Tag Archives: Queen’s Day

Why you should care – part two: is your grammar fit for a king?

Ok, so admittedly this isn’t about English grammar, but it does have an important message: the general public cares about the grammar in popular songs.

Last week, with excitement and anticipation, Holland watched the coronation of Willem Alexander. It was a huge full-day event, held on Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), on which Queen Beatrix abdicated and her eldest son took the throne, next to his new Queen Maxima.

WillemAlexander-Maxima

As part of the celebration, a well-known songwriter pieced together lyric suggestions from the public to come up with a song from the Dutch people to the new King.

Then it all went a bit wrong.

The song starts off quite nicely – it’s catchy and typically Dutch, with a modern twist. Unfortunately, it was spectacularly rejected by the public, a Facebook page against it garnering tens of thousands of likes within a couple of hours of the song’s release. The writer pulled the song but was subsequently overruled by the coronation organisers, and it was performed live on the day.

Why all the fuss?

Some people say the song is a grammatical nightmare. Dutch is a complex language, and, like in English, grammar is important. When people heard the song (and read the lyrics in the video) they were outraged by the bad grammar. Here’s Wim Daniëls explaining it in great detail (in Dutch).

Daniëls says there is a mistake in every sentence – lots of people agree with this. Not enough commas, too many demonstratives, incorrect tone… but it’s a song. Shouldn’t that make it safe from the scrutiny of grammarians?

I don’t think so. If you’re doing something that public, it ought to be correct – or at least consistent. If you want to be chummy with the King (using the informal ‘je’ instead of the formal ‘u’, both meaning ‘you’) go ahead. But make it clear. And when constructing a rap based on all the brilliant Dutch things that begin with the ‘W from Willem’, try to think of things that actually begin with a ‘W’ and not plump for other words… ‘The W from waiting for stamppot’ is probably my favourite terrible line.

The song is still out there in all its glory, and the King and Queen certainly seemed to enjoy it on coronation day. And the mistakes might even have a positive outcome – kids will be studying these lyrics in Dutch language class and improving them.

The fact is that when someone writes a big important song representing the public, the public cares about the quality. People don’t want to be associated with bad grammar. There is, of course, something to be said for artistic licence, and I’m not about to start analyzing the latest from Jay-Z or Muse. But good grammar has its place. If you’re writing a song for a king, it ought to be right. Don’t you think?

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