Smallweed 16-04-05

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This fine comment by the columnist 'Smallweed' on some English usage was published in The Guardian on Saturday April 16, 2005 (online at,,1461206,00.html). Its inclusion here is meant to supplement AWE's article -e - -ee, and to share our admiration of the quality of its writing and humour.

"... I boarded a bus where a notice informed me there was room for 16 standees. I would like to have asked the driver this question: what exactly is a standee? But he was too busy discussing the recent decline of Newcastle United with a man in a woolly hat. As it happened, I received a letter the very same day asking what I made of the term "attendee" that appeared to be creeping into the language. "You may very well ask," I muttered as I folded it neatly up and filed it away under "filed". I had always assumed that someone who took a positive action was given a designation that ended in -er, while those on the receiving end were given the suffix -ee. Take the word referee. A referee is one to whom an issue to be resolved is referred; whoever is asking the question would be a referrer. Imagine, for instance, that the Newcastle footballer Lee Bowyer went up to the man in black and inquired with exquisite courtesy: "What the freak do you think you are freaking playing at?" Bowyer would be the referrer, and his victim the referee. Equally, those who signed Bowyer for Newcastle were employers, and Bowyer whom they signed is their employee, though not, perhaps, for much longer.
I have yet to work out the sense in which "standee" could be used correctly, since it seems to mean someone on the receiving end of the act of standing. Attendee is simpler. Imagine a lavish salon. The king reclines on a bed, reading Sporting Life. Gathered around him are courtiers, various other grandees, practised sycophants and other lesser experts in the obsequious. They are the attenders: the king, in my book, is the attendee. Were they to haul him from his bed with shouts of "Call yourself a hardworking family? What the freak do you think you are freaking playing at?", and force him into an upright posture against the wall of the salon, I suppose he might be a standee too. But better not to experiment. "
It is more usual in current English to use attendant than Smallweed’s ‘attender’.
Lee Bowyer, mentioned above, was a professional footballer of high renown at the time. He was notorious for several violent interchanges on and off the pitch, one in 2000 outside a nightclub in Leeds (he was then a player at Leeds United) and one in 2005, when he was with Newcastle United, and was involved in a fight during a match with Aston Villa. Smallweed's "exquisite courtesy" is, of course, ironic.