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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.

Betty Boothroyd consults the Oxford English Dictionary on the plural of 'referendum'
With murmurs of "it's the gerundive" from the Tory benches, Mr Clark (Kensington and Chelsea), encouraged the Speaker to "strike a blow for classical revivalism."

But Betty Boothroyd was not going to be drawn. It was, she said, "All a matter of taste".

[ image: The Speaker took the point of order with some humour]
The Speaker took the point of order with some humour
Mr Clark asked for the ruling during a debate on referendums. He said he was prompted to do so after remembering that in the past he had been called to order for "using the language of the common market."

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."

[ image: Alan Clark favours the gerundive - to the amusement of his colleagues]
Alan Clark favours the gerundive - to the amusement of his colleagues
The Speaker's answer came swiftly. Although it was hardly a point of order, and more a matter of taste, she said:

"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.

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