Tuesday 30 May 2023

Choose Your Words Carefully 12: Usage

Nobody ever said “Okay yah”. This parody of posh kids arose in the 80s – originating with impressionist Tracey Ullman. Why would you say “Okay yah”? Both "OK" and "yah" mean "yes" – nothing to do with "yah boo" (see picture of Harry Enfield as Time Nice-but-Dim). When I left school in the 60s I noticed that nobody on the outside said “yah” for “yes”, so I adopted “yes” instead.

Before smartphones and the internet, office workers used to hold long private conversations. I know many monologuers, and I used to sit there saying “Yes... yes... yes...”. When I put the phone down, my colleagues would laugh at me.

I had a flatmate who was furious that I said “absolutely” or “precisely” as an alternative. I explained that I wouldn’t say “exactly” unless what someone said was an exact fit with the truth. He became even more infuriated. Sometimes I would say “Mmmm” for “yes” and he complained that I sounded as if I was sneering, like Jeremy Paxman. What should I have been saying instead? How about “riiiiight” or “yeah” or even “yeah, right”? Or "definitely", like the Cs and Ds? I should have tried it.

Fast” is grander than “quick”. Upwards talk about fast cars, not quick cars, though they say “That was quick!” or “Be as quick as you can”.

Upwards and Stow Crats used to address the lower orders as “my good man”. A man could call an equal “my good man” or “my dear man” during a debate, but it was very patronising. “My good woman” was likewise someone lower down the scale being thick or obstructive. Children could be addressed as “old dear” if they were too precocious or uppity. (Ooh, that stung!) 

Caro Stow Crat opines: We never called them “chicks”, they were nestlings or baby birds. From nestlings they became fledglings. “Chick” is baby talk. And we didn’t call them “chickens” – they were hens. They only became chickens post mortem. And I wish that people wouldn’t refer to their cats and dogs as their “babies”. But I can’t stand ‘doggies’ either. Or doggos or puppers. Or still worse, pooches.

What do you call comfortable, rubber-soled canvas lace-ups? From the top down: 

Plimsolls or daps
deck shoes
plimsoles or plimpsoles

And the room you move to after dinner?

drawing room
living room
sitting room, lounge
front room

As Samantha Upward says, “Only airports have lounges”.

Caro asks: We used to make clothes out of “material”, now I have to remember to say “fabric”. Why don’t we call it “clorth”?

What do you call that thing you can't think of the name for?

doobry or doobery
doofer, thingummybob

When swimming, you wear a:

cozzy, bathers

The upper layers despise "dip" for "swim" – baby talk again – but a swimsuit is a cozzy and on your birthday you get some nice prezzies. (They even talk about getting "wetty" in the rain, and a restaurant being "a touch spendy".)

Crayon” is Teale – Upwards talk about “coloured pencils”. “Crayon” used to be printed on the packet – no wonder Upwards couldn’t say it. Still less could they talk about "crayoning". "Colouring in", please. See also “washing-up machine” for “dishwasher” and “kitchen-dining room” for “kitchen-diner” because "diner" is American

According to Sathnam Sangera in the Times Dec 2020, the official name for the bin where you store your food waste for recycling is “compost caddy”. His friends suggested “peely bin”, “stinky bin” and “the Farage” – typical Upward whimsicality and failed attempts at humour. He knows one Stow-Crat who calls it a “slop bucket”, its genuine wartime name. Back then it contained potato peelings to be fed to your pig, though a slop bucket originally removed the contents of your chamber pot, along with your dirty washing water. During WWII and after, the same lidded enamel buckets were used.  

Upwards don’t use “poor” for “deficient”, unless something is “pretty poor!”, or “a poor show”. They’d avoid a euphemism and say “bad”, “unsatisfactory” or “inadequate”. The thesaurus suggests “disappointing” (litotes, and hence acceptable to the upper layers), “substandard” (Weybridge), and “unacceptable” (rather Teale). 

Upwards don’t use synecdoche, or is it metonymy: they say “carrier bag” rather than “carrier”, and avoid the naff “tote” or “clutch”. Fashion writers are fond of this figure of speech (a “trench” is something you wear, not a battle line). And the "fibre" promised for your neighbourhood is not All Bran.

“Ta muchly!” for thankyou goes with “May blessings be conferred upon you!” when someone sneezes. "Prior to", "similarly", "initially" and "overly" are also very Middle Middle. It’s very Teale to say “warm” for “hot”, as in weather. (“Very warm today, isn’t it?”) To Upwards, a warm day is pleasant, a hot day is a bit much. (Teales also used to say “I’m a chilly mortal”. Stow Crats stick to hot and cold though they may admit to being "boiling" or “frozen”.)

October 2020: People are moaning that others have suddenly started saying “floor” for “ground” and it makes them want to scream. (They’ve been doing it for the whole of my life, and saying "Pick it up of off the floor!"

Patrick Hamilton in Slaves of Solitude says that a “common woman” is likely to say: ‘Sorry, I’m sure’, or ‘Sorry, but there you are’, or ‘Sorry, but what do you expect nowadays?’ It became “Well, there you go”, or “Well, this is it.” Grander ladies used to say "Life's like that" in a funny voice (Lafe’s lake thet), but I've never found out why.

"It's an aeroplane, not a plane – that's a thing for working wood!” says ex-RAF pilot. Some flinch at "grand-kids”, explaining that  “They’re not baby goats!” And the great John Peel used to say that a ''workshop" is a venue for carpentry.

Caro’s mother is probably the last woman in England who calls an ATM “the hole in the wall”.  

A friend says that at home in Devon the worst language allowed was “Bunny Rabbits!” Once grown up, she said “Damn!” one day and her mother slapped her. (Programmes get given a parental warning because Brian Cox says “b*ll*cks” once. I’m sure it’s snobbery.)

Lower-middle-class Teales don't like to make others uncomfortable by using foreign words, so they call the Asian mammals “panda bears”. The South American vegetables are “avocado pears”. They make salads or casseroles from  “tuna fish” and "penne pasta". On the side is a "ciabatta roll" or a piece of  "French stick". They're lucky it doesn't give them a "mygraine headache".

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.

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