Wednesday 8 July 2015

How to Be Ever So Genteel

How does lower middle-class Jen Teale talk? She likes to find a nice name for everything and doesn't mind borrowing terminology from adverts, promotional literature or even (shudder) the Americans. The middle class equivalents are in brackets.

a selection of… (too unspecific, avoids listing eg cheeses with foreign names in case they make you feel uneducated)
amenities (word used by PR people trying to sell you a holiday in Teignmouth)

backside (euphemistic)
beaker (toothmug)
bedspread (for a bedcover, quilt or throw)
beverages, a selection of hot, “dispensed” from a machine
bin (wastepaper basket)
botty (bottom)
briefs (pants - except everyone says pants now)
buggy (for baby buggy – American)

cardy (obsolete)
carrier (carrier bag or bag)
carton (word invented by manufacturer, too French in the wrong way, like serviette and crayon)
centres as in chocolates with mint centres (filling)
classical music (music)
close (stuffy)
collection (of Lladro figures or commemorative thimbles)
colourful (too generalised)
comfortable (I don’t feel comfortable with that)
condiment (pepper and salt, mustard, oil and vinegar)
cookbook (cookery book - cookbook is American)

cooked breakfast (breakfast - It’s assumed you have a buffet of grilled kidneys, kedgeree, porridge etc laid out in the breakfast room of your stately home.)

couch (Upwards rest on a sofa or chaise longue (not lounge), Weybridges sit on a settee, Nouveau-Richards recline on a divan)

counterpane (see bedspread)
creepy crawly (insect)
crispy (crisp)
cuddly toy (baby talk)

dentures (false teeth)
dessert (pudding)
diced vegetables (Upwards don’t dice things, they chop them up - but not into neat square cubes)
diddy (small)
dinette (obsolete, sadly)
dips (too nonspecific)
dishwasher (washing-up machine - “dishes” is American)
divan (see couch)

ellie (elephant)
ever so

fitted units
for the minute (for the moment)
fully licensed, fully lined

gift (present)
goodness (ad speak and too vague)
grand opera (opera)
hottie (hotwater bottle)

housecoat (no one wears them any more – they have central heating. Unless they’re trying to save money/the planet and cuddle up in a slanket.)

jumper (jersey)

kitchen units (everybody says units now, and has them in their kitchen, though it’s still naff to have wall units)

kitchen/diner (diner is American)
knickers (pants)
knits, knitwear (term invented by people trying to sell you the stuff)

leisure activities (name them)
lemon (yellow)
lightweight (raincoat)
lilac (purple)
lounge: sitting room (lounges have morphed into “open-plan living areas”)

matching set
mauve (purple)
meal (specify lunch, dinner)
mules (slippers)

navy (navy blue)
newest silhouette
notepaper (recalls sets of notelets with pallid flowers on them)
nuptials: wedding

odour: smell
of your choice

op (somehow goes with those other medical terms, “slip” off your clothes and “pop” on the couch.)

open-face sandwiches (smorgasbord)

packet of (some)

pantyhose (tights - obsolete, but there was an awful fuss about what to call them when they took over from stockings, even though ballet tights had been around for years and were called “tights”)

park home (caravan)
pastry (for bun, turnover, slice etc.)
pendant (Sam might excruciatingly call it a dingle dangle or be specific and call it a jade butterfly.)
pillow slip (pillow case)
plate (false teeth - far less common now, thank goodness)
plump (overweight)

polo (polo neck/polo-necked jersey)
poorly (ill)
pop on (put on, get on)
portion (helping)

pullover (Sam says jersey for anything woolly which doesn’t undo down the front. She doesn’t call anything a pullover, jumper, popover, sweater or slipover.)

pully (woolly pully)

reclining chair
refreshments (food)

relatives (for relations as in people you are related to. It’s genteel to call sexual relations “relations”, but then you can’t use the same word for your sister’s cousins nieces.)

Santa Claus, Santa (Father Christmas - Santa Claus is American)
scatter cushions (cushions - what you do with them is your business)
select (choose)
serve with

serviette (are all words ending in “ette” pretentious? dinette, banquette, leatherette, moist towelette, colognette, pochette. French in the wrong way again.)

serving suggestion
serving (helping)
set (luggage set)
shade (colour)
silky (silk)
similar to (like)
sink (basin, washbasin)

slacks (trousers - but no one wears slacks any more)
slip (v)
slip cover
slip on (put on)
slip (petticoat)
speeding (exceeding the speed limit - speeding is American)
squash (drink)
spring break
steps (ladder)
stitching (sewing)
street light (lamp post, street lamp)
stroller (pushchair)
suite, en (bathroom/loo)
suite, three-piece: sofa and chairs
sweater (jersey)

tablets (pills)
teatowel (drying up cloth)
throw (like gilet, a word made up by advertisers and manufacturers and as such deliberately classless)
toddler (small child, but surely no worse than sproglet?)
toilet roll (loo roll/loo paper/lav paper)
toilet (loo)
top (blouse, shirt, jersey, teeshirt)
topped with
track(y) bottoms (tracksuit bottoms - at least no one says sweat pants any more)
trim, slim (slender)

unsightly (ugly)
upset, emotional (Upwards have no word for this because you’re not allowed to be. Unless it’s “hysterical”.)

valance (Upwards don’t have them because they don't want to hide the legs of their furniture with a frill.)

vanitory unit (washbasin)
vanity bag (makeup bag)
vehicle (car)
vinegarette (vinaigrette)
violet (purple)

wash-hand basin (basin, washbasin. Definitelies call it a sink.)
welly boot (welly/Wellington/Wellington boot)
woolly (jersey, cardigan)
worktop (work surface)
wrapper (printed on the wrapper)


  1. "Buggy" may have been the common term a hundred years ago, but for decades we Americans have been pushing our babies around in "strollers." Enjoying your blogs, Michele.

  2. Thanks! I'll remember to say "stroller" (they have supersize ones in London N16).