It's great to see Prince Andrew doing his part for noblesse oblige, but his decision to become a Royal Navy career man raises a perplexing question: what do his superior officers call him? They can't simply refer to him by his rank and last name, because he doesn't have a last name. And somehow it's hard to picture his squadron commander in the pitch of battle barking out, "If you please, Your Royal Highness, move your bloomin' arse!" Cecil, only you can resolve this question. --Dwight Sullivan, Dumfries, Virginia
It probably will not surprise you to learn, Dwight, that the British armed forces have a special office, the Defence Services Secretary, whose solemn duty it is to issue instructions to the troops regarding the proper form of address for members of the royal family. (War may be brutal, the British feel, but there is no reason it has to be impolite.) The DSS's most recent pronunciamento, issued when Andy was still a mere prince, said he was to be introduced as "Lieutenant His Royal Highness, the Prince Andrew." (Naturally, since the British cannot stand to pronounce anything the way it is spelled, they say leftenant.) You, in turn, addressed him as "your royal highness" the first time around and thereafter, assuming you were his superior, as "Prince Andrew," "Lieutenant," "Andrew," or if all else failed, "hey, you."
Recently, however, Andrew was promoted, which naturally changes everything. The consensus among British officialdom is that he must now be introduced as "Lieutenant His Royal Highness, the Duke of York." On second reference, "Duke Andrew" being decidedly unkosher, "Prince Andrew" remains the preferred form.
Still, what folks are supposed to call him doesn't necessarily have much to do with what they do call him. Though one of Andy's old COs avers that everybody said "Prince Andrew," Cecil has it on good authority that the kid is known among his buddies as "H," short for HRH, His Royal Highness. As for the enlisted men--well, that's something else altogether. Cecil was chatting recently with a Royal Navy officer who had served on board the royal yacht when the King of Norway happened to visit. While inspecting the yacht's shipboard telephone directory, the officer was a bit startled to find the king listed under N for "Norway [King of]." And Rodney Dangerfield thinks he's got problems.
Regarding your column on the use of W as a vowel [September 11], the word Mr. Schell wanted to hear was cwm. There are of course others. Check out your OED. And hey, in general you're OK. --Luis Perenna, Chicago
Don't think that token nicety at the end is going to save you, you skunk. Cwm, pronounced "koom" and signifying "mountain hollow," is a borrowing from Welsh, in which tongue W is a vowel equivalent to oo (or perhaps we should say, double-U). Use of W this way in English is anomalous and is not what linguists have in mind when they talk about W being a part-time vowel.
How a mutation like cwm got into a nice language like English in the first place is a question that bears some looking into. Except for persons who spend a lot of time prowling around mountain hollows, it's useful chiefly to composers of crossword puzzles and other disreputable amusements, e.g., the "pangram." A pangram is a sentence containing every letter of the alphabet at least once and ideally no more than once. You can see how cwm would come in handy in this regard. For example, we have:
Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs vext quiz.
"Carved figures in a mountain hollow and on the bank of a fjord irritated an eccentric person." ("Vext," of course, is an alternate form of "vexed," and "quiz" means "an eccentric person.") Similarly we have:
Junky qoph-flags vext crwd zimb.
"Trashy flags with a design resembling the Hebrew letter qoph exasperated an Ethiopian fly whose customary habitat was an ancient Celtic stringed instrument (crwd)." But it's not like I'm telling you something you don't already know.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.