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Steiny's World: The Queen Mother's English

A letter from the Queen Mother regarding the preferred pronunciation of Cinque.
A letter from the Private Secretary to the Queen Mother regarding the latter’s preferred pronunciation of Cinque.

Most people assume that the golf clubs that bear the “Royal” moniker are fairly somber bastions. But a few rounds and a couple of days at the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club in Deal, England demonstrated that to be anything but the case there. It also showed that, contrary to popular belief, the folks who judiciously bestow such coveted designations have pretty good senses of humor themselves.

Start with the club, which boasts an extremely congenial membership whose passion for golf is matched only by its love of good drink – and the opportunity to share both with friends old and new. I often wondered during my visit whether Deal, as the place is informally called, is a golf club with rather prodigious beveragers or a drinking club that happens to have superb links that long ago hosted a pair of Open Championships. I eventually determined, after several whisky macs, that it really didn’t matter. This 111-year-old retreat on the Kent coast was simply a wonderful place to play and visit.

Another bit of evidence came in the form of two letters I read in the Deal archives. The club captain penned the first to the late Queen Mother nearly 30 years ago, asking her in her capacity as Royal Warden of the Cinque Ports to rule on the correct pronunciation of the word “Cinque.”

Was it Cinque as in the “kitchen sink,” he inquired, or Cinque as in the “boat sank?”

It may have seemed a trivial matter, but the private secretary to the Queen Mum responded in five days:

“Whilst not wishing to assume any authority in the matter of pronunciation,” he wrote, “Queen Elizabeth has a personal preference for ‘Cinque’ being pronounced ‘sink’ as in the ‘kitchen sink’ rather than using the French pronunciation.

“Obviously, the whole question is a matter of opinion, and the Queen Mother would never wish to be dogmatic about it.”

But she didn’t mind zinging her nation’s neighbor across the English Channel when she offered her response. And she did so with more than a little panache and what I can only imagine was a wry grin.

You’ve got to love those royals. The Queens, and the clubs, too.


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