Thursday, 3 March 2011

Choose Your Words Carefully 1


Does your vocabulary give away your class background?

When posh people can’t think of a word, or want to refer to something that’s beneath their notice, they call it a doofer or doobry. Middle-class Eileen Weybridge calls it a thingie, pronouncing the G. Upper-class Harry Stow-Crat refers to “the doings.”

Upper-middle Samantha Upward says “damn” or “bugger”. Her mother said “Oh, dash!” Caroline Stow-Cratsays “sugar!”

Stow-Crat and Upward couples call each other “darling”, which makes all the other classes sick.

Sam calls the shop Marks and Sparks, Jen Teale and Eileen call it Marks, Caro never goes there.

Sam uses a lot of French phrases because it doesn’t occur to her that people might not understand them (joie de vivre, raison d'etre, de rigueur). The Stow-Crats obsess about their children learning French from the age of two because they’ll need it for skiing. Jen overcorrects foreign words and calls bruschetta “brooshetta”.

The Upwards and Stow-crats call all shades of blue-plus-red “purple” because lilac, violet, burgundy etc sound like colour names on a shade card. They’d say “primrose yellow” not “primrose”. They used to say “hairwash” for “shampoo” and “washing up machine” for “dishwasher” and “drying up cloth” for “teatowel” because shampoo sounds like a brand name, dishwasher sounds American and teatowel is inaccurate (and very Teale). Upwards still throw their rubbish into a “waste paper basket” and not a bin.

Sam tries to avoid neologisms and Americanisms. She would never use the word pants in the singular or call trousers anything but trousers. Her husband Gideon might say undercrackers for a laugh. Jen says knickers - her daughter Christine says undies, underwear or underpants.

Sam avoids Teale words like crispy, curvy, silky, herby, clicky because they sound like baby talk. And either something is made of silk or it isn’t. She thinks that Jen is mostly likely to talk like this, referring to tummies and botties, but there’s a certain kind of Stow Crat who says “We’ll meet soonsies”, and talks of Chrissy pressies and getting wetty in the rain.

More here, and links to the rest.

How to Talk Posh is now an ebook available here.

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