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.

Monday 15 May 2023

Choose Your Words Carefully: 11 (in Quotes)

My voice marks me out as too embarrassingly middle-class to ever be welcomed into the lefty fold, but as a grammar school then sixth form drop out I'm sneered at by actual poshos.
(Writer and women's rights activist Jo Bartosch) 

In South London, boys avoid a kicking by adopting a Cockney accent, while girls get ahead by sounding genteel. (Via David Bennun)

I automatically get annoyed when I’m on holiday and I hear an American accent coming from somewhere. I just know I’m about to hear some nonsense. (@LazarusKumi)

Scottish students at Edinburgh University are treated like outsiders because of their accents and comparative lack of wealth, a campaign group has claimed. (@magnusllewellin 2023-03-09)

My grandparents, who, like me, speak in a Wearside accent/dialect, do this with my wife, who speaks in a not remotely posh Norf London/S. Herts accent. My nana is like "Eeee, doesn't she talk lovely?" (@bartramsgob)

A lot of [public-school boys], I noticed, have a special "cleaning lady voice" which is this slightly flirty, old school charming way of talking to people they regard as underlings or inferiors. (@KatyFBrand)

In 2020, France made accent discrimination, or “glottophobie” a crime. During the debate, “parliamentarians complained that many broadcasters with strong regional accents were pigeonholed into reporting on rugby matches or delivering the weather”.

Listening to Angela Rayner on the Today Programme. If she ever had an English teacher he or she should be ashamed. Just imagine this person representing my country on the international stage. (@prodworthy. Translation: Angela Rayner has a northern accent. And now there’s a big fuss about Rayner going to the opera at Glyndebourne – I was called “precious” on Twitter for not agreeing that she is “common”.)

People would prefer to be represented by a barrister with a posh voice, and think that lawyers with a regional accent sound less intelligent or professional, research from @TrentUni and @DMULawSchool shows – in @thetimes (@legalhackette)

One senior barrister recalled being told by a judge that if the lawyer wanted to practise at the Chancery Bar – where property, commercial and banking disputes dominate – “you will have to lose your Yorkshire accent”. Another barrister said their accent stood out so much that they moved back to the north of England... [One barrister’s] ambition was fuelled by being told: “People like you don’t become barristers.” (Times)

One Black Country student said his voice was mimicked whenever he spoke. Others said they were hesitant to speak up in class or ask questions. A student from Lancashire was told his voice was uneducated and aggressive. Another from the same area, who was ostracised by wealthier classmates, was asked if his family worked in coal mines or he grew up in a council house... Someone I had just met once asked me whether my home town was one of those desolate wastelands where the factories used to be. (Times)

A study has found that people from some parts of the country are significantly more likely to be mocked or singled out because of the way they speak. The standard received pronunciation accent, French-accented English, and “national” standard varieties (Scottish, American, Irish) were all ranked highly in the Sutton Trust’s Speaking Up report, but accents associated with Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and ethnic minority accents, such as Afro-Caribbean and Indian, “tend to be the lowest ranked”, said Sky News. (The Week)

Almost half of UK workers have had their accents mocked, criticised or singled out in a social setting, a survey suggests. Researchers found 46% of workers have faced jibes about their accents, with 25% reporting jokes at work. An entrenched "hierarchy of accent" caused social anxiety throughout some people's lives, the report concluded. They said those with northern English or Midlands accents were more likely to worry about the way they spoke. Many of those who were mocked for the way they spoke admitted anxiety over their future career prospects because of perceived prejudiced attitudes, said the research... funded by Sutton Trust. (bbc.co.uk on the Accent Bias in Britain project) 

A team of researchers at Northumbria University said that “accentism” causes “profound” social, economic, and educational harm for those with “denigrated accents” in the UK. There is a push to make accents a protected characteristic under the Equality Act after a government commission found that some civil servants feel compelled to disguise their accents at work. Dr Robert McKenzie, a social linguist who led the project, said “accentism” is “alive and well” in Britain, with most people often unaware of their “deeply embedded implicit biases”. He added that students with northern accents were less likely to secure spots at Russell Group universities while people with “denigrated or low in status accents” were more likely to be found guilty of a crime in court. (Times 2022-06-14. The report is called (Speaking of Prejudice.)

Twitter users disparage:
Misuse of ‘yourself/myself’. 
Brits refusing to even try to speak other languages when abroad, 
“Go shop”, “go toilet” etc.
Pronouncing the L in almond.
A thousand pound instead of pounds.
Saying “pitcher” for picture and “heighth” for height.

Friday 12 May 2023

You Are What You Eat: 18

In the 90s, I got told off for eating an Eccles cake (flaky pastry and raisins) – too stodgy, and available in packets from a corner shop. But isn’t this the kind of regional cookery we should be celebrating? Unfortunately it's a cliché that the English middle classes will eat peasant food from other cultures (polenta) but not from their own (Bedfordshire clangers, Staffordshire oatcakes).

At home, we never had Christmas cake, just Christmas pudding. And we never had a chocolate log with a papier-maché robin on the top (with wire legs). We ate slices in friends’ houses and it was delicious. Too nice, and might have encouraged us to develop a “sweet tooth”.

In the 80s, cookery writer and broadcaster Delia Smith was looked down on because she “used butter”. Was it by this time “bad for you”? Margarine was sold as a “spread” with positive health benefits. 

In the 70s and 80s, friends and flatmates were shocked that I shopped in corner shops rather than supermarkets. “But it’s much more expensive!” (There might have been a penny or two difference – but offset that against the cost of the bus fare to the supermarket.) Sometimes I shopped at the cheap supermarket Londis and they shuddered at the sight of the carrier bags. Didn’t I understand that People Like Us only shop at Sainsburys? You couldn’t get middle-class food in a corner shop, but you could  get common tinned sweetcorn and frozen fish fingers.

Soft, sweet white bread used to be reserved for the upper classes. Making it was complicated, and it was expensive. But then along came the Chorleywood process and the Aerated Bread Company. Postwar came the white sliced loaf: soft, rather sweet and cheap. No wonder my parents were appalled and called Mother’s Pride “Father’s Shame”. And home-made – sorry, “artisanal” – wholemeal bread became the class marker.

Fizzy water comes in different strengths of fizz because everything comes in a “range” (even hot cross buns) and there has to be a version we drink/eat and a version we look down on people for drinking/eating. Sodastreams are back, but Upwards are not allowed to add too many bubbles. Withholding again!

M&S Food's Best Ever Mac & Cheese! With cave-aged Cheddar, Pecorino, Emmenthal and mozzarella, topped with roasted garlic oil and onion ciabatta breadcrumb. Need we say more? (@CostaCoffee. You needn't.)

Little paper chef’s hats for the ends of lamb joints or mutton chops were utterly beyond the pale – but who eats either any more?

Apparently Americans call McDonald’s a “restaurant”, and complain that you can’t get Mexican food in Paris. They come to Europe and moan there’s nowhere to eat because they can't find their familiar fast food chains (Olive Garden etc). They also (genuinely) complain that when you order a salad in the UK you get a few green leaves. They’re thinking of the kind of hearty salad you bring to a pot luck supper in the Southern states: a meal in itself with a basis of macaroni. Educated Americans say “It’s OK to go to Dublin now – there are Thai restaurants”. Caro Stow Crat says “What is a burrito?” 

The threat of champagne being opened with a sword, which is the kind of thing I hate. (Kate Flett, The Heart-Shaped Bullet. All restaurant theatre is naff and the worst thing is to be in a party of people who all think it’s wonderful.)


He drank a little tea, black and silent, that still survived upon an upper shelf.  He swallowed some dusty crumbs of cake... They began with a soup square, which Leonard had just dissolved in some hot water.  It was followed by the tongue – a freckled cylinder of meat, with a little jelly at the top, and a great deal of yellow fat at the bottom – ending with another square dissolved in water (jelly: pineapple), which Leonard had prepared earlier in the day... Leonard managed to convince his stomach that it was having a nourishing meal. (E.M. Forster, Howards End)

When we studied this book for A Level, this episode puzzled us. It is one of the few scenes where we escape the intellectual Schlegels for more than a moment. Presumably Leonard Bast, the clerk, drinks “black” tea, as opposed to China. Surely he made himself a pot? But “black and silent” and “still survived”? The Basts’ supper consists of instant soup, followed by tinned tongue. The literary middle classes did not eat tinned food, and to them “tinned salmon” was a joke and a class marker – see John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses. I hope the Basts had some bread and butter, at least, to go with it. They wind up with instant pineapple jelly, poor things.

In Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise, the working-class Sergeant Williams urges Inspector Grant to try some home-made pickles. Grant declines, explaining “I have a palate” – which he doesn’t want to spoil. (The rest of the cast fawn on Grant, saying that he doesn’t look like a policeman, but more like a “Service type” or army man.)

Darling, You Shouldn’t Have Gone to So Much Trouble! is an ironic 80s cookbook by novelist Alice Thomas Ellis. It tells you how to fake posh food quickly, using cheap, easy ingredients. There is a lot of liquidising. The Cinderella ingredients in your store-cupboard are combined with scrambled eggs and topped with browned grated cheese if your husband brings a colleague home to dinner – no takeaways. The author turns frozen pastry, frozen French beans, eggs and cheese into a flan. Condensed milk baked in its tin in the oven for hours allegedly turns into sticky toffee pudding. We used to discuss it, but never dared try it. Perhaps it was “ein joke”, like the instructions for cooking bacon on an upturned iron.

In one of his mysteries, Verdict of Twelve, Raymond Postgate uses cakes decorated with pink icing and shreds of coconut to indicate the low grade of the teashop where we meet one of the characters. I once took a fellow student for a cup of tea at a favourite café down an alley in Norwich. I ate a cake exactly as Postgate described, and my friend was shocked to the core and even talked about it afterwards. And she probably thought I was well brought-up. Many of my fellow students were shocked that I even went to cafés at all. Postgate went on to found the Good Food Guide. His fictional Dr Holmes drinks wine that “had that revolting taste of sugar, ink, and red pepper that only bad port can achieve”.

An Amazon reader called the book “dated”, citing the way the 12 jurors are described in terms of class. Only the academic is a real “gentleman”. And this is how they describe each other – the salesman is accused of “aping gentility”. None of the jurors bases their verdict on the evidence, but point out that the accused didn’t belong in a big house, having once served in a tobacconist’s shop. "Taking someone out of their class" is disparaged – which brings us back to poor Leonard.

More here, and links to the rest.