Dot Wordsworth

Trooping the Colour

Just why is the ‘of’ forbidden?

Text settings

Language is a weapon to do down others. ‘He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!’ said Estella disdainfully of Pip in Great Expectations, while noting how coarse his hands were. Words like the and of are also useful shibboleths to show someone doesn’t belong to our club.

‘No denim’ says the advice for entry to today’s Queen’s Birthday Parade, on pain of entry being refused. It is the occasion of Trooping the Colour. Of course my husband, especially, and I too call it, Trooping the Colour, never interpolating the fatal of. The ceremony is said to go back to Marlborough, but one of the earliest references cited by the Oxford English Dictionary, from 1816, calls it the trooping of the colours.

The colours are also associated with what the OED calls Mounting of the Guard and with the popular ceremonial known as the Changing of the Guard. The colour is trooped just as the guard is mounted or changed. It is hard to see why the of is forbidden to the colour. Think of parallels. As Lent approaches Easter, there is the stripping of the altar, from which in 1992 Eamon Duffy took the title for his celebrated book. The old song from 1798 said: ‘They are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green.’ Jerome K. Jerome wrote a short story called The Passing of the Third Floor Back.

A similar shibboleth is the the with Albany, the rooms off Piccadilly. It is supposed not to have one. Yet after having breakfast with Macaulay there, Lord Carlisle put in his journal for 12 February 1849: ‘His rooms at the top of the Albany are very liveable.’ It is also forbidden to call Guildhall in the City the Guildhall. Yet the OED itself, in defining Lord Mayor’s Banquet says: ‘a banquet held at the Guildhall on the Monday after the Lord Mayor’s Show’. Members of Middlesex Cricket Club call it MCC, not the MCC. But Richard Cashman, the cricketing historian, writes of the bodyline controversy: ‘The MCC rejected the Australian cable that the tactics were ‘unsportsmanlike’.

I suppose I shall continue saying Trooping the Colour and not the Trooping of the Colour, but I sympathise with Pip and his Jacks.