How to Talk Posh

When mingling with the crowd at Glyndebourne (opera) or Ascot (race meeting), do you want people to think you are an aristocrat?

Why not talk like posh people:

Air, hellair! Crikey, righty-ho, tiffin, yah, rah. Good show, old chep! How absolutely ghastly for you, old bean! You, sir, are a cad and a bounder! Rather, old thing, by George!

Do posh people talk like this?

No! No one has talked like this since the days of P.G. Wodehouse (circa 1920).

Posh people talk like this

They use overstatement and understatement. When talking about trivia, they exaggerate, using their well-known drawl: ÔÇ£We live in the wiiiiiilds of SussexÔÇØ or ÔÇ£daaaaaarkest LincolnshireÔÇØ. Everything is terribly, awfully frightful or ghastly. If your mother was mildly shocked, then ÔÇ£Mummy practically had a haaaaaaaart attack!ÔÇØ) Anybody who is ill is ÔÇ£sick of the palsyÔÇØ, ÔÇ£down with the bubonic plagueÔÇØ or has ÔÇ£got some dreaded lurgyÔÇØ.

But when things get serious they understate. (The Greeks called it litotes.) If mother was appalled: ÔÇ£Mummy wasnÔÇÖt exactly thrilled.ÔÇØ If they really canÔÇÖt stand something they say ÔÇ£IÔÇÖm not terribly keen on it ÔÇØ. If someoneÔÇÖs severely ill heÔÇÖs ÔÇ£feeling a little sorry for himselfÔÇØ. (Sophia’s in a bit of a state.) When people are yelling and screaming and running round in circles you ask: ÔÇ£WhatÔÇÖs all the fuss about?ÔÇØ If a friend is severely ill you say heÔÇÖs ÔÇ£feeling a little sorry for himselfÔÇØ. You refer to World War I as ÔÇ£the late unpleasantnessÔÇØ. The retreat from Dunkirk was ÔÇ£no picnicÔÇØ. If youÔÇÖre surrounded by utter disaster you say ÔÇ£conditions are suboptimalÔÇØ. If a situation is upsetting, you say ÔÇ£It wasnÔÇÖt madly edifying.ÔÇØ Mummy turned up to sports day in a simply ghastly hat, but when she ran away with the gardener that ÔÇ£wasnÔÇÖt exactly onÔÇØ.

ÔÇ£1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,ÔÇØ said the Queen of a year in which her three eldest childrenÔÇÖs marriages broke down and one of her palaces caught fire.

They donÔÇÖt say ÔÇ£yesÔÇØ in agreement, they say exactly, precisely, absolutely. Or just ÔÇ£mmmmÔÇØ. Ordinary people say ÔÇ£rightÔÇØ or ÔÇ£yeahÔÇØ.

Some letters by the Duchess of Devonshire were published recently. A reviewer noted: ÔÇ£Their language (beastly, umpteenth, bags I, maddening, tiresome, conked out, ‘killing’ to mean ‘funny’, ‘frightfully’ to mean ‘very’ and so on) has a charm all of its own, but will soon seem as outmoded as ‘gadzooks’ or ‘pshaw’.ÔÇØ

More here, and in my mini ebook How to Talk Posh.

More here.

Movie and TV Clich├®s

I’m in charge now.

Some say there are only nine plots ÔÇô or is it five?

One by one the guests/passengers/staff/inmates are replaced by sinister people who seem to have a secret bond and possibly meet at night in woods. Gentle, fragile staff members who are beginning to worry about the new headmaster etc vanish and are seen no more. Those returning from a trip abroad are told: “Mr X is in charge now.”

HOTEL CALIFORNIA They donÔÇÖt realise itÔÇÖs a brothel. Gradually they do.

DAY OF THE JACKAL Central character is a ruthless villain who pulls off a clever heist and goes on the run from the cops, but we want him to get away with it.

FAMILY PORTRAITS Older manÔÇÖs beautiful young wife looks just like the priceless old portrait of an evil ancestor he keeps in a vault.

That is an order!
Our murderer seems to have a sense of humour!
Put every spare robot on it!
Are you suggesting that /I/….?
YouÔÇÖre very clever, Mrs Fletcher!

Did that never occur to you, dear sweet wife?
AdamÔÇÖs 30th birthday ÔÇô that IS the reason youÔÇÖre here, Jessica!?

TREADING THE BOARDS After a murder in the theatre, the investigators stand on the stage discussing the case. Someone yells ÔÇ£Look out!ÔÇØ and the tecs leap out of the way as a heavy piece of equipment crashes to the stage.

STEAL AWAY Nervous burglars grope about the premises looking for the safe when they stumble across something cold and inert ÔÇô a murder victim!

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Anyone called ÔÇ£ElviraÔÇØ is a fluttery, elderly spinster with girlish mannerisms and dress sense. Anyone called ÔÇ£EudoraÔÇØ is a witch.

BY DESIGN Dresses are designed by draping fabric around a model, pinning it, and slashing with scissors. (Nobody would waste expensive fabric that way, says a designer.)

More here and in my mini ebook Movie and TV Clich├®s.


Jobs You Never Knew Existed

If I had children, I’d be sending them to butler school. Or suggesting any of the following:

crocodile farmer
premade genre ebook cover designer
video game artist
drone operator
picture window installer (for those new houses with teeny tiny windows)
rent-a-protester (ItÔÇÖs a job, according to Donald Trump.)
digitiser of old letters, photos, photos on obsolete media, cassette tapes etc.
historic building lister
horse grooming product manufacturer

professional bridesmaid (you act as secretary, confidante, parlourmaid, helper, organiser as well as walker down the aisle)

water leak listener
conservatory valet
wilderness guide for extreme camping trips
confetti grower
reptile transporter
rock concert lighting scenery designer

People can say, with a straight face, that they’re a “preschool consultant,” or that they do “nanny surveillance” or “closet organization”. (

More here and in my mini ebook Jobs You Never Knew Existed.

Whatever Happened To…?

048045a750c8434a51bdad1ffcd49a80They were here, they were everywhere, but now they’re gone.

The smell of: boiled cabbage, Gitanes, Hawaiian Tropic

non-competitive games
traffic wardens
maternity smocks
renting your TV
amusing toilet signs (at the seaside: GULLS and BUOYS)
gobstoppers, aniseed balls
Kir Royal
dollÔÇÖs eye switchboards
punch bowls
mung beans
tinned spaghetti and spaghetti on toast
biscuit barrels
bed socks, bed jackets
side plates
hair glitter (90s)
Gold Spot
fortune tellers (still around in side streets)
prawn-flavoured niknaks
coffee icecream
sago pudding
nylon sheets
brass rubbings
radish florets
collar studs
cucumber relish
steamed puddings
sherry parties

Ah well, once we leave the EU we won’t want to eat European food any more (baguettes, pasta) so it’ll be back to toad-in-the-hole and plain boiled cabbage followed by sago pudding.

More here, and in my ebook Whatever Happened To…?

Boo and Hooray

Legitimate concerns

The English language is full of loaded words that signal boo! or hooray! They’re dysphemisms and euphemisms, or as philosopher Jeremy Bentham put it, pejorative and eulogistic terms.

We live in interesting times, and under a blizzard of euphemisms.

The intolerable arrogance of the EU elites. (Michael Gove) (Boo! Can he mean us?)

We havenÔÇÖt got the facts and figures. They havenÔÇÖt given us the information. ItÔÇÖs all smoke and mirrors.┬á (In the run-up to the referendum, this meant “they’re not giving us the facts we want to hear. It’s all lies.”)

This is why theyÔÇÖre trying to depose Jeremy Corbyn ÔÇô he refused to be racist enough. The real nature of the complaint is of course buried in metaphor; the preferred euphemism is electability. (

There are many millions of people in the UK who do not enthuse about diversity and do not embrace metropolitan values yet do not consider themselves lesser human beings for all that. Until their values and opinions are acknowledged and respected, rather than ignored and despised, our present discord will persist. (A BBC internal memo comes up with more euphemisms for “racist“.)

More here, and in my book Boo & Hooray.

Received Ideas

“Everything you need to know in order to be accepted as a member of polite society,” wrote Gustave Flaubert while putting together his collection of Id├®es Re├ºues, or “received ideas”. They are the things that Everybody Knows, or What To Say About the topic of the day.

Here is a sample:

REFORMS CanÔÇÖt be made overnight. Great change should be phased in gradually.

QUEENÔÇÖS HANDBAG If anyone finds out what the Queen carries in her handbag, they are never seen again.

PROTEST Never changed anything.

PUBLIC TOILETS The first public toilets were provided at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

PAUL POIRET The first designer to create dresses that women could get into without help.

KILTS, TARTAN Ancient Scottish dress. Invented by the Victorians.

KARL MARX Fond of the lifestyle of the despised bourgeoisie.

ICELANDIC Has no word for ÔÇ£pleaseÔÇØ, and 45 words for ÔÇ£greenÔÇØ.

HUMANISM A form of religion. Do humanists worship Man?

HOMERIC GREEK Had no word for ÔÇ£intentionÔÇØ.

HONEY Natural honey has fewer calories than white sugar.

GREEK STATUES Their genitalia were all shot off by soldiers using them for target practice.

TIME Our lives are getting faster and faster (or is that ÔÇ£fast-pacedÔÇØ?). But somehow the 4.50 from Paddington is still delayed.

All this and more in my book Clich├®s: A Dictionary of Received Ideas.