Regular readers of this column will immediately acknowledge the gravity and significance of the topics hitherto covered in previous editions. This quarter, however, the subject matter will undoubtedly be universally accepted as the most important question of all in Licensing.

How do you say “premises”?

Of course, merely uttering the word itself presents no difficulties whatsoever, but when it is required to be juxtaposed with other words, describing location, longevity, performance, or really any other epithet of the English language,  it all begins to fall apart.

Just say, quietly to yourself: “The premises is”.  Go on.  Do it. Several times if you must.  Roll that unpronounceable combination right around your mouth and spit it out. Now – make a solemn promise to yourself that you will never do that again.   While you are at it, have a go at: “The premise is”, and finally, for good measure, so nothing is left out: “The premise are”.  There. Nothing that sounds that bad can possibly be right, can it?  Like Nintendo Wii, or the Kia Cee’d –  it doesn’t matter how many times you say it,  it just isn’t happening.

“Premises” is a word ( no, hold on – you see,  I am allowed to do it there because the  word “is” goes with the word “word” – oh;  never mind……….)

“Premises” comes from Latin. It is possibly the most unwieldy, most user-unfriendly way imaginable of describing the heart of the subject matter of the Licensing Act 2003. For a piece of legislation that conscientiously updated the slightly old-fashioned word “liquor” to the more snappy modern moniker of “alcohol”, it could, frankly, have tried a lot harder than describing the relevant licensing locus in quo using a Latin phrase that was arguably never fit for purpose in the first place.  I would have called it: “The Place Where Things Happen”,  but let’s not go over my legislative drafting skills again.

I am not a Latin expert.  I didn’t study it at school, although it was one of my options. My Comprehensive school still, remarkably, had Latin on the syllabus in the year before I joined, (and the jokes about my age, and whether my teachers were Romans, and so forth will be studiously ignored).  I am not clear whether the new intake for Latin that year was critically low or whether the Latin teacher saw me coming and promptly retired, but either way, it was scrapped, and I had to content myself with French and German.

However, everyone who encounters the law in any capacity occasionally has to grapple with the Latin lexicon. Not everyone appreciates it. Not everyone expects or is expected to reach grammatical excellence, in any language, in the everyday course of their duties. I place myself under the strictest and most unrealistic of standards in this regard, and can be reduced to nail-biting paroxysms over split infinitives and possessive apostrophes. One particular cause of anguish at the moment is the current fashionable misuse in modern pop songs of “You & I”. Perhaps beguiled by the Englishness of the first person singular subjective case, and the Queenly ring of:“my husband and I”, American pop stars in particular use it as a default, even when the first person case is clearly and obviously objective.

Stand up, Lady Gaga. In your song, boldly titled in the offending words, you warble:
“My cool Nebraska guy
Yeah, there’s something about
Baby, you and I”.

Me, Lady Gaga. It’s “you and me”.  I know it doesn’t rhyme. Get another rhyme.

Arctic Monkeys: Guilty as charged. (Can I strongly recommend that you don’t make it the title of the song if you don’t want to draw attention to what you have done?)

The Perishers – “Nothing like you and I”?  No – and nor should there be, Perishers, because it is “you and me”, isn’t it?

Dua Lipa – the jury is out on “Bad Together”, because I don’t really know what you are going on about. But I am going with “Let me be bad”, not “Let I be bad”.

Oh, stop. Not enough time. Doesn’t really matter.
However, “premises” does.  Do. The problem is that this is the place where grammar and logic collide. “But there is only one of them!” everyone cries, when I harshly and pedantically correct them: “How can it be plural?”   Not “it” – “they”.  They ( the premises) have to be plural; they are always plural, even when there is only the one. This is because of the perfect passive participle of praemittō, from which was derived Medieval Latin “premissa” and from that the Old French “premisse”, and then the Middle English variations “præmise”, “præmiss”, or “premiss”.  This did not originally denote a building, as such, at all –  nor even a place. It was a legislative short-cut. A thing previously stated. A “ditto”.  In a legal document, such as a deed, the name of the land or locus would be set out in minute detail at the outset. To save writing it out in full again, every time it was referred to, the draftsman would just put “premissa propositio” (the proposition set before – the thing I told you about a minute ago) –  or “premises”.

And that is all there is to it. So, it is easy to see why virtually anything else would have been more useful than “premises”, in the Licensing Act 2003,  to describe a premises licence, but it is what we are stuck with, so we should learn to love it.  And it saves a lot of anguish in the long run, (even if only for me). There is nothing to remember; there is nothing to work out. Is it large; is it small; is it one building or two? Is it plural or singular? These are not relevant questions: there is only one rule.  They are “premises”; always; every time; without fail and in all circumstances. It sounds right.  It is right.  If in any doubt, just use the Richard Thompson test:

“If It Feels Good, You Know It Can’t Be Wrong”:

–  “Oh, here we are, just you and me”.

(Or should that be “you and I”, Richard?)