‘Long Live The… Quing!’

Ah, but with our newly-coined, gender-neutral noun in place… Hey presto! All those linguistic dilemmas are just… GONE. ‘The Quing is dead!  Long live the Quing!’ Honestly: not even Steve Harvey could possibly screw THAT one up…

It’s one of those psychological slip-ups that’s just bound to happen, isn’t it? (Like that moment from ‘Fawlty Towers’ where Basil Fawlty is told, ‘Don’t mention the War!’: only to prove utterly incapable of ever mentioning anything else, for the rest of the entire episode…)

Well, I reckon it’s going to be the exactly same with the British national anthem, you know. In fact, I can almost hear it already: that moment when the English national football team emerges from its dressing room, ahead of next November’s World Cup opener against Iran… and a voice blares out over the Qatari stadium loudspeakers:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the Anthem of the United Kingdom.”

… whereupon around 70,000 British football fans all scramble to their feet, and chant out in unison (oh, and feel free to sing along. I’m sure you all know the tune):

“God Save Our Graaa-cious Quee… KING! I meant KING! God save the KING, damn it…!”

Yes, indeed. And just after the obligatory ‘minute’s silence’ for the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, too! (Leaving no room whatsoever, for any excuses of the “Oops! I forgot!” variety…)

But make no mistake: that is what will certainly happen. Because ‘The British National Anthem’ is not merely ‘something that is sung on occasional UK national events, here and there’…

Oh, no. It’s a motif that is deeply, DEEPLY emblazoned into the collective psyche: not just of the British people themselves; nor just of the ‘Commonwealth’ of former British colonies, either; but of the wider-English speaking world, as a whole… as well as, I might add, the MUCH larger category of ‘people who have ever consumed any British culture, in any shape or form, anywhere in the entire Universe…’

Ask anyone, in any of those categories, to perform an impromptu version of ‘the British National Anthem’ … and the first thing you’ll probably notice is how you yourself phrased the question.

Be honest, now: you’d say “Sing ‘God Save the Queen’”, wouldn’t you? Not ‘God Save the King’…. even if, ironically, the latter IS the anthem’s official name: having been originally composed for a King - George III – and sung in honour of six male monarchs - to only two females - since 1745.

And besides: insofar as the rest of the planet is concerned, the words ‘God Save The Queen’ – in and of themselves - could just as easily be a reference to The Sex Pistols’ celebrated 1977 punk single.  (In fact, I myself initially thought that the announcement of ‘The Queen is Dead’, last Thursday, was actually about the re-release of a certain 1986 album by The Smiths…)

THAT, I fear, is just how deeply this motif has penetrated our consciousness, over the past 70 years or so… which brings me to another reason why the transition from ‘Queen’ to ‘King’ is likely to be a cause of much global confusion and embarrassment, in the near future.

Just look, for a moment, at the extraordinary span of time that Queen Elizabeth actually spent sitting on that throne – both symbolically, AND physically – to begin with.

Seventy years. Leaving aside that it’s substantially longer than most of us have even been alive – which also means that very, very few of us can actually remember an age when Britain’s reigning monarch was actually a man – that’s an awful long time for an entire nation to be singing the same lyrics, in the same order, to the same tune: over, and over, and over again.

For let’s face it, folks: the British national anthem doesn’t actually offer all that much variety when it comes to lyrics, does it? (Or at least, not the parts that actually get sung, in all those official events…) If it’s not ‘God Save Our Gracious [King/Queen]!’, it’s ‘Long Live Our Noble [King/Queen]!’ -  with the rest being an assortment of: ‘Happy! Glorious! Victorious!’ (and a few other similes, straight from Roget’s Thesaurus...)

Not to be unkind, or anything: but it’s not exactly what you’d call ‘complicated’, or ‘difficult to remember’.  Except, perhaps, for one, teenie-weenie little detail.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lyrics of British National Anthem also happen to be in English: which is a rather unique language, in the sense that ‘gender’ only ever seems to affect ‘nouns’ and ‘pronouns’… but never ‘adjectives’, ‘adverbs’, or (still less) ‘verb-conjugations’.

In other words: while the death of Queen Elizabeth II - to be succeeded by a man – will certainly force a lot of things to change, in the United Kingdom: from banknotes, to postage stamps, to passports, to the lyrical content of British pop music (not to mention Helen Mirren’s career as an actress. I mean: who the heck is she going to play now, anyway? ‘King Charles III’?)…

… it will not have much effect at all, on the grammatical structure of the British national anthem itself (in the way it most certainly would, had it been written in, say, Maltese).

So even if it is now a ‘KING’, that the British people regularly implore their God to ‘save’ – another reason, by the way, to marvel at Queen Elizabeth’s sheer longevity: if God Himself had to step in an ‘save her’, so very often… she must have been in an awful lot of DANGER, the whole time – there is no reason under the sun to actually replace any of those other, ‘gender-neutral’ parts of speech.

The adjectives I quoted earlier, for instance, all stay exactly the same: King Charles III will remain just as ‘gracious’, ‘noble’, happy, ‘glorious’, ‘victorious’, etc., as his mother was presumed to be before him.

The same goes for ‘verbs’, too… even if there aren’t a great many that are actually attributed to Britain’s reigning monarch, in the song itself. (It’s actually ‘God’ who does all the ‘saving’, remember?)

But still: if, for argument’s sake, it was also ‘God’ who died last Thursday, instead of ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ (and let’s face it: judging by the global reaction, it may as well have been)… and if His successor happened to be a Matriarchal Deity, instead of the Patriarchal one we’ve all been used to, for around 4,000 years…

… all the verbs would still be conjugated in exactly the same way. The new ‘Goddess’ would still be implored to ‘SAVE’ King Charles III’; to ‘DEFEND his realm’; and to ‘SCATTER his enemies, and MAKE them fall: CONFOUND their politics, FRUSTRATE their knavish tricks”, etc., etc. (See? I told you there were parts of the original anthem, that – for some obscure reason - are no longer sung today…)

This leaves us with only two instances, in the entire song, where a little ‘gender-reassignment surgery’ does need to be applied. One: the constant references to ‘Queen’ (which now have to be changed to ‘King’)… and two, all the pronouns related to that noun (basically: ‘he/she’, ‘his/hers’ and ‘him/her’.)

And… well, that’s it.  THAT, in a nutshell, is how much this sudden (though hardly unexpected) ‘reversal of biological gender’ is likely to affect something as ‘anthemic’, as ‘God Save The Quee… ING!’

But that, I fear, only makes the slip-up so much more… unavoidable. For one thing, because of that ‘Fawlty Towers’ episode I mentioned, above. The fact that there’s now only ‘one small thing’, that you are suddenly expected to avoid mentioning – ‘The War’, in Basil Fawlty’s case; ‘The Biological Gender of Britain’s Reigning Monarch’, in the case of everyone else – only makes matters a lot harder.

But for another… because it’s also a linguistic dilemma that more or less ‘resolves itself’. In fact, that first live rendition of the ‘new’ British National Anthem – on November 21, in Qatar – is likely to resolve it for us, all on its own.

For let’s face it: how many times are you going to repeat the line: ‘God Save The Queee… ING!’ -  before it eventually morphs into the new, ‘gender-neutral noun’ that it was all along destined to be?

‘Quing!’ That’s what it will almost certainly become, by the final stanza of that performance. And in time, I reckon the British people will discover that this compromise has more ‘benefits’, than merely sparing some 70,000 England supporters a little international embarrassment...

It would also pre-emptively avoid any future slip-ups, of the kind that could easily have happened (but didn’t, to be fair) last Tuesday. How was that official announcement again? The one that has likewise been repeated, for time out of memory, ever since ‘Kings and Queens of England’ first came into being, all those centuries ago?

‘The [King/Queen] is dead! Long Live the [King/Queen]!’

Now: that sort of thing is just BEGGING for trouble, you know. What if the announcer suffers a momentary lapsus, and gets his (or her) ‘kings and queens’ all muddled up? I shudder to even imagine the consequences…

Ah, but with our newly-coined, gender-neutral noun in place… Hey presto! All those linguistic dilemmas are just… GONE. ‘The Quing is dead!  Long live the Quing!’ Honestly: not even Steve Harvey could possibly screw THAT one up…

There is, however, a small flipside to all this. Apart from instantly resolving a linguistic gender-problem that (let’s face it) is only really ‘resolvable’ in English, anyway; the resulting compromise would sound a little… well… SILLY, really.

But what the heck! That’s a small price to pay, for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you will never, EVER unwittingly offend a reigning British monarch – or even a dead one, for that matter - again!

So we may as well all start getting used to it, folks. All together now:

“God Save Our Graaa-coius QUING…!”