i may be fancy, but i am not really POSH

NOW. some time ago our amy  from lucy’s football said that i had a posh voice.

we had been sharing snippets of spoken word with each other and i made a body scan meditation. you can hear it here, and judge for yourself if i sound posh, though i really think i am mainly speaking slowly. i agreed that i did sound fairly BBC (what used to be more commonly known as ‘RP’, or received pronunciation) and i also relented, after some back and forth, and allowed her to say i sounded ‘fancy’ since it is reasonable that someone from ABROAD might very well sound fancy, even if they don’t sound terribly fancy to their neighbours. and ‘sounding fancy’ has no resonance here the way that ‘posh’ does.

in reality, the neutral accent, which used to be taught to the offspring of the rich at their ‘fancy’ schools and actors at theirs, and is still the lingua franca of news broadcasting but not acting, and posh families, but i don’t know about schools, can also come of being somewhat displaced as a person. my own accent is the product of having been brought up by two parents who had both had elocution lessons as children, as well as having been brought up partly in england and partly in scotland. elocution lessons were common enough, back in the day, but nobody has them now, that i know of. my mother had the lessons because my grandmother was quite actively posh, and she didn’t want her to sound coarse. it is still true that no matter that lowland scots is not slang per se it is still not a language to ‘get on in the world’ with. my dad had the lessons because of a stammer.

earlier in the week i read this new yorker article with much pleasure. among the gems to be found is this short table of U and non – U terms.

U \Non-U

Expensive \Costly
False Teeth \Dentures
Pregnant \Expecting
House (a lovely)  \Home (a lovely)
What? \Pardon?
Napkin \Serviette
Awful smell \Unpleasant odor
Rich \Wealthy
Curtains \Drapes

‘U and non-U’ was, and still is, to some extent, a measure of whether something was ‘upper class’ or not. you can see more on the wikipedia page about it, where there is a longer list, so even more fun to be had.

i seriously doubt if anyone in the uk actually says ‘drapes’ but then, i don’t really know anyone socially aspirational. because, you see, this is not a rich/poor divide thing, this is a rich/aspirational divide thing. it’s how you spot an interloper. the first list is entirely congruent with working class parlance, but not necessarily middle class. d’you see?

so, now you know. and did you know this? that POSH stands for Port Out, Starboard Home? it may be an acronym, or it may be a backronym – which is the same as an acronym, except that the words are fitted around the letters. the truth is lost in time, you can see as good an explanation as any here.

anyway, lets go through the rest of the little sample list.

costly. does anyone anywhere say “costly”? maybe it was a thing in the early 50’s? i am not sure anyone says it. i would say “expensive”. often with the prefix “bloody”.

i’m with the ‘non U’ on dentures. but not having falsies i don’t know what i would call them if i had them in my life on a daily basis. probably just “my teeth”.

expecting. well, it’s alright i suppose, but very oblique. like a lot of the ‘non U’ words. i don’t really see what is wrong with “pregnant”. or indeed GOINGTOHAVEAPERSONCOMEOUTOFHERVAGINAFFS!!

i would only say “lovely home” if i was parodying a tv show or something. “so and so, and their lovely home” or, as david sedaris mocks, in his fabulous tale our perfect summer  “my home, well! one of my homes…”

i would neither say “what?” nor “pardon?” if i didn’t hear someone properly. i would say “i’m sorry?” so i don’t know what that makes me, and i would say “napkin” if the thing was cloth and “serviette” if it was paper.

i identify with “awful smell” more than “unpleasant odor” but would probably go with “good god, what’s that STINK!” in reality. or “can you SMELL something?” if i was trying to be polite.

“rich” is good for most purposes. with the prefix “stinking”. or “rolling in it”. “wealthy”, again, perhaps has a use in parody. although, it does seem reasonable to call a self made rich american “wealthy”.


9 responses to “i may be fancy, but i am not really POSH

  1. That list is also interesting from a complete outsider’s perspective. Looking at that, I am apparently U, although I suspect my colonial accent would preclude me from the category. 🙂 The only variance is that I agree with you about napkins and serviettes, and if I didn’t hear someone I would say ‘excuse me?’ or ‘I’m sorry?’ or maybe ‘I beg your pardon?’

    The non-U list is so Hyacinth Bucket. Which makes sense, since she is the very epitome of non-U, is she not?

    • Oh! I put a colon-hyphen-close bracket smiley and it turned into a face. I have always hated those faces and the people who use them, and now I find out that they mightn’t have meant to. My whole world has been turned upside-down.

      • don’t worry. i think most people who use smiley faces do mean to.

        and you are right about hyacinth bouquet. she is. in a way which is true to the definition, whereas you…. yes, you are probably non U with your accent, but if you were to find yourself in the company of the U you would probably be fairly acceptable unless you were trying to marry a baronet or something. the non U people are, after all, by definition TRYING to get into the gang that will not let them in, and they are using their idea of genteel language to do so. using the harsher words from the first list marks you out as not only belonging but crucially not trying.

  2. I really meant no offense by posh. I just thought it was a nice word! I promise never to use it willy-nilly again.


    • i knows it!

      i just couldn’t help myself when i read that article. i have always loved the U and non U stuff. mainly because it is utterly irrelevant to my life, so it is just fun for me. if i was trying to fit in with the U i would fail by default. they do not like that. i had a boyfriend once whose family were rather posh, and his dad never liked me as much as on our first meeting, when i was very DRUNK. so i was past trying to be well behaved.

  3. OED verifies that there isn’t any proof the idea that posh comes from POSH (rather probably comes either from transferring the use of the word posh (as in a coin of small value into the meaning of a dandy to the meaning of anything splendid/overdone). I sort of love OED.

    Here in the states we are seeing less and less in the way of class and regional accents. You can still hear them in you listen carefully – I was just in Boston over the last two days with a group of people from all over the country; and i could hear, if I listened very very carefully, a few upper class old Boston accents – listen to speeches by John F Kennedy for a classic example, and some South Carolina/low country accents, a texas drawl, a california valley – but even then, they were all more..smooth then what they would have been even a few years ago. I think it is because people just move around so much we are all loosing our regionalisims.

    • yes, they say that we are losing our regional accents, though i see modern mutations as just being the life of the language – it’s not as ironed out as to be undetectable. but if we must have mass media, and it seems we must, then having a sense of common language is kind of necessary.

      i am a massive fan of the OED. have you ever read either of these books? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Surgeon_of_Crowthorne
      they are WONDERFUL. ‘the surgeon of crowthorne’ should really be a feature film, i have no idea why it is not. and ‘the making of the OED’ is a delicious feast for word nerds.

  4. I was taught received pronunciation too. My mum insisted that I didn’t sound like my peers. And I think it helped with my transition to New York. They think I’m smart here.

    • yes! good to be thought smart, i think.

      when i was younger people assumed i was snobbish, but i was really just shy. now i talk to everyone. the neutral accent helps people understand me, i think.

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