I say!

Can’t recall what I was googling, but somehow I found myself at a glossary of terms which will prove invaluable to my many readers who have expressed an interest in gaining entry to the upper echelons of society. I pass it on as a public service:

Always — most “correct” pronunciations are unguessable from the spelling, so the uninitiated will give themselves away. Thus it is with “always”, as Kingsley Amis explains in The King’s English: “AWLwhizz is the thing to say if you can manage it. I never really can.”

Beaulieu — home to Lord and Lady Montagu, and pronounced (naturally) “Byoo–lee”. Any attempt to speak a name of French origin in a French manner betrays one as an outsider who strives to seem sophisticated.

Belvoir — as per the previous rule, this castle is pronounced “beaver”. Other rural retreats for the wellbred include those pronounced “badger” and “bugger”.

Cecil — pronounced Sissle.

Cholmondeley — pronounced “Chumley”. Best said while affecting a weary aristocratic ennui that is so overpowering one simply can’t be bothered to enunciate all the syllables of a long word.

clothes — Kingsley Amis: “I admit that I should rather like to be able to say close but from fear of being misunderstood do not dare.”

forehead — rhymes with “horrid”.

golf — in the good old days, was always pronounced “goff”.

hoi polloi
— Greek for “the plebs”. To say “the hoi polloi”, which means “the the plebs”, instantly identifies you as a pleb.

how d’you do — what to say when you meet the Queen. Do not follow the example of Kate Middleton’s mother, who said “Pleased to meet you”. Of course you are pleased to meet the Queen. She is the Queen.

infra dig — Latin, short for infra dignitatem, “beneath one’s dignity” or demeaning, as it would be to say “settee”.

jolly — means “very”, as in Boris Johnson’s memory of smoking cannabis: “It was jolly nice.” (If one must say “very”, one pronounces it “vair”.)

loo — or perhaps “lavatory”, but never “toilet” or “WC” or “bathroom”.

Magdalen College, Oxford — pronounced “maudlin”.

Magdalene College, Cambridge — also pronounced “maudlin”, in order to fuel the oik’s superstitious awe of the homogeneous “Oxbridge” class conspiracy.

marvellous — quite good. Only two syllables: “marvlous”.

napkin — not “serviette”, unless you are literally in France.

non–U — often attributed to Nancy Mitford, the terms “U” (upperclass) and “non–U” were first coined by the British linguist Alan Ross in his 1954 paper “Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English”. As well as noting the correct ways to address knights and baronets, and matters of pronunciation and vocabulary, it featured useful social observations: “When drunk, gentlemen often become amorous or maudlin or vomit in public, but they never become truculent.”

orf — the right way to say “off”.

Orff — German composer most famous for his 1970s Old Spice adverts.

posh — the Non–U way to say “smart”.

rarely — means “really”.

My fellow Americans…

Over the last week I’ve been reading a book I received as a birthday present – a Penguin Civic Classics collection of great American political speeches. It’s full of stirring stuff, as you might imagine, but the one thing that strikes you straightaway is the complexity, the sophistication of the language and construction, compared with what passes as political discourse today.

Take this, from Patrick Henry’s famous Give me liberty or give me death! speech, delivered on 23 March 1775:

“If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight!”

I doubt you’d see such a gathering of subordinate clauses in any contemporary political oration. And if you thought that was a long sentence, how about this one, from  Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, on 4 March 4 1801:

“Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the hundredth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow citizens, resulting not from birth but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them including honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter; with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people?”

Compare, just for example, this chunk of Trump, taken from a speech delivered on 3 November 2016:

“The FBI is investigating how Hillary Clinton put the office of  Secretary of State up for sale in violation of federal law. The  investigation is described as QUOTE “a very high priority.” The investigation is far-reaching and has been going on for more than a year. It was reported that an “avalanche” of information is coming in.The FBI agents say their investigation is likely to yield an indictment.”

68 words; five sentences. Are we becoming (have we become?) a civilisation unable to cope with anything much beyond the simplest of declarative sentences? Or is it more to do with a cultural shift – a genuine democratisation, which means politicians must speak to all, not just their highly educated peers?

Whatever the reasons, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) seems to have become the de facto standard for communication in the internet age.