The Worldwide Weblog of Donald Pincher

by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Alan Ross

Wednesday, 25th February 2015

Last month I wrote an entry about Alan Ross, and his U and non-U pronunciations. His ‘Essay in Sociological Linguistics’ for Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige also contains a section on U and non-U vocabulary; and I thought it would be interesting – sixty years on – to carry out an audit of how the U and non-U alternatives have fared. The table below gives Ross’s alternatives and my judgement of which of them is now in use among educated urban speakers of standard English in Britain.

Non-U U Victor, 2015
Article (meaning ‘chamber-pot’) Jerry/pot N/A (obs.)
To TAKE a bath To HAVE one’s bath U
Britain* England N/A. (Scottish nationalism has forced those who approve of Great Britain to use its name, and referring to Britain as England is now mostly the preserve of Americans. Now U Britain and non-U UK.)
Coach (meaning ‘char-à-banc’) Bus Mostly non-U (as in Victoria Coach Station), probably to allow for the distinction that Ross notes, viz. that ‘a coach runs into the country, a bus within a town’.
Corsets Stays N/A (obs.)
Coverlet Counterpane N/A (victory, oddly, goes to the alternative Ross calls ‘obsolete’: bedspread).
Cruet Salt/pepper/mustard, etc. individually. U
Cultivated/cultured Civilized Non-U (civilised being un-PC).
Cup Tea N/A (draw)
Cycle Bike N/A (draw: cycle lane, bike ride, etc.).
Dentures False teeth N/A (draw/obs.?)
Dinner (in the middle of the day) Lunch U
Dress-suit Dinner jacket/black tie/tails, etc. individually. U
Glasses Spectacles Non-U
Greens Vegetables U
Home House Still pertains?
Horse-riding Riding ?
Ill Sick Non-U (sick now sounds American, unless ‘I feel I’m going to be sick’ is meant).
Jack Knave Non-U
Lounge Hall/dining-room Still pertains, but the ‘nearest equivalent’ U-expression is sitting-room, not hall or dining-room.
Mirror Looking-glass Non-U
Note-paper Writing-paper
Pardon! (1) if the hearer does not hear the speaker properly. What? Non-U. (Ross notes that ‘U-parents and U-governesses are always trying to make children say something “politer” [than what?] – What did you say? […] [is] certainly possible.’ Possible, but non-U pardon has won out as the ‘politer’ option.)
Pardon! (2) as an apology. Sorry U
Pardon! (3) after hiccupping or belching. [Silence] Non-U (at least in pardon me).
Pleased to meet you! How d’you do? Non-U
Posh Smart
Preserve Jam U
Radio Wireless Non-U
Scottish Scotch Non-U
Serviette Table-napkin Still pertains, but U napkin.
Sweet Pudding U (though non-U dessert now in the fight).
He’s studying for an exam He’s working for an exam N/A (draw)
Teacher -master/-mistress Non-U
Toilet-paper Lavatory-paper
Wealthy Rich Still pertains?
Wire Telegram N/A (obs.)

So, the class war scores on the doors:

Non-U 15 | U 8

The non-U’s have it.

* In ‘The English Aristocracy’ – her response to Ross’s essay – Mitford proposes a few additional vocables, indicated here by their colour.
† As far as I can work out, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has had these two the wrong way round through fifteen editions, ever since ‘U and Non-U’ appeared as an entry. The fifth edition (1959) says, ‘It is U to say “luncheon” for what Non-U folk call “lunch”; “napkin” and “serviette”, “cycle” and “bike” are samples of this snobism’; and the nineteenth, ‘It is “U” to say “luncheon” for what “Non-U” folk call “lunch”, “U” to say “napkin” instead of “serviette”, and “U” to prefer “cycle” to “bike”.’

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Wednesday, 21st January 2015

In 1954 Professor Alan Ross introduced the distinction between ‘U and non-U’ language upper-class and non-upper-class in an essay for a Finnish philological journal. Nancy Mitford popularised the terminology in an article for Encounter the following year, and by including a condensed version of Ross’s essay in her Noblesse Oblige the year after that. In 1970 Ross and his publishers took advantage of this popularity by releasing How to Pronounce It, a dictionary of upper-class pronunciations. The distinction between ‘U and non-U’ did a lot to bolster class difference, which I here intend to break down with the indistinction of pronunciations that are both ‘U and non-U’.

List of Words and Names

  • ALCOHOLIDAY: /ˌalkəˈhɒlɪdi/, last syllable the same as dee.
  • ALWAYS-ON: /ˌɔːlwɪzˈɒn/, second syllable the same as whizz.
  • AQUAFRESH: /ˈeɪkwə-/. NOT /ˈakwə-/.
  • ARCHETYPAL character: /ɑːˈkɛtɪp(ə)l/, accent on second syllable.
  • ARTISAN bread: /ɑːtɪˈzan/, accent on last syllable.
  • ASPHALT jungle: /ˈasfɛlt/, second syllable the same as felt.
  • Big ISSUE: /ˈɪsjuː/. NOT /ˈɪʃuː/.
  • Bits per PIXEL: /ˈpɪksɛl/, as in pix + el (in element). NOT /ˈpɪksl/.
  • BOURBON whisky: /ˈbʊəbɒ̃/, in the French way.
  • BROMANCE: /brəʊˈmans/. NOT accent on first syllable, which is American.
  • Budget DEFICIT: /ˈdifɪsɪt/, first syllable to rhyme with reef.
  • CASUAL sex: /ˈkaʒəl/, two syllables.
  • CELEBUTANTE: /sɪˈlɛbjᵿtɒ̃/, in the French way.
  • COMRADE Delta: /ˈkʌmrᵻd/, first syllable the same as come.
  • CONVERSE shoes: /kənˈvəːs/, accent on second syllable. NOT /ˈkɒnvəːs/.
  • COST–benefit: /kɔːst/, to rhyme with forced.
  • COUPON swap: /ˈkuːpɔ̃/, in the French way. NOT /ˈkuːpɒn/.
  • COVERT ops: /ˈkʌvət/, like cover. NOT /ˈkəʊvəːt/, like over.
  • Cruella DE VIL: /dʊˈvil/, in the French way, like Déville. NOT /dəˈvɪl/.
  • Disney’s RECESS: /rᵻˈsɛs/, accent on second syllable.
  • Double DENIM: /dɪˈnɪm/, accent on second syllable. NOT /ˈdɛnɪm/.
  • DUVET day: /duːˈveɪ/, accent on second syllable.
  • EXECUTIVE toy: /ɛgˈzɛkətɪv/. NOT /ɛɡˈzɛkjʊtɪv/.
  • The EYRIE, Vale of Arryn: /ˈɛːri/, the same as airy.
  • Female CONDOM: /ˈkʌndəm/. NOT /ˈkɒndɒm/.
  • FLACCID whanger: /ˈflaksɪd/. NOT /ˈflasɪd/.
  • GARAGEBand: /ˈɡarɑːʒ/, to rhyme with barrage. NOT /ˈɡarɪdʒ/.
  • GIGABYTE: /ˈdʒʌɪɡəbʌɪt/. Not /ˈɡɪɡəbʌɪt/.
  • GLITTERATI: /ɡlɪtəˈreɪtʌɪ/ like hate I. NOT /ˌɡlɪtəˈrɑːti/ like arty.
  • Google Chrome INCOGNITO mode: /ɪnˈkɒgnɪtəʊ/. NOT /ˌɪnkɒɡˈniːtəʊ/.
  • High-visibility WAISTCOAT: /ˈwɛskᵻt/, first syllable to rhyme with less, no T.
  • HOT DESK: /ˌhɒt ˈdɛsk/, accent on second syllable.
  • ILLUMINATI: /ɪljuːmɪˈneɪtʌɪ/. NOT /ɪˌluːmɪˈnɑːti/.
  • INHERENT Vice: /ɪnˈhɪərənt/, second syllable the same as hear.
  • INNOVATIVE marketing: /ˈɪnəʊveɪtɪv/. NOT /ˈɪnəvətɪv/.
  • Intramolecular CHAPERONE: /ˈʃapərɔːn/. Not /ˈʃapərəʊn/.
  • Le PAIN Quotidien: /pã/, in the French way.
  • Leigh HALFPENNY: /ˈheɪpni/, first syllable the same as hay. NOT as spelt.
  • LINGERIE restaurant: /ˈlãʒri/, in the French way. NOT /ˌlɑnƷəˈreɪ/.
  • MARLBORO Man: /ˈmɔːlbrə/, first syllable the same as maul.
  • NASA SOJOURNER: /ˈsʌdʒənə/. NOT /ˈsɒdʒənə/.
  • NESCAFÉ: /nɛsˈkafeɪ/, accent on second syllable. NOT /ˈnɛskəfeɪ/, accent on first.
  • NETIQUETTE: /nɛtᵻˈkɛt/, accent on last syllable.
  • Oxford & CHERWELL Valley College: /ˈtʃɑːwəl/, first syllable to rhyme with car.
  • PAPA Smurf: /pəˈpɑː/, accent on second syllable. NOT /ˈpɑpə/.
  • Paul GASCOIGNE: /gasˈkɔɪn/, accent on second syllable.
  • PEJORATIVE remark: /ˈpiːdʒərətɪv/, accent on first syllable.
  • PINTEREST: /ˈpɪntrɪst/. NOT /ˈpɪntərɛst/.
  • Pizza FUNGHI: /ˈfʌnʤʌɪ/, like lunge eye. NOT /ˈfʌŋɡiː/, like Bungay.
  • POWYS: /ˈpəʊɪs/, first syllable to rhyme with go. NOT /ˈpaʊɪs/, first syllable rhyming with cow.
  • PROJECTILE vomit: /ˈprɒdʒɛktʌɪl/, accent on first syllable.
  • QUASImodo: /ˈkweɪzʌɪ/, first syllable to rhyme with pays. NOT /ˈkwɒzɪ/.
  • Quorn ESCALOPE: /ˈɛskələʊp/, accent on first syllable, last to rhyme with pope.
  • RALEIGH Chopper: /ˈrɔːli/, to rhyme with poorly. NOT /ˈrali/ like rally.
  • REAL Madrid: /reɪˈɑːl/, to rhyme with grey marl. NOT /reɪl/.
  • RETAIL therapy: /rɪˈteɪl/, accent on second syllable.
  • The REVENANT: /rəvəˈnɑ̃/, in the French way. NOT /ˈrɛvᵻnənt/.
  • SANS serif: /sɒ̃/, in the French way.
  • Stinky Pete the PROSPECTOR: /prəʊˈspɛktə(r)/, accent on second syllable.
  • Student FINANCE Wales: /fɪˈnans/, first syllable the same as fin, accent on second.
  • Soul-food RESTAURANT: /ˈrɛst(ə)rɒ̃/, French pronunciation, no final T.
  • Superhero GENRE: /ʒɑ̃r/, in the French way.
  • Time MAGAZINE: /maɡəˈziːn/, accent on second syllable.
  • Total RECALL: /rᵻˈkɔːl/, accent on second syllable.
  • TWITTERATI: /twɪtəˈreɪtʌɪ/. NOT /ˌtwɪtəˈrɑːti/. So in culturati, glamourati, etc.
  • UPCYCLE: /ʌpˈsʌɪkl/, accent on second syllable.
  • VACUUM-pack: /ˈvakjʊəm/, three syllables.
  • VALET parking: /ˈvalɪt/, to rhyme with mallet.
  • Video SURVEILLANCE: /syrˈvɛjɑ̃s/, in the French way. NOT /səˈveɪləns/.
  • WESTMONSTER: /ˈwɛsmɒnstə/, accent on first syllable, no first T.
  • Weston-super-MARE: /ˈmɑːri/, to rhyme with sari.
  • WHATEVS: /hwɒtˈɛvz/, wh aspirated.
  • ZOOECOLOGY: /ˌzəʊᵻkˈɒlədʒi/, as zo-œcology, first syllable to rhyme with toe.
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