were...less successful. E.g. Smith proposed the BBC call televisions "view-boxes," call traffic lights "stop-and-goes," and 19/
call brainwaves "mindfalls." Other members of the Sub-Committee also came up with bizarre new words. 20/
Edward Marsh devised "inflex" to replace "inferiority complex," and Rose Macaulay wanted "yulery" to replace "Christmas festivities." 21/
By June of 1936, things were getting out of hand, and the BBC's Director of Program Planning Lindsay Wellington urged: 22/
Finally in January 1937, Chairman of the Governors R.C. Norman shut down the Sub-Committee on Words for good, arguing that: 23/
what an incredibly story thank you for sharing
This is really interesting, thank you! Were the sub-committee influenced by Futurism? It seems like a really similar ideology.
Possibly? Definitely? The way of thinking that undergirded the rise of Futurism was definitely in the air at the time. It was the zeitgeist.
Or presumably the timeghost to keep Logan Pearsall Smith happy?
Or at least, the spirit of the time.
I would have suspected that some spirit was being utilised - Bourbon, Scotch, Gin...
or they just got drunk on power
Any indication that the Continental language Academies were NOT in mind? They seem an obvious parallel, but one NEVER to be cited openly.
In light of:
This Sub-Committe was way, way, way ahead of it's time.
This is an amazing thread to wake up to! Thank you! Had to google "gyratory circus" to make sure you weren't pulling our legs.
Fantastic thread , thank you !
I actually like yulery, I'm going to start saying that.
Me, too, in a very, very big way. Encapsulates the 21st century experience perfectly - obvs way ahead of its time....
"Stop this yulery right now!"
Oh, but YULERY is perfect!!! Fabulous term!!!