Wednesday, June 3, 1998 Published at 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
UK Politics: News
Referendums or referenda?
Speaker Boothroyd prefers the use of English
Latin or English? Singular or plural? The gerundive ... or not?
Speaker Betty Boothroyd was plunged on Wednesday morning into this thorny grammatical debate: is the plural of referendum "referendums" or "referenda"?
Tory MP and author Alan Clark pressed her to give a ruling, or at least a preference, on which MPs should use.
But Betty Boothroyd was not going to be drawn. It was, she said, "All a matter of taste".
His point was that he had "heard on many occasions colleagues refer to referendums - which is an exceedingly ugly term."
He wanted to know whether Madame Speaker would "prefer us to continue to use the Latin word, or whether you have no objection to the continued anglicisation of this term."
"I do notice on the Public Bill List that the word referendums for Scotland and Wales is used there. The word referendum was first used in English 150 years ago, according to the Oxford English dictionary which I've just been able to refer to.
"So I imagine after 150 years the House will be quite used to it now. I think the plural is a matter of taste but I've always preferred the use of the English language to any Latin form if that is of some guidance."
And there - for the time being - the House let the matter rest.