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Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Honours System

It's about time someone sorted out this honours adverbs business, and I suppose it might as well be me, given that I've had more of them (honours that is) than most.

You know how it is; hardly a day passes without some society, association, institute, establishment, hall of fame, order, academy, college, club, guild, party, movement, faction, business, federation, league, alliance, group, fraternity, sorority, trust, syndicate or what-not writing to convey some award, membership, qualification, prize, medal, favour, trophy, decoration, accolade, title, diploma, or what-not. And then arises the blessed difficulty of how to acknowledge the said honour to an appropriate degree. Lest you are struggling to keep up, let's consider concrete cases...

Suppose the Sudoku's done, the crossword has lost your interest, and you're opening the morning's mail. In among the junk, the begging letters, the subpoenas, the fan-mail, the cranks looking for endorsement, and what-not, there are letters from: the Nobel Prize Committee, offering, for the first time, a combined award for physics and economics; the Chief Equerry of the Inner Privy Council inviting one to accept adjoint membership of the Order of the Garter; and the Parish Council announcing that ones name has been engraved on the new bench by the shop.

Now you'll have to get round to the thank you letters, and if you have a scientific bent and a strong sense of fair play you will wish each letter to convey a degree of gratitude that is in direct linear proportion to the significance of the honour to which it applies.

And here's the nub of the gist of the crux of the kernel of the essence of the problem. You see, the expected formula is one in which the conferee describes  his or her self as x honoured to have received the award from the conferrer, where x is some adverb, typically one from the list below.


However, a glance at the list is sufficient to show that its range is not in the least sufficient to span the spectrum of occasions for which it is expected to serve. The problem is one we have brought on ourselves, of course, by shrinking from the hurtful truth. In receipt of some paltry token of recognition we never feel it right to declare ourselves 'hardly honoured at all', or 'imperceptibly honoured' even when that is the absolute literal truth.

Through years of mealy mouthed tradition, we can no longer use adverbs in a literal sense to reflect the grade, rank, quality, rarity, or significance of an honour, and we have created an unholy mess in which no conferee has any idea of what adverb to use, and no conferrer has any real idea of the degree of thanks being offered by the random adverbial selection that results. It follows, therefore, that what is now needed is a non-literal, synthetic, idiomatic scale of appropriate adverbs.

I have today instructed the EDSRF to put aside a fund to provide a doctoral bursary to suitably qualified individuals to research the use of adverbs in the recognition of honours, with the goal of proposing a formal conventional scale of honours for ratification by the appropriate international standards bodies. Interested applicants should make contact via the comment facility below.

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