Tuesday 29 July 2014

Euphemisms about Class (in quotes)


Look at "inner city". Once merely a descriptive term to distinguish a core urban area from the surrounding suburbs, it has become a code word for "the place where unemployed black people on welfare, living amid the drug trade and homicides, send their children to bad schools and the penitentiary."  The inner city is contrasted with the tree-lined streets of leafy suburbs, meaning "the place where affluent white people live and where the writer lives, or would like to." Contrast leafy suburbs with any place described as hardscrabble, which indicates "usually rural area or place in flyover country where working-class or poor white people struggle to get by." (The Baltimore Sun, January 2013)

“Dr Hunter offered the example of a school in a ‘better, leafy area’ that took three children in care…” (The Guardian, October 16 2003) “...enjoyed a dappled upbringing in Hampstead” The Guardian, 20 March 2002 (Presumably the light was dappled after filtering through all those leaves.) "The lovely leafy suburb of Hatch End" (flatmaterooms.co.uk) "Quiet leafy suburb is conveniently placed for all local amenities." (property.yakaz.co.uk) “Just because a school is in a so-called leafy suburb, that does not mean the parents are wealthy. Many will have stretched themselves to the limit to buy houses in the catchment areas of these schools." (The Guardian, 29 September 1999) “The Parlour is situated in the heart of Chorlton, a leafy suburb of Manchester that is awash with organic supermarkets serving wheatgrass smoothies.” (The Week Nov 2012 from Observer Food Monthly) But to really posh people, leafy means “suburban”.

“They live in a detached house obscured from a busy road by six fir trees… ‘Bri-Anne’ reads the name plate fixed between the green garage door and the frosted glass of the porch through which can be glimpsed the twee furnishings of a comfortable family home: a tasselled lamp, an over-stuffed sofa and a slightly garish carpet.” (The Guardian, July 7, 2000) “What we think of as ‘Victorian’ tends to be women in crinolines, living in overstuffed houses riddled with patterns, antimacassars and ferns.” (Evening Standard, March 10 2004) “Houses stuffed with fussy surfaces and horsehair were rejected for modernist apartments...” (Evening Standard May 5 2004) A house stuffed with horsehair would be hard to live in. It’s the furniture that’s stuffed with horsehair. “The earliest dresses from the late 1890s – overstuffed, overfrilled, over-feminine and awkward to wear...” The Guardian, February 4, 2005 Clothes would be padded rather than stuffed, but the writer wants that pejorative sound.

The story was, to use the media academics' term, "framed" within 36 hours of the boy's death. "Gang war invades middle-class haven," was the Telegraph's headline. Rhys lived on a private estate of "hanging baskets", "ornamental water features" and "polished Audis and Mazdas" (The Times), "mock Tudor white-timbered gables" and "solar-powered garden lights" (The Independent). His killers came from "rotting, feral" council estates (The Daily Telegraph) of "high corrugated iron fences" and "tattooed men... with small squat dogs" (The Independent). (The Guardian on the media response to the shooting of Rhys Jones, Sept 2 07) White-timbered? They mean “half-timbered”.

“Thailand wants a better class of tourist, or at least a richer class.” (BBC News, 16 Nov 2013)

Choice is considered a dirty word by many educationalists, but parents – weirdly enough – are actually quite keen to push their children into better schools. This site helps them beat the system.” (The Daily Telegraph, Aug 2010) So "choice" means "better schools".

“Mrs Salmond is carefully coiffured.” (The Times, May 14 07 “Three well-manicured, coiffeured ladies [in Sedgefield]…” Guardian June 27, 2007 “Parents whose little princesses are ear-studded, coiffured and high-heeled by the time they're four.” (Herald, March 2014) You go to the coiffeur to acquire a coiffure, but only if you're common, obviously.

"Dignity" award for Walker family The family of murdered teenager Anthony Walker have been honoured for their "calm dignity in the face of tragedy". (bbc.co.uk Oct. 13 2006) Alan Johnson and his family are praised for their “dignity” all over the broadsheets July 07, meaning that the family hid their feelings and didn’t show emotion – or only in a very controlled way. Dignity also means not talking to the media, and especially not selling your story. “The Value of Dignity: A trial by media will not help to find the truth about Madeleine McCann.” (The Times, Sept 20 07) “X has always maintained a dignified public silence.” (conservativehome.blogs.com)

The writers of That Was the Week that Was were allowed to be an eclectic bunch (i.e. some had not been to Cambridge). (The Guardian, March 25 2008)

“I hate the noise, the dirt, the fumes and the grinding chaos." (Politician Ian Duncan Smith on living in London, March 2013) “A refuge from urban chaos.” (Museum Secrets) My dear, the noise! And the people!

Gritty publishers New English Library” (The Guardian, December 5 2007) “There are plenty of gritty dramas and soaps for working class actors out there.” (Actor, 7 March 2012) “Near streets so gritty they were used as the backdrop for a shootout in the next Fast & Furious movie, million-dollar condos and $38 racks of lamb beckon the urban pioneers of Los Angeles.” (Bloomberg.com, May 8 2014)

“The rooms, though heavy with brocade swagged curtains…” (redonline.co.uk) “The tablecloths are heavy with starch.” (Daily Mail, May 2012) “Heavily decorated chiffonniers inlaid with of mother of pearl.” (frenchprovincialmag.com)

“Fresh pasta is already very tasty, there is no need to combine it with heavy, complicated sauces.” (Web) “It's all very well dressing up food so that you can scarcely recognise what it is… Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy 'complicated' food but it is also nice to savour 'real' tastes… Yes, there are sauces but none that smother the food and you can actually discern that you are eating a piece of fish or chicken breast.” (Shropshire Star)

Middle England: “A metaphor for respectability, the nuclear family, conservatism, whiteness, middle age and the status quo." (New Statesman, 25 Oct 07)

“On gender selection … the feelings of the mob are to be enforced.” (Catherine Bennett, The Guardian, November 13, 2003) A Mori poll showed that people were against gender selection. “The mob is waiting. Men with bovine faces. Grandmas with silver perms and teenage girls clinging together and weeping; for terror or the cameras.” (Mary Riddell in The Observer 2002 on “stranger grief”.)

“Particular prestige was attached to those who inherited landed estates over a number of generations. These are often described as being from ‘old’ families.” (Wikipedia)

“The middle classes are leaving the state sector in droves… partly because they think their children will be mixing with pupils who will not help their child reach full potential.” (Nick Clegg, reported in the Evening Standard, Nov 23 07)

“Why is the rural idyll I call home voting for Marine Le Pen?” (Independent headline April 30, 2012)

"He came from a simple family." (BBC on James Callaghan)

“The Government’s social mobility tsar… will this week warn that social mobility has gone into reverse. For the first time in a century, the middle classes are becoming worse off.” (Daily Telegraph, October 2013) So "social mobility" means "upward social mobility"?

“We don’t want the Olympic Park to be a gilded enclave.” (Nicky Gavron, Jan 15 2014)

But the key detail that confirms his gilded existence is this: "I wore boxer shorts of combed Sea Island cotton at eight bucks a pair." (Guardian)

Lifted the lid on the gilded lives of the super-rich. (Guardian)

A sound system propped in the corner of the gilded dining room. (Guardian)

Like F. Scott Fitzgerald's gilded rich. (Guardian) Surely “filthy rich”?

More here, and links to the rest.


  1. Old news. "Inner city" was current in the Midwest 45 years ago and more, at least it was in the suburbs. They were leafy, but we didn't bother to mention that.

    Do they speak Middle English in Middle England?

  2. I don't know, I don't live there! Yes, of course these terms are nothing new. But what did you mean by "inner city"? What did it stand for? It's the people who don't live in suburbs who call them "leafy", either out of envy or contempt. (I live in an inner city, but London is known for its trees.)

  3. "inner city" meant what it seems to mean in your quotations. The inner city I speak of was in Cleveland, which used to be called "the Forest City." I don't know whether anyone by boosters still called it that, but you could buy two by fours at Forest City Lumber.

  4. Leafy as in suburbs is terrible - meaningless and lazy: I'm always surprised people still use in unironically eg in the Guardian. Manicured - well the main use for that is lawns, equally annoying and lazy...