Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Choose Your Words Carefully 8


Class is a thing of the past, people keep telling me.


I have been told that I was too Northern in a show – a Northern drama, actually – and I was told that I needed to tone down my accent because a character with a well-paid job wouldn’t want to marry me. (Mandip Gill)

David Hockney said that when he arrived at the RA in 1959 from Bradford his fellow students mocked his northern accent. “They’d come up and say, ‘Trouble at mill, Mr Ormonroyd?’”
 (Times Feb 2019)

A couple of minutes into the interview, the man interviewing me said he was stopping the interview. He told me that I was applying for a job teaching English but I wasn’t speaking it properly myself! (A man from Rossendale applies to do a PGCE teaching qualification. Reclaim.org.uk)

I've met lots of people who've had elocution lessons, especially northerners. They are often perceived as 'posh' by others. (Dr Sandra Jansen of the University of Leipzig)

How ‘well’ we speak can have great social currency... Studies have even shown that speakers of prestige language forms are judged more handsome and physically attractive. (Language Myths, Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill)

There are different varieties of a language associated with different regions and different social sets. The way you talk will show what group you belong to, and people will decide on that basis how to treat you. (BBC Online)

A BBC manager once told presenter Steph McGovern she was too common to read the news.

Sir, Years ago I took a screen test before appearing on BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow, on which I subsequently appeared as a ceramics specialist for nine years. I spoke to camera about an object, and when I had finished the director, aghast, said: “My God, you sound upper-class.” Things do not appear to have changed (“BBC is ordered to reveal staff’s social class”, Sep 15), and it is high time the BBC realised that discrimination does not only happen de haut en bas, and that all discrimination based on factors that a person cannot change is pernicious. (Sally Kevill-Davies, letter to the Times, September 2017)

Not the Whole Story is a delightful memoir. I was going to describe it as “gorgeous”, but that is one of the modern vulgarisms to which Angela Huth objects. There is a list of these at the back of the book, which made me feel every inch of my own vulgarity. “Munching” and “leafy” are both sniffed at, as are “floral tributes” and “passed away”, but fair enough — as a former deb and hobnobber with royalty, you’d expect Huth to be la-di-da. (The Times)

The Headmaster of Harrow School says his pupils speak mockney well into adulthood in an attempt not to appear posh. (Posh young people have done this for years – listen to Princess Diana.) (Jan 2019)

In Georgette Heyer's detective story Envious Casca (1938), common characters say “I took the liberty of saying” and “I happened to pass the remark”. Another (a pretty blonde), says: As a matter of fact I very nearly went to COLLEGE, and I should have, only that it seemed the most frightful waste of time!” She peppers her speech with “foul” and “ghastly” and “frightful” and “lousy”, to the other characters’ disgust. She even says “Oh, I do think you’re the limit!” And “I think it’s all completely deathly!” She also claims to be “highly strung”. Roydon, a playwright, is referred to by the butler as “a person by the name of Roydon”. The family call him “this Roydon fellow”. A valet is referred to as “this Ford”. And someone says of Roydon: “People not out of the top drawer are always inclined to be touchy.”

In Dodie Smith’s It Ends with Revelations (1967), two young girls are trying to update their speech: ‘We’re trying to oust “sort of”, “I mean” and “you know” from our vocabularies.’ They’re also distressed, when listening to a recording, to find that they “mince” and pronounce “no” as “noe”.


Received Pronunciation (RP) has changed.: here’s Jack de Manio telling us how to speak. Don’t be slovenly or affected! But nobody says “lib-rar-y” any more. He almost says flexibiliteah and
kee-anteen. Clariteah and accuraceah in delivereah. You’ll naytice... He warns against supstance and dretful – these have vanished.

Radio 3 used to be the last holdout of RP. Announcers could never speak off the cuff, they had to read out misinformation from cards (“Beethoven anticipated Wagner”). Women announcers were picked for their deep, even voices (almost as good as a man). Now they all ramble chattily, failing to enunciate and dropping their voices at the end of sentences, and I find it hard to understand what they're saying.

Caro Stow-Crat talks about people going “puce” with rage or embarrassment, rather than red. Puce was originally a pale red, like rosé wine, but these days it is used to mean – well, the colour people go when angry. Gammon.

January 2019 Eileen Weybridge and Jen Teale are talking about “Project Fair”. To Caro it’s “Project Feeyah!”. Samantha Upward compromises on “Fyair”.

Jen and Eileen say pryvacy and proh-ject; Sam and Caro say privvacy and projject with a short I and O. Teales and Weybridges usually shorten vowels, e.g. oggle for ogle, but sometimes lengthen when they should shorten. Samantha has a crisis of conscience every time she has to say the word “extol” in church.

A posh way of showing contempt is to put the word “now” in an odd place: It has to now be called… The question now is... We then go on to… (Passage to India, E.M. Forster) I now thrash him within an inch of his life. (Howard’s End, E.M. Forster)

Teales and Weybridges take an “Aspro” for a headache (unless they’re the kind who “don’t take tablets”). Stow Crats and Upwards take an “aspirin” because the word is generic and they can’t mention brand names because it means someone is trying to make money and that’s “trade” (Caro) or “capitalism” (Samantha).

The Stow-Crats have attics – the rest of us just have “lofts”. Mr Definitely makes a killing doing “loff conversions”. For Weybridges, the spare room is the “guest room”, where you find special “guest soaps” and “guest towels”. Caro shudders when Jen calls a roast potato a "roastie" and pronounces the t in often – but admits she's an awfully good sort.

Superpose for superimpose is very Weybridge. Elderly Weybridges used to pronounce profile as “profeel”. In Shakespeare’s Quatercentenary (1964), most people pronounced it “courter senteenary”. A few middle-aged Howards pronounced it “kwatter centennary”. It was quite annoying.

Hello Dahlings! Just been to @royalacademy Summer Exhibition dontcha know.” Someone on Twitter is trying to sound posh. For the record, posh people do not call each other “darling” the entire time. However, “darling” is the only endearment they can use. They only use “dear” when delivering searing put-downs. And they would never call anybody “dearie” or “love”. “Doncher know” is extremely old-fashioned upper-class speech from the Edwardian era.

For a long time, my mother wouldn’t talk about people “watching television”, they were always “looking at television”. She also called programmes "films". But then she discovered The Antiques Roadshow. Now elderly Upwards talk disparagingly of "Instachat" and "Facegram".

If Upwards turn up at a friend’s for lunch and the family has clearly just had a screaming row which is still simmering, the visitors later report that “there was an atmosphere”. This atmosphere of things unsaid and seething resentment may persist in a house for years, while everybody goes through the motions and pretends not to notice anything. But that's privilege for you.

More here, and links to the rest.


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