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  • Writer's pictureJacky Ziki

The U vs Non-U Words, the Queen's English

Do you speak elegant English? No matter if you are upper class or not, it is whether people use speaking and writing language correctly and elegantly. The Queen's English is elegant English. Some might say that Her Majesty was a person of a certain age and a certain level of class, but in fact, nowadays this is less important than it used to be. She was more of a linguistic snob. For example, she did not say Posh since this is not an elegant word. (Posh is an acronym: P.O.S.H. - port out, starboard home.)

A good resource is the classic film My Fair Lady made from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. In 1912 he wrote this in preface: It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishmen hate or despise him.

Later Professor Alan S.C. Ross published his famous U(upper-class) and non-U: an essay on sociological linguistics. This was a 40-year gap but it seemed not much had changed. He said: It is solely by its language that the English upper class is clearly marked off from the others.

However, language and class distinctions have evolved and changed over the last 50 years. Below are some interesting examples of the use of words.

U Words Non-U Words

Bike or bicycle Cycle

Dinner jacket Dress suit

Vegetable Greens

Ice Ice cream

Scent Perfume

Ill (in bed) Sick (in bed)

Graveyard Cemetery

Spectacles Glasses

False teeth Dentures

Mad Mental

Jam Preserve

Napkin Serviette

Sofa Settee or couch

Lavatory or loo Toilet

Good health Cheers

Pudding Sweet

Drawing-room Lounge

looking-glass Mirror

Writing-paper Note-paper

How d'you do? Pleased to meet you

Wireless Radio


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