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Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen

Dicembre 2012
Lord, duchi, duchesse, baroni e baronetti... ma chi sono costoro? Tanto per cominciare, i Beatles non sono baronetti e solo i cittadini britannici possono diventare “Sir”, agli altri spettano qualifiche diverse. Un viaggio nell’intricato mondo dei titoli onorifici inglesi! Ma ascoltate anche la registrazione, poiché la pronuncia di alcuni titoli è alquanto insolita.

di Spencer Godfrey Balchin

File audio:

The Royal Family
The Royal Family
The Beatles
The Beatles

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

This month we try to explain aristocratic titles in Great Britain, a country which, as you know, is a monarchy. The British Parliament has two chambers: the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The lords are also called peers. This  word  comes from the Latin  pares and it means “equals.” The collective group of lords is called “the peerage.”
The peerage is divided into five categories. They are: Duke and Duchess, Marquess and Marchioness, Earl and Countess, Viscount and Viscountess, and Baron and Baroness. These titles are all hereditary.


There is a sixth hereditary title: Baronet. King James I created this title in May, 1611 because he needed money for his military campaigns in Ireland. Rich men became baronets in exchange for £1,000. A Baronet is not a member of the House of Lords.


Officially, there have been no new hereditary titles since 1964 when the Labour Party won the general election. There have, however, been exceptions: former Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan became an earl in 1984, Mrs. Thatcher became a Baroness in 1990, and her husband, Denis Thatcher, became a Baronet. Prince William became the Duke of Cambridge on the morning of his marriage to Catherine “Kate” Middleton on April 29th, 2011.


A “Knighthood” is non-hereditary and it carries the title “Sir.” Only citizens of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth can receive this honour. Famous examples include Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, James Bond star Sir Sean Connery, Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and Rolling Stone Sir Michael “Mick” Jagger.


And then there are the Orders of the British Empire. These include C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) and M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire). These honours are given to people for their contributions to Britain or Commonwealth countries. Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini has an O.B.E., and Italian footballer Gianfranco Zola, who played for Chelsea, has an M.B.E.  


On October 16th, 1965 all four Beatles received an M.B.E. from the Queen. According to an urban legend, before the ceremony they smoked a joint in the men’s room at Buckingham Palace! It is definitely true that John Lennon gave his M.B.E. back in 1969. He wrote: “Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon.”

Rolling Stone Mick Jagger became “Sir Michael Jagger” in 2003. He received his knighthood from Prince Charles. The Queen refused to take part because she considered him “an inappropriate candidate for the title.” People believe Jagger had a relationship with her late sister, Princess Margaret.

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Peerage, knighthood. Questi titoli aiutano a capire che ci sono vari metodi per trasformare/creare i sostantivi in inglese. Qui ad esempio peer (pare) diventa peerage (paria) e knight (cavaliere) diventa knighthood (cavalierato). Un altro esempio curioso è scholar (studioso), che diventa scholarship. Questa parola significa studio e si usa anche per indicare una borsa di studio.

Commonwealth. Si dice Commonwealth per indicare il gruppo di nazioni che una volta facevano parte dell’impero britannico. Commonwealth letteralmente vuol dire “benessere comune”, ma in passato ha avuto significati molto diversi. Nel Seicento, quando l’Inghilterra ha vissuto per pochi anni senza la monarchia, Oliver Cromwell ha dato il nome Commonwealth al suo sistema di governo repubblicano.