How do posh people speak? Learn about language and social class in England


Hi everyone. In this lesson, we're going to  look at what posh is, who are posh people,  

and also look at the language of posh peopleBut let me start with "What is posh?",  

because maybe you haven't heard of it. This is, I  would say, something specific to English, because  

it has to do with the class system here. And the  class system is how the society is organized, from  

top to bottom. Not in some kind of official waylike you get a piece of paper that says what class  

you're in. But it is the family you're born into  and it has an impact on the kind of school you go  

to, or the kind of job you do when you grow upSo, although it's not an official formal thing,  

it's something that affects life in the UK for  English people, or - I said the UK there. Life in  

England for English people, and it's still in the  rest of the country, but I don't - I'm not sure  

how strong it is there, or how it is differentI'm talking about the English prospective.  

Okay, so starting with a diagram here of the  different classes in England. This is not to  

scale. This is an estimate of how big the  different classes are, the different social  

classes. So, if we start at the top with the  crown, that's where the queen would be. She's  

at the top, because she's the queen. Then, this  first chunk here, U, means "upper class". It's  

quite small compared to the rest. Here are all  the people, all the 60 million or however many  

people here, and here is the upper classSmall amount of people is at the top.  

Next, we have the upper middle class, and that's  a bit bigger. Next, we have the middle class, and  

now we're almost around half the population, a  bit less when we include the middle class. Then,  

we have the working class. That's the  biggest section. And the precariat. This  

is a new class. I'll explain about it after. So, going back to the top. What kind of - how  

would we recognize these different groups of  people? How would we know who they are? Well,  

as a native-born English person, you just - you  just know and you can tell. It's the language  

people use, it's how they dress, it's  the job they do, things like that. But  

let's talk about jobs. What kinds of jobs  would these people do, as an example?  

So, an upper class person. In the past, upper  class people didn't work. They didn't need to  

work, because they inherited their money. But  nowadays, they do work a lot of the time. So,  

they might do jobs like being the head of  a charity, or they might work in banking in  

the city, or they might be - many actors are from  upper class backgrounds. So, they tend to do jobs  

with really, really high status. Social power, and  even better if it makes a lot of money as well.  

Next, we have the upper middle class. These  are people who do things like - a surgeon. A  

surgeon would be upper middle class. An  architect would be upper middle class.  

Professions that earn them a lot of money. And the  professions that are hard to get into as well.  

Next, the middle class. Middle class - first  thing that comes to mind is teacher and  

managers in businesses. Middle class. Working class would be the jobs such  

as trades - tradespeople jobs. Bricklayerelectrician, roofer, a nurse, working class.  

Those that I mention there, those are skilled  working-class jobs. Working class could also - the  

lower part of the working class could also include  jobs - like working in retail. Yeah, working  

in retail, being a farmer, things - but not  owning the farm. If you own the farm, you're up  

here. But if you work on a farm, you're here. Now, because the class system changes and evolves,  

it's called "working class", right? But many of  the people in the working class don't actually  

work. They get money from the government. They  don't go to work. They're on benefits. Sometimes,  

it's because people can't getjob. They don't have any skills,  

really. No one wants to give them a job at allOr if they do find work, it's very temporary.  

It's just a few days and then the job's finished  and the job doesn't have any good benefits to  

working there. Benefits in the sense of earning  a pension and it's not stable. Things that - if  

your job's like all - it's not secure. Or you have no job and no one will give you a job,  

you would be in what's called the precariat  class. Precariat means it's not stable here.  

So yeah, bear that in mind. English people can  just tell, generally, where other people are in  

here. And a good question to answer now is alsohow much does it change in a person's life? You  

know, are you sort of born here and then you climb  all the way up to the top by becoming successful,  

becoming rich? Well, it doesn't really  happen a lot. There is flexibility. Some  

people go up to a profession much higher than  their parents were in, and the situation they  

were born in. But the thing about class is that  a great extent of it is how you were born.  

So, over here in England, it's not only just about  how much money you've got, it's where you're born.  

So, we have very, very wealthy people, for  example, David Beckham and his wife, Victoria  

Beckham who is called "Posh Spice". They must be  super, super, super millionaires. But they are  

not considered upper class or upper middle classOr, depending on - I don't know where to put them,  

but they - basically, they've got all the money to  live up here or really, really high up here, but  

they - their personalities haven't really changed  so much to make them different kind of person.  

So, it's - it could be really different in  your country, depending on whether the social  

hierarchy is so old, in a sense. We've been doing  this for a really long time over here in England  

because of the Queen and all that, so. So, now we've got that out of the way. Now,  

let's go and talk about posh actors. How can you  find examples of posh people and their language?  

Well, you could look for movies with these actors  in, because these will give you good examples.  

If you like the way that the posh actors speak  and you can learn to speak more like them. So,  

there's Benedict Cumberbatch. He's in the  series "Sherlock", and that character he plays  

in "Sherlock" is posh. But in all his other  movies as well, he plays posh characters.  

Tom Hiddleston. He was in the movie "War Horse".  He played somebody posh in that. There's a film  

that came out a few years ago called "The Riot  Club", "Riot Club" or "The Riot Club". And this  

was about students from Oxford Universitywhich is the top university or the second-top  

university. The - if you're posh, that's one of  the best universities to go to. So, the film is  

about how those students live and how theyit's about what life is like for you if you're  

rich at one of those very, very top schools. Then we have Tilda Swinton. She is quite an arty  

kind of actress. Doesn't necessarily always play  the super, super posh character in the film,  

but she is a genuine real posh person from  her family background. So, she's an example  

of the upper class person who is an actress. And then there's Keira Knightley, and when Keira  

Knightley was younger and in many films, she was  always playing Jane Austen kinds of characters in  

her films. So, that's a good sign. If you see  those traditional English movies with the big  

dresses and old-fashioned speaking, that'sgood sign that the actor or actress is posh or  

from a posh background. Usually, those kind of  films get those kind of actors and actresses.  

Okay, so now I'm going to talk about - we're  talking about posh people and the language  

they use. The hard thing about it when you try to  do a lesson on it is that you don't really meet  

many people who admit to being posh. They say, "Oh  yeah, I'm posh". You don't really admit it and I  

think it's a case today that many people who are  from posh backgrounds adapt their language down  

when they're around the "normal" people. So, they  don't speak really, really posh. So, it's hard for  

you to hear it and catch exactly how posh people  speak now. Plus, having distance really, really  

helps. So, it's hard to see it right now, how posh  people speak now, but you know twenty years later,  

when you look back. Maybe it's easier to say  and say, "Oh, posh people spoke like this".  

So, what I'm going to talk about now is how  posh language was thought of and perceived back  

in the past, okay? So, this comes from 1955,  this discussion about how posh people speak,  

from the writing of Nancy Mitford. Nancy Mitford  was a journalist and a kind of socialite - upper  

class socialite from those times. And one of the  things she did was wrote about - one of the things  

she's famous for is writing about U and non-U  language. U language means upper class language.  

Non-U language means not upper class. And these  people are the social climbers. They could be the  

middle-class people who earned more money and  sort of climbing up. And these - or these could  

be the upper middle class people as well, who  are spending time with upper class people.  

So, what this means is whoever was not born in the  upper class and had the right education and spent  

time in the right schools learning all the correct  upper class language. If you were not like that,  

then your language wouldn't - it would sound  like you don't belong there. Your language  

would give you away as not really belonging in  the upper class parties or wherever you go.  

So, let's look at the signs inaccording to Nancy Mitford in 1955,  

the - how we can describe non-U languagenot upper class, the people climbing up,  

they spoke in a way that was refined, fashionablefancy. And they used French origin words. So,  

if we look at those descriptions, that soundswell yeah, speak like that, it all sounds good,  

doesn't it? Refined, you know, it's like elegantFrench origin words, sounds sophisticated. And  

they would use words such as "serviette",  "toilet", and they would say "pardon?" when  

they want to say "What did you say?" Now, this all  sounds good, but Nancy Mitford says this is - this  

looks bad. This makes you look like you really  don't belong here. You shouldn't speak like this,  

and anyone who is really posh does not  speak this way. It's not what you expect.  

If you are upper class, if you're like Nancy  Mitford, your language is more direct. You say  

what it is. You've got nothing to prove. You know  that you're upper class. You know that you come  

from a good family. You know that your family has  connections. You know you have all the money you  

need. So, you're not trying to be refined or  elegant like these people, or fashionable. You  

don't care. You have everything - you have all the  status you need. You don't need to try hard with  

your language. And what's interesting about the  upper class for this time in 1955 was that they,  

in Nancy Mitford's opinion, is that they used many  of the same words as the working class people. So,  

the upper class people, back at that time, were  using a lot of the same words as the working  

class people, because these were the traditional  words of the things they were saying. Whereas  

these ones were changing their language to sound  better in their opinion. Oh, this is the right  

way to speak. But they were trying a little bit  too hard. So, Nancy Mitford said this is how we  

know the difference between someone who is really  upper class and someone who is just trying.  

Now, we've got some example words coming up. Let's look at some examples of upper class words  

compared to non upper class words. The first  words are all to do with things in the home. So,  

the upper class word is "house" and in Nancy  Mitford's opinion, the non upper class word is  

"home". They're synonyms, we use them in the  same way, but one word shows that you belong  

here with the Queen, and the other word shows  that you, you know, climbing up higher.  

Next, we have "drawing room" and "sitting room".  These are the room in your house where you  

entertain people when they come to visit. The  non upper class people would say "lounge". And  

if we remember that the non upper class people  like words that have the French origin or sound  

more refined, because "lounge" comes from FrenchThis is why it's attractive for them to use.  

Next, we have "lavatory" and lavatory  is generally shortened to "loo". This is  

still - saying "Where's the loo?" is still aeven though it was 1955, it's still one of the  

things to show how posh is someone, because there  are many, many people who will - can only say the  

word "loo" or "lavatory", and they can't say  that word "toilet". They have to avoid saying  

that word. It's too - it's too low! So yeahthis one is still the case. "Toilet" comes from  

French as well; toilette comes from French. Sofa, it's where you sit in your lounge and watch  

the television. Ah, ah, ah. If you're upper  class, you probably never watch television,  

but they do have sofas. Whereas the non upper  class people would sit on their settees or  

couches, but "settee" is even lower than  "couch", I would say, in my sense of it.  

Next, in 1955, the upper class people said  "looking glass". I'm going to look at the looking  

glass at my reflection. But I don't think they say  it now. If you're upper class, please let me know  

whether you say "looking glass" because I don't  know, I need your feedback on this one. These  

days, do you still say "looking glass"? Whereas  the non upper class people said "mirror".  

And when they go to restaurants or when they're  eating, the upper class people would use their  

napkin, you know, very, very gently. And the non  upper class people would probably go like that or  

something, you know. Or maybe just use their handAnyway, the word they would use is "serviette".  

So, these words are group together now. We're  moving on from the home. The upper class word is  

to say you feel "sick". I'm feeling terribly sickBut if you're not upper class, you say "ill". I'm  

ill. Next, the upper class people, because they're  more direct and they say - they say what they see  

or they tell it how it is, at least in those  times. They would say a person is "rich", who  

has got lots of money, who is absolutely stinking  rich. Whereas the non upper class people would say  

"wealthy", wealthy. It's not so - wealthy is more  of a sophisticated kind of word. Even though it  

means about money, in a way, it's not so much  about money. "Rich" makes us imagine piles of  

gold coins in a way that "wealthy" doesn't. Next, upper class people talk about false teeth.  

Obviously, back in 1955, there were a lot  more people who had false teeth because they,  

especially in England, you know what our dentists  are like here. So, they lost a lot of their teeth  

and they didn't have them unless they wore their  false teeth. Whereas the non upper class people,  

they said "dentures". Believe that probably comes  from French. Let me know in the comments.  

Upper class people said "spectacles",  not "glasses". And they would talk about  

riding their bike or bicycle, whereas the  non upper class people would say "cycle".  

And when it came to eating, the upper class  people would say "pudding", whereas the non  

upper class people said "dessert". So, we are many years on from 1955 now.  

Definitely some of the examples in this  lesson don't apply anymore. For example,  

"looking glass". But I think it's true thatin our times, there will still - there still  

is vocabulary that upper class people use that's  specific to them that, perhaps people who don't  

come from their social group, or who didn't go to  the schools with them, people just don't know this  

language that they use. They wouldn't know what's  the right word to say, because they just haven't  

been around all the other people that say those  words. If you didn't go to the expensive school,  

you just wouldn't learn it. And likesaid, at the beginning of the lesson,  

upper class people these days often change their  language down to talk to the normal people.  

So, you - it's hard to know what - it would be  very interesting to know, but hard to find out.  

What are the words, such as this today? It would  be really interesting to know, but personally,  

I don't know. So, there's another - if you've  got any examples, you can leave a comment  

of words that you know are posh that people  use today in the upper class. So, thank you  

for watching and what you can do now is a quiz  on this lesson. See you again soon. Bye!