Spot the errors

President Obama delivered an excellent speech yesterday.  He also opened with a very good joke:

“My Lord Chancellor, Mr Speaker, Mr Prime Minister, my Lords, and Members of the House of Commons:

I have known few greater honours than the opportunity to address the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster Hall. I am told the last three speakers here have been the Pope, Her Majesty the Queen, and Nelson Mandela, which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke.”

However, his speechwriter managed to include two errors in these opening remarks.  Can you spot what they were?

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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14 Responses to Spot the errors

  1. Jonathan says:

    Apart from the fact that it isn’t a very funny joke, is one error that it should begin, “My Lord Speaker” instead of Lord Chancellor? And is the list of the last three speakers correct? When did the Queen speak in Westminster Hall? Do other people (non-heads of state) ever speak in Westminster Hall (I don’t mean on state occasions or anything)?

  2. Michael says:

    Two possible errors here:

    1. I think the President should have been addressing the Lord Speaker rather than the Lord Chancellor in his opening remarks.

    2. As you have previously acknowledged on this blog, the description “Mother of Parliaments” was first used to refer to England and not to Parliament itself.

  3. Len says:

    Pretty sure Mr Prime Minister is an Americanisation – we’d just say Prime Minister.

    I agree with Jonathan that he also should have referred to the Lord Speaker not the Lord Chancellor too – though our Lord Chancellor probably didn’t notice, so that’s alright.

    • Len says:

      Oh, and the mother of parliaments as originally used refers to the country rather than the British Parliament itself, but arguably it still makes sense in spite of that fact.

  4. Frank W. Summers III says:

    I am sure you have a very British sense of objectively definable errors here. However, subjective and diplomatic interpetation could greatly increase the total number. Then, there is the sense of things. He may be Head of State but his tone is distinct and in that tone the last speaker was the last to speak from the podium, the Speaker of the House of Commons and he should have used any of an infinity of terms to say precisely what he meant. You would disagree about the proprieties, but in the days when America was more functional he would have cleared the introductory greeting as “Lord Chancellor, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Prime Minister, Noble Lords in Parliament and Members of Parliament seated in the House of Commons” had something along those lines been declined he would have refrained from accepting the invitation. The personal possessive is simply unAmerican in this case. What makes our era so lovely for cultural conservatives here is that while these two letters before the honorific insult us so much here our leaders still leave your Queen at an airport or talk during the playing of “God Save the Queen” and thus we are both insulted and humiliated at the same time.

    I know YL knows that I feel much of the world’s tone is rather rum and I could say unkind things about every establishment including your own British one and those shadowy structures for whom I have been most responsible. I am sure this is not what you meant. I believe in response to my fellow commenter that President Obama would have been referring to the Pope’s speech last year, the Queen’s address in 2002 and Nelson Mandela’s speech in 1996. These were the last speeches given by a principal to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall according to the sources he had. President Clinton was heard by both Houses in the Royal Gallery in 1995 where apparently he failed to be introduced to Your Lordship. Obama was listing that class of speakers to which he believed he belonged in this case.

    I do not mean to question your list of errors simply to provide my usual, thus far tolerated, comparative view. It certainly was a gesture and joins the Nobel Prize in the list of scarcely explainable distinctions achieved by this unique President of our Union.

  5. Frank W. Summers III says:

    I am aware of the hypocrisy in my satements and assume that calling everyone Lord and my lord in Iberophone and Francophone republics must be taken by many as being without objection by me. Actually in a formal situation I preferred more tortured and exotic usage and have made a number of stands in that regard at times within limits. It really is at the level of just such occasions as this that lines must be most clearly drawn. The sleeping of certain persons and the failure to greet the Lord Speaker are indeed issues beyond my earlier response. I am pleased to point out that the word bar had a double play in the sentence and made the list more of ajoke than it would otherwise have been. However, it is an odd way to make such areference nonetheless…

  6. ladytizzy says:

    I agree with those above on Lord Speaker but the P in MP doesn’t stand for House of Commons.

  7. Chris K says:

    Hmm. As the others have been pointed out, I’ll offer:

    No “My” before “Lord Chancellor [Speaker]”?

    And is the order right? L. Speaker, Speaker, Prime Minister, Lords, Commons? How is it decided; according to the Order of Precedence?

  8. tory boy says:

    Yes i noticed it straight away and told my family who said “well i would not have known”. Baroness Hayman, is the Lords Speaker and has been since 2006 his advisers should know!

  9. Rich says:

    The opening should have been, “Mr Speaker, (my) Lord Speaker, Prime Minister, my Lords, and Members of Parliament”. I’m not sure whether the “Mr” before Prime Minister is the second error, but if it isn’t, it may be that the set phrase is “Mother of All Parliaments”, not “Mother of Parliaments”. Obama was correct about the last three to have addressed Lords and MPs in Westminster Hall.

  10. Lord Norton says:

    Well done to Michael who got in first with the correct answers. Opening with ‘Lord Chancellor’ would have been correct up to 2006 but since that time the Lord Chancellor has not been Speaker of the House of Lords. The President was accompanied by the Lord Speaker. The Lord Chancellor was sat with other members of the Cabinet and was probably a little surprised to be the first person to be addressed by the President.

    John Bright said that England was the mother of Parliaments. I was conscious of the point that Len makes, that it could be argued that as the President was speaking in England his use of the term was not strictly incorrect, but in the context of his remarks I think it was clear he was referring to Parliament.

    The President was correct about recent speakers in Westminster Hall and in any event he was merely repeating what he had been told. The Queen certainly did address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall – I have a print of the occasion. Others have addressed both Houses but not in Westminster Hall. The Royal Gallery has been used for such occasions.

  11. Terry Zhou says:

    It’s hard for a Chinese guy to understand this joke exactly,but BBC said “the opening gambit of his speech was a joke…”and I can’t find the right translation for this joke, I try to translate it as a better one,but,you know it’s also hard for me to do that,so can you ask somebody to modify it for me?or anyone else?

    • Frank W. Summers III says:

      Zhou Terry,

      Sir, I have lived and taught in China and so I will attempt to answer you question. First one must think in terms of formalism. For example in China crosstalk is a genre with its own formalism and once one knows the formalism one expects and understands the shades of humour. On the other hand Peking Opera has different formalisms and the two thing are not funny if confused in a haphazard way. Both my knowledge and software for written Putonghua are to poor to respond in that way. So I will leave that for a DjungGuo Ren friend to complete.

      In America one of the most common forms of Jokes on the national scale is a “bar joke” in which two, three or four very distinct characters walk into a bar. Yhe humour consists in contrasting them in some surprising way. Often this will be ethnic such as “A Chinese, a Jew and a Cajun walk into a bar” or it could be religious offials or public officials. By using the word bar in a different sense (indicating the height of an thletic jumping competition) he reminded his hearers of the other kind of bar and then we were confronted with a very varied group of four famous people walking into Westminster Hall like the people walking into a bar in a bar joke.

      I do not insist that it is funny. However, it is more likely to be funny with the formalisms than without them. Perhaps I would rather enjoy some beer or tea with you in fromt of a traditional regional opera but alas we are strangers…

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Excuse my many typographical errors. I can explain them if needed..

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