In case you’re wondering why today, of all days, is Eliza Doolittle Day, the answer is right there in the script.
The holiday is observed every year on the 20th of May and takes its cue from the song from the scene in the 1956 hit Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” where the Cockney flower girl who has been elevated to the toast of London society fantasizes about meeting the king of England in the song “Just You Wait.”
The song includes the passage
One day I’ll be famous! I’ll be proper and prim;
Go to St. James so often I will call it St. Jim!
One evening the king will say:
‘Oh, Liza, old thing,
I want all of England your praises to sing.
Next week on the twentieth of May
I proclaim ‘Liza Doolittle Day!’
My Fair Lady” is, of course, based on George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece “Pygmalion,” itself said to have been inspired by the true-life story of Eliza Sheffield, a barmaid in London who also rose through society, albeit with marriage, various relationships, and forgeries. The play is considered to be one of the most erudite comedies in the English language
Both the musical and the play underscore the importance of learning how to speak properly (and the ramifications of not being able to do so). Eliza is instructed by the brilliant linguist and professor of phonetics Henry Higgins, who has made a bet with a friend and colleague that he will be able to pass her off as a duchess at a ball. Liza agrees to the challenge because she wants to improve her station in life.
Today, elocution continues to be valued as a symbol of education and upward mobility, although not everyone has gotten the memo.
People who use proper English (or whatever a person’s mother tongue happens to be) continue to stand out as intelligent and educated, but they are far and few between.
So, on this Eliza Doolittle Day, perhaps we should all take a moment to think about how we sound before we speak. After all, we don’t want to be condemned by every syllable we utter.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)