Monday 31 March 2014

Choose Your Words Carefully 2

Let them eat cake

Or you'll give away your background. And that can be dangerous...

“Nothing was more likely to get you beaten up in Durham than rhyming ‘grass’ with ‘arse’. But I found it got worse when I left home. I remember hamming it up even more, when I grew fed up of the constant ‘Really? You don’t SOUND like you come from Durham.’”
(David Perry in a letter to the London Review of Books, Feb 2014)

And some people say that class has disappeared. Or at least, it's more nuanced now. It's based on income and background, not genetics. (Translation: Class is still with us.)

I used to say “mmmmmm” on a downward inflection for “yes”. Poshos understand that it just means agreement. Others take it as a sneer. Or else they choose to take it that way because they think I ought to despise them. (I’ve been bullied for saying "Mmmm". I've been bullied for saying "Absolutely!" I’ve even been bullied for saying “yes”. Yeah, right, OK, then…)

When taking off posh people, sprinkle your sentences with “darling” and “my dear”. Also mince around as if about to say “La, Sir Percy!” Posh people would not recognise themselves. If you really want to pass for posh, call a swimsuit a "cozzy". Delicious food is "ambrosial". Ask querulously: "“Why does Twitter now subject me to people I don't follow just because someone I do has replied to them?” (Twitter is a bit too democratic for their taste. Robert McCrum wails about "the abuse and impoverishment of English online – notably, in blogs and emails", and what he perceives as "the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications".)

When your holiday accommodation is disapointing, say: “We ended up in a pretty grisly cottage.”
“Squalid” used to be an upper-class term of general disapproval. (There's an overlap with “sordid”.) Lucian Freud thought birth control was “squalid”. Squalid was the opposite of gracious living – the milk bottle on the table versus the Georgian silver cream jug. Writer Penelope Fizgerald was given a council flat after her houseboat sank, on what she ungratefully called a “squalid council estate”.

Another upper-class habit is using the brand names of long-vanished products: instead of "glue", Seccotine, Gripfix, Bostick or Copydex. Posh people insist that you don't call a house or flat a "home", or a stamp a "postage stamp". And they have a strange habit of saying “hokkay” for OK.

The next few rungs down, the upper middle-class Upwards, the middle-middle Weybridges, and the lower-middle Teales, have their own ways of distinguishing themselves.

"Design" is Teale, "pattern" Upward. To Upwards, Design is an airy fairy subject you study at art school. "Jersey fabric" is Teale, "knitted material" Upward. Samantha Upward would never call anything a “utensil” and has trouble with kitchen “units”. On a "warm" day, Jean Teale puts on a "swimsuit" and goes for a "dip". Upwards and Weybridges used to talk about “bathing”, hence bathing-suit, bathing-costume or “bathers”.

What Sam calls a “shop-window dummy” Jen calls a "mannequin". Upwards never say the words “fascia” or “bunny-rabbit”. Teales give "gifts", Upwards give "presents". "Glue" is Upward, "gum" Teale. Jen can refer to “gummed paper” and a “gummed flap” without flinching.

I sometimes make Upwards shudder by using the term "breeze block". (I don't know the posh equivalent. Wikipedia says they can be called "concrete masonry units, concrete bricks, concrete blocks, cement blocks, besser blocks, breeze blocks and cinder blocks". Or do "we" not notice downmarket architecture created from these brick substitutes?)

Upwards don’t “greet” their friends. That’s what floor-walkers do – those men and girls in polyester suits posted around large shops to show you where to find what you want. Sometimes greeters with name badges and clipboards welcome you when you arrive at an official function. Upward girls could never do such a job, but they can work as door girls for their friends' fringe theatre shows.

What do you call a painting on three panels – a triptych? Upwards are more likely to say triptick because they know it’s Greek. Overcorrecting Teales say tripteesh if they say it at all. Upwards call the fungus on boulders "litchen". "Liken" is a bit downmarket. But Weybridges and Teales probably think litchen is downmarket. "Liken" is gaining ground, and some people even pronounce lichen as if it was German.

The pompous Weybridges love to say “above all”,  “It doesn’t much matter”, or "No matter!". They're also fond of:

gives great pleasure
prior to

They pronounce the T in often.

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