Category Archives: Culture

608. The Mass Observation (with Mum)

Listen to my mum talk about a social history project focusing on the lives of everyday people in the UK. Includes discussion of things like protests, plastic, identity, sex education, loneliness, and milk!

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Introduction Transcript

Hello everyone, this is LEP episode 608 and it’s called The Mass Observation (with Mum).

What’s that all about? You might be thinking. This sounds like some kind of Big Brother thing – like maybe the government observing everyone in some kind of dystopian future, and somehow my mum is involved in it.

Well, I’m afraid it’s far less dramatic than that.

In fact, the mass observation in the title is a social history project that has been going on in the UK, probably for 70 years or more. It’s a project that my mum has fairly recently got involved in.

Basically, the mass observation (now administered by the University of Sussex) aims to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of volunteer observers who either keep diaries or reply to open-ended questionnaires (known as directives). My mum is one of those volunteers and since this project is all about collecting information on everyday life in the UK we thought it might be an interesting episode of Luke’s English Podcast.

So that’s what you’re going to get here. A conversation with my mum on a variety of topics which have come up in the quarterly questionnaires from the Mass Observation.

So, you can expect some rambling conversation between the two of us on things like this:

  • protests
  • plastic
  • identity and gender identity
  • sex education in school
  • loneliness and belonging
  • and milk

There’s also some chat at the start about Prince Harry & Meghan Markle, following on from the last time my mum was on the podcast when we talked about the royal wedding.

So now you can enjoy about an hour’s worth of my mum’s nice voice and accent talking about a variety of issues relating to everyday life in the UK.

I hope you enjoy it. I’ll be back to talk a bit more on the other side of the conversation.

In terms of language learning, your task as ever is to just keep on listening. At the very least, that’s all you have to do here. Just listen, follow the conversation, see what you can learn from it and try to notice any features of English or vocabulary along the way. But the main thing, just enjoy this chat between my mum and me.


Ending

I hope you enjoyed that. I’d like to say a big thank you again to my mum for being on the podcast again, and to all members of my family who make a huge contribution every time they’re on.

So what’s up? Nearly the end of the summer holidays. We’re approaching the end of August.

I hope you’ve had a good summer.

Remember in July I mentioned a couple of times the LEP meetup that was happening in London? Well, I went to it and met about 25-30 LEPsters, had some drinks and conversation with them for a few hours, and what a pleasant experience that was!

In fact we recorded some samples of audio during the meetup, with everyone talking for a minute or two. I think I’ll be putting an episode together with that.

Speak to you again on the podcast soon! Bye!

 

606. The English Seaside (with James)

Explaining and describing the culture of the English seaside experience, with James.

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I’m coming to the LEPster meetup on Sunday 28 July 2019. See you there?

Where? The Fitzroy Tavern near Oxford Street & Tottenham Court Road. Full address is 16 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2LY. Put the postcode into your google maps app (or equivalent) and it should direct you there.
When2PM on Sunday 28 July (that’s this coming Sunday)
The host is Zdenek Lukas – you’ll recognise him in the pub because he will be the guy with the board games. If you’re coming please just send Zdenek an email to let him know you’ll be there so he has an idea of how many people to expect. teacherzdenek@gmail.com

Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners, how are you? Here is the second of a pair of episodes that I recorded a couple of weeks ago while I was on holiday with my family in England. That’s the same holiday during which I got the two flat tyres that you heard all about in the last episode.

During the holiday, my wife, our daughter, my parents and my brother all travelled down to the south coast of England, where we spent some time at the beach in places like Lyme Regis, Seaton, West Bay and other parts of the Jurassic Coast as it is called. Yes, the Jurassic Coast. Not Jurassic Park – no because that’s not a real holiday resort is it? it’s just a film you see. No, we spent a week on the Jurassic Coast.

What’s the Jurassic Coast? I hear you ask. Are there dinosaurs there?

Here’s a quick extract from Wikipedia which should explain.

The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site on the English Channel coast of southern England. It stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, a distance of about 96 miles, and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in mid-December 2001.

The site spans 185 million years of geological history, coastal erosion having exposed an almost continuous sequence of rock formation covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

At different times, this area has been desert, shallow tropical sea and marsh, and the fossilised remains of the various creatures that lived here have been preserved in the rocks.

Basically, there are loads of fossils to be found there, including dinosaurs.

But anyway, I digress there into pre-history. But speaking of ancient creatures, more recently, my family had an English coastal holiday on the Jurassic Coast. Yes, the weather was fantastic. Blue sky, sunshine, not too hot. Just right. While we were there James and I decided that it might be a good idea for us to record a podcast all about the English seaside experience.

What is it really like at the beach in England? What kind of beaches can you find there? What are the typical things that happen at the beach? What sort of things can you see and do there? What is the culture and history of the English seaside?

That is what we attempted to achieve in this episode. I say attempted, because it was actually quite difficult, mainly due to the conditions in which we recorded the conversation.

I recorded this in my parents’ living room, quite late at night after everyone else had gone to bed. We’d eaten a fairly heavy meal (my Mum is a great cook and so we always completely stuff our faces while staying with my parents). Also the holiday had been quite active with lots of sun and fresh air, and of course we had spent a long and tiring day on our unexpected road trip the day before.

As a result the “vibe” of the episode is quite sleepy and generally quite low energy.

In fact, James, who was sitting on the sofa, became steadily more horizontal as the recording went on. At one point he even lies down to continue podcasting in the foetal position with his eyes closed.

I can get quite frustrated and irritable sometimes while recording with James because I’m trying to produce nothing less than top top quality English podcast content for my international audience of listeners and I sometimes fear that his general sleepiness will be interpreted, by you, as a lack of enthusiasm, and I wouldn’t want that on the podcast would I?

So, at certain moments you’ll hear me getting quite angry and actually I very nearly gave up the recording at one point, but James assured me that he wasn’t about to fall asleep and that he would, at the very least, keep his eyes open in an effort to stay conscious while podcasting.

There is some strong language – that means swearing, and just other moments when I start having a go at James a bit, showing my irritation and trying to keep the energy up.

I could have edited those bits out, but I’ve chosen to keep them in because, having listened back to this recording, I actually think they’re quite funny and entertaining. After all, I want my podcast to be authentic and what’s more authentic than the sounds of genuine bickering between two brothers?

In any case, there are only a few moments of mild arguing and swearing, which is quite normal between James and me, but you know, we love each other really and as I said before I now only really want to express my gratitude to James for agreeing to be a guest on the podcast again, when he probably just wanted to go to bed.

So, anyway let’s begin. So come with us now as we enter my parents comfortable living room, late on a warm evening in July as James and I raid our dad’s drinks cabinet, share a glass of scotch whiskey together and attempt to explain the sights, sounds and perhaps smells of the English seaside, in all its glory…


Sandy beaches
Pebble beaches
Upmarket beach towns
Fishing towns
Working class seaside resorts
Sticks of rock
Cockles and mussels
Seagulls
End-of-the-pier entertainment
Fish and chips
And more…

Rude (and often very sexist) old English seaside postcards

A Punch & Judy Show (a modern version, with less violence! Yes, it’s pretty weird.)

Pictures

Lyme Regis Picture GRAHAM HUNT HG12106

Brighton Pier

Blackpool

Waves in the sand, Norfolk

If we missed anything – let us know in the comment section.

Ending Transcript

So there you have it – we managed to talk about the English seaside while maintaining consciousness throughout!

I’d like to thank James again for his participation and for not falling asleep at any point.

Listening back to that, I didn’t sound like I was frustrated at all, right? I thought I’d got more angry and irritated than that, but all-in-all it was a nice one, wasn’t it?

I hope you liked it and that it gave you a flavour of what it’s like to visit the beach in England.

Have a look at the page for this episode on the website. You’ll find some visuals there and also a transcript for the intro and this ending bit.

Just a reminder before we go – there is a LEPster meetup happening in London this coming Sunday (28th July 2019) from 2PM at the Fitzroy Tavern near Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road – the postcode for your google maps app (or equivalent) is W1T 2LY

Full Address: 16 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LY

And yes, I can confirm that I will be coming too, probably with James himself and a couple of friends of ours.

If you’re coming, let the meetup host know. That’s Zdenek. You can email him at teacherzdenek@gmail.com just to let him know. If you’re wondering which one he is – he’ll be the guy with the board games.

Hope to see you there. I might only be able to stay for a little bit – perhaps an hour or so, but it would be good to meet you and we can chat in English a bit, perhaps have a drink, maybe play a board game… we will see.

Also, Premium subscribers – I am working on some material for you which will arrive soon. That’s going to contain the usual language teaching to help you improve your vocab, grammar and pronunciation.

If you’re interested in becoming a Premium subscriber go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium and you can sign up there, then use your login details to sign into the LEP app to listen to the premium episodes. You can also check your subscription details by logging into your account from a computer – just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium, click the three lines in the top left corner and then log in. Also, any technical support issues that you have – email support@libsyn.com and make sure you mention that you are a subscriber to teacherluke’s premium content. Teacherluke is the name you’ll need to use to make sure they know which service it is.

OK then, so, until next time I shall bid ye farewell in the usual way by saying “Goodbye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye!”

603. Queen / Freddie Mercury / Bohemian Rhapsody

A conversation with Queen fan Alex Love about one of the UK’s most famous and iconic bands. This episode has been requested many times by listeners, so finally – here it is!

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Notes, Links & Videos

No transcript for the intro to this episode, but there is a transcript for the ending (below)

Queen at Live Aid 1985

Alex Love “How to win a Pub Quiz: British Edition” at Edinburgh Fringe 2019

The Stand, Room 2. 12 o’clock noon, throughout August (but not 12 August).

Tickets here https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/alex-love-how-to-win-a-pub-quiz-british-edition

Ending Transcript

So that was Alex Love talking about one of his favourite bands, Queen.

I hope you managed to follow all of that. I understand that the sound quality wasn’t exactly perfect and Alex can be a bit of a mumbler sometimes, but this is good practice – not every conversation or bit of listening you’ll do will happen in completely perfect acoustic conditions. It’s good training to listen to conversations like this from time to time.

So I know that plenty of you out there are big fans of Queen and you might have things to say yourselves, so I’d like to invite you to leave your comments in the comment section.

You can write responses to any of the things that came up in this conversation and here are some questions for you too. These are pretty much the questions I asked Alex I think.

  1. How did you first get into Queen?
  2. What’s their appeal, to you and to everyone?
  3. How would you describe their sound?
  4. What’s the story of the band? Do you know their origins and how they went on to become such a huge band?
  5. What are your favourite songs of theirs and why?
  6. What’s Bohemian Rhapsody all about (the song)?
  7. What about the film Bohemian Rhapsody? Have you seen it? What did you think of it? And have you seen Rocketman the Elton John film?
  8. What can you tell me about the individual members of the band? What was the dynamic between them all? (Often seems to be the secret to every band’s magic)

So do feel free to write some things in the comment section in response to any of those questions.

If you’re heading to Edinburgh for the Fringe this year, why not check out Alex’s show, which is always a hit at the festival. It’s called How To Win a Pub Quiz and it is part stand up comedy show and part pub quiz. It’s described in the fringe website as being an interactive comedy game show. It is a lot of fun.

tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/alex-love-how-to-win-a-pub-quiz-british-edition

It’s on every day (except 12 August) at 12 noon at The Stand Comedy Club (room 2).

Tickets are available at tickets.edfrindge.com (check the link on the page for this episode).

Go along you will have fun!

That’s it for this episode.

Just a reminder about premium content. I’ve uploaded series 13 and series 14 is almost ready to go now. So, plenty of premium stuff available now and it’s all about repeating, demonstrating and clarifying language which has come up naturally in conversations on the podcast, and there are pronunciation drills focusing on different aspects of pronunciation each time. Episodes and PDFs available in the app and online. Go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started.

Again, things might be a little bit quiet with the free podcast, but premium episodes are coming.

OK, I look forward to reading your comments as they come in.

No song from me, as Alex requested, just because I don’t feel really good enough to tackle a song by Queen. They’re all too technical and Freddy’s voice is so strong and has so much range to it that it’s hard to do covers of Queen songs, but perhaps if I somehow meet up with Alex we can do some kind of duet, which I’m sure would be absolutely horrible… but if that’s what the people want, that’s what I’ll do!

But for now…

Good bye…

599. Oliver Gee Returns with Stories to Tell

Australian journalist and podcaster Oliver Gee returns to LEP to tell us some stories about the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, meeting famous comedians as a journalist, learning Swedish and French and his honeymoon tour of France on a 50cc Vespa scooter.

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Introduction Transcript

Welcome to episode 599 of Luke’s English Podcast, a podcast for learners of English presented by me, Luke Thompson an English teacher and comedian from England now living in Paris.

In this episode you’re going to hear a conversation I recorded last week here in my flat. The conversation is with my friend Oliver Gee who is a journalist and podcaster, from Australia now also living in Paris.

As some of you will remember, Oliver has been on the podcast before, in episode 495, over 100 episodes ago. Can you believe it!? In that episode we talked all about Australian things, including Australian English, so while you’re listening to Oli’s voice and you’re wondering about his accent and other Australian things, check out episode 495.

Oliver is a podcaster and YouTuber who makes content about Paris and France, in English. Recently I joined Oliver on one of his live YouTube video walking tours in Paris, which you can find on the page for this episode and it was a lot of fun talking to him and I thought it was high time I invited him back on the podcast for a chat and to tell us some stories.

And, as a journalist, Oliver is very interested in stories. That’s what journalism is about a lot of the time – finding stories, covering stories, reporting stories and generally reporting events in the form of stories. So, that’s what I wanted from this conversation. I wanted Oliver to tell us some stories – not bedtime stories or fairy tales. I’m talking more about true stories of people’s lives, moments that people experience, big events that happen in the world, etc.

We communicate so much of what we do and see via stories – either in the media, or in the way we just talk to each other and describe things. Stories are central to the way we communicate with each other.

So, the focus for me in this conversation was to let Oliver tell us some of his stories, and I wanted to hear him speak about these things in particular:

The Notre Dame Cathedral fire

When the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire recently (you must have seen it in the news) Oliver went down to the cathedral with his camera in order to see and record what was happening and to capture the moment. He also interviewed to a tour guide all about it for his podcast in which they described it in full detail. So, Oliver can tell us about what he saw that evening, generally what happened at the cathedral and what’s happening next and there are some pretty weird coincidences in his story too. In fact there are quite a of weird coincidences and special moments described during this episode.

Meeting famous comedians

I also wanted stories about Oliver’s time working as a journalist, how he started and particularly moments when he ended up meeting some famous people – especially comedians that we’re big fans of.

So listen on to find out who Oliver has met, how he met them and what they were really like in person. There’s one comedian who is particularly famous at the moment. Oliver got to meet him in really quite an intimate situation, and I love the story.

Learning Swedish & French

Oliver has lived in Sweden and now lives in France, so I wanted him to tell me about his experiences of learning languages, particularly moments when he felt challenged and when he’d made significant progress.

The honeymoon tour of France on a scooter

And finally, there’s the story of Oliver’s honeymoon road trip around France on the back of a scooter. Imagine two newly married people travelling all around France, even crossing over the alps, all on a small 50cc Vespa scooter. Listen on to find out what happened.

So those are the main topics – Notre Dame Cathedral, meeting famous people, learning languages and a honeymoon road trip. There’s also some chat at the start about my podcast as Oliver noticed that LEP has had over 50 million downloads in total and I’m approaching episode 600. So we talk a bit about podcasting vs using YouTube as different platforms for what we do.

We’re about to jump into the conversation now, just before we do let me prepare you a little bit because the conversation starts quite quickly.

In episode 495, if you remember, we said that the better people know Oliver, the shorter his name becomes. This is normal. It’s like nicknames. So, acquaintances probably call him Oliver, then friends call him Oli, then close friends might call him Ol, then really close friends might just call him O.

I just wanted to remind you of that, because it’s the first thing you’ll hear, so you might immediately get lost and go “Wait, what? I’m lost already!”

The better people know you, the shorter your name becomes. That’s how this begins.

Alright, so now you’re ready, let’s go!


Ending

So that was Oliver Gee on the podcast again. I really hope you enjoyed that conversation full of stories. If you struggled to understand everything that was said I just want to say congratulations and well done for listening all the way through to this point. I know sometimes it is difficult to follow these long, fast conversations on my podcast but I truly believe that you can make progress if you manage to just keep listening. Sometimes you’ll get lost and not understand, but try to tolerate the bits that you can’t understand and use the bits that you do understand to help you guess the rest and keep going. The best language learners persevere even when things aren’t completely clear.

Stay positive, keep it up.

As ever I look forward to reading your comments in the comment section if you have anything to share or any thoughts regarding any of the things that came up in this episode.

On the episode page you will find loads of links and videos relating to the things we talked about in this conversation, including… (links all listed below)

So this is the end of episode 599. Episode 600 will be the next one.

I hope you can join me for the YouTube live stream when I will be recording episode 600.

That is going to happen at 3PM (CET) on Friday 7 June on my YouTube channel. You’ll find the link to that on the front page of my website in the comment section.

If you can’t attend the live stream, then I am sorry! You will be able to watch the video later and obviously listen to the audio in episode 600.

The theme of the live stream is “Ask me anything” (although I do reserve the right not to answer questions if I don’t fancy it, like “what colour is your underwear?” “Mind your own business!” or “What are your credit card details?” etc. You can ask me questions about English or whatever comes to you and I will try to answer the questions as best I can, and as briefly as I can in the time we have available.

Also, premium subscribers – premium episodes are coming! I’m working on several premium series at the moment, and so June will see more premium stuff and less free stuff.

OK then, that’s it! Until episode 600 I will now say, good bye bye bye bye bye…


Links

Oliver’s episode about Notre Dame Cathedral (The Earful Tower Podcast)

theearfultower.com/2019/04/22/notre-dame-fire-what-happened-and-what-next/

Oliver’s tour of Notre Dame when it’s empty – before the fire (The Earful Tower)

When Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire (France 24 News)

Oliver’s video of Parisians singing hymns while Notre Dame burns (The Earful Tower)

My walking tour with Oliver in the Square des Batignolles (5 minute version)

Bill Bailey does comedy about minor and major keys in music

LEP #462 British Comedy: Bill Bailey

462. British Comedy: Bill Bailey

A clip from Russel Brand’s Netflix Special (I think this is the one that Oliver & his wife attended)

Oliver’s live walking tour / interview with French model/author/music producer Caroline de Maigret (The Earful Tower)

591. London Native Speaker Interviews REVISITED (Part 1)

Revisiting a video I made for YouTube in 2009 and teaching you some descriptive and idiomatic vocabulary in the process. Transcripts and video available.

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Introduction

Hello, you’re listening to episode 591, which is called London Native Speaker Interviews Revisited Part 1.

The plan in this episode is to revisit some videos I recorded 10 years ago…

We’re going to listen to the audio from one of those videos and break it all down in order to help you understand everything word for word, teaching you some lovely, descriptive and idiomatic vocabulary in the process.

This episode is a bit of a flashback to 10 years ago when I first started doing the podcast.

What happened 10 years ago Luke, in 2009?
Ooh, all sorts of things happened, but one of them was that I went into central London armed with my video camera, an Oyster card and a question to ask some members of the public: What is London really like?

What is London like? = tell me about London, describe London

I interviewed people in the street and edited the footage into a series of 5 videos which I published on YouTube, and the videos actually did very well! Part 1 now has 1.6 million views. Part 2 has 1 million.

You might be thinking – are you rich because of those videos? Nope. Not at all. I didn’t monetise them until after they’d got most of their views, or I couldn’t monetise them because of some background music. Anyway, that’s another story for another time – how YouTubers make or don’t make money from their videos.

I also published the videos and their audio tracks as episodes of this podcast in 2009. Some of you will have heard them and seen those videos.

I thought that this time it would be interesting to revisit those videos on the podcast because there’s loads of English to learn from them. When I published them on the podcast in 2009 I just published them with no commentary from me. It was just the video/audio with transcripts on the website.

But this time I’m not just going to play them again. Instead I’m going to go through the audio from the first video and kind of break it down bit by bit, explaining bits of vocabulary and generally commenting on things as we go. This is going to be a bit like one of those director’s commentary tracks that you get on DVDs, but the focus is mainly going to be on highlighting certain items of vocabulary and bits of pronunciation/accent that come up in the videos.

*Luke mentions his Avengers Endgame Spoiler Review, which you can listen to in the LEP App (in the App-only episodes category).*

If you want to watch the original video that I’m talking about here, you’ll find it embedded on the page for this episode on my website (A script is also available), it’s also in the LEP App (with a script in the notes) which you can download free from the app store on your phone – just search for Luke’s English Podcast App and you can just find it on my YouTube channel, which is Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube. The video is called London Native Speaker Interviews Part 1, or maybe London Video Interviews Part 1 (website), London Interviews Part 1 in the app.

So, let’s now travel back in time to 2009 and revisit Native English Speaker Interviews Part 1.

The theme of the videos is London – what’s it really like to live there? What are the good and bad things about living there?

So there’s a lot of descriptive vocabulary for describing cities and life in cities.

Video script available here teacherluke.co.uk/2010/03/25/london-video-interviews-pt-1/

Definitions of some vocabulary and expressions

What’s London really like?
This question: “What is it like?” means “tell me about it” or “how is it?”. It does not mean: “What do you like about London?”
e.g. What is London like? – it’s busy
What do you like about it? – I like the theatres

It’s gone to the dogs = everything is much worse now than it was before

grimy = dirty

to recharge your batteries = to give yourself some energy, by doing something pleasant and stimulating

to shout someone down = to disagree with someone loudly in order to stop them talking

to take advantage of something = to use something good which is available to you

commuting = travelling from home to work every day

585. Alternative British Citizenship Tests with Paul Taylor

Testing Paul Taylor again on his knowledge of Britishness with several alternative British citizenship tests and some very British problems.

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Introduction Transcript

Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re well.

In the last episode you heard me talking to Amber and Paul. I hope you enjoyed that. It was lots of fun. I recorded it last week and after doing that mammoth episode about poshness Amber had to go but Paul stayed and so I thought we would return to the topic of the British citizenship test. We talked about this last time in episode 527 when Paul took the test on the podcast and failed.

I still had some other bits and pieces that I wanted to cover in the episode, including a stand up routine about the citizenship test and also an article in The Telegraph. Both of those things include their own citizenship tests, so let’s see if Paul can pass them. Be prepared to be either shocked or amazed by Paul’s knowledge about British things in general. Also we end up taking a citizenship test for the USA and to see if we pass or not, just keep listening.

So this episode is a chance for you to listen to Paul and me in conversation, but there’s also loads of stuff to learn in terms of British culture and certain words which are often pronounced wrong by native speakers of British English.

Check the page for this episode, where you will find links to the various tests and videos we’re talking about.

Let’s now join Paul and me after we’d just finished a cup of tea, ready to talk more on the podcast and let’s see how much he and you know about British life, culture and language.

Videos & Links

Imran Yusuf’s British Citizenship Test

The Daily Telegraph’s British Citizenship Test for Meghan Markle

www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/queen-greasy-spoons-alternative-british-citizenship-test-meghan/

Very British Problems on Twitter

An American (USA) citizenship test on the Washington Times website

www.washingtontimes.com/quiz/2015/feb/11/us-citizenship-test-could-you-pass/

Paul Taylor on Twitter

 

 

584. Posh or not posh? (Part 3) with Amber & Paul

Amber & Paul join me to talk again about poshness, posh accents and posh celebrities. This episode is full of different British accents – posh, RP and regional differences. It’s also full of comedy and I found myself laughing out loud while editing this, especially the interview with the football player that Paul tells us about. I hope you enjoy it.

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Are these celebrities posh or not? What are the features of posh accents, RP and regional accents in the UK?

Kate Beckinsale

Victoria Beckham

Sadiq Khan

Kenneth Branagh

Stephen K Amos

Elton John

Daniel Craig

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling

George Martin

Jacob Rees Mogg (again)

Danny Dyer

Keep adding your videos of British celebrities in the comment section. Are they posh or not posh?

583. British Comedy: The Dirty Fork / Restaurant Sketch (Monty Python)

Analysing the English in a sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and considering British communication style relating to apologising, making complaints and minimising language.

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Introduction

Luke rambles about folding seats on public transport, the spring equinox, saying goodbye to winter and the recent posh or not posh episodes.

Here’s another British comedy episode.

We’re going to listen to a comedy sketch by Monty Python.

This time we’re looking at British manners, politeness, communication style and just some madcap comedy too.

Similar episodes in the past have been things like my episode about British communication style (What Brits Say vs What They Mean), What is this British comedy? How to learn English with comedy TV series, and the episodes I’ve done about Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

We’re going to listen to a clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and also consider the cultural values behind the sketch, and how that relates to things like making complaints, saying sorry and making requests.

So, cultural stuff and also linguistic stuff too.

Buy the DVD Box Set for Monty Python

Check out the Monty Python YouTube channel where a lot of their content is available free

Intro to the sketch

There’s quite a well-known series of postcards called the How to be British Collection. You might have seen them. They contain little cartoons illustrating life in England from the point of view of learners of English. There are some classic sketches in that collection.

The “How to be British collection” #8 – Being Polite (c) IGP Cards – Buy the books on Amazon here.

One of them is called “Lesson 16 – How to complain”.

It shows a couple in a restaurant, in England we imagine. They don’t look happy with the food. The man says “This meat is as tough as old boots” and the woman says “It tastes off. And these vegetables are cold.” (some nice vocab in there already)

In the next frame the man says “this wine is awful – I asked for dry and they’ve given us sweet.” and she says “and look, there’s a worm in my side salad…”

Ah, a typical English restaurant.

Then the waiter comes over and says “How is your meal? Is everything all right?”

Now, what would you say in that situation? How would you respond? Would you complain? How would you do it?

Well, in the sketch, after the waiter says “Is everything all right?” the man says “Oh yes. It’s all lovely!” and the woman says “Excellent, thank you!”

8

www.lgpcards.com/index.html

Hmm…

The point here is that British or English people avoid saying the bad thing, making the complaint, because they’re too polite and don’t like to cause a problem, so they say it’s all fine.

Is this a stereotype of English communication style? Partly. As we’ve seen before.

What would I say?

I would say that the food was no good, especially the part about the worm. Obviously those extreme details are added for comic effect, like a worm in the salad. But if my food was just not up to scratch, would I complain? I probably wouldn’t complain if it was something minor, but a big thing would be an issue, but what’s definitely true is that I don’t like getting into a situation of conflict or confrontation and so I would probably be very reasonable about my complaint. My wife is more direct about these things. She’s French. We often notice a big difference in the way we deal with things like this. She’s much more direct about making a complaint and getting what she feels she is entitled to. For some reason it’s more difficult for me. I don’t like getting into those confrontations. Is this just me, or is this British people in general? I think it’s a bit of both. I’m perhaps not the confrontational kind, but also Brits are like that too, more than other nations, as far as I can tell.

Of course there are plenty of British people who complain vociferously if there’s a problem, a lot of Brits (certainly English people) will avoid an awkward situation if they feel that nothing can be done about it.

Why do people want to avoid confrontation? What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s find out in this sketch.

The Dirty Fork Sketch

Listen to the sketch – just try to understand what’s going on. It’ll help if you watch the video because there are a couple of visual elements, but if you don’t watch it – just try to work out the details. Essentially, you’ll hear a couple in a French restaurant. They have a problem, and then they are visited at the table by various members of the restaurant staff including the waiter, the head waiter, the manager and finally the chef from the kitchen.

Let’s listen to it and see if you can work out what’s going on. Then I’ll break it down for you so you understand it just like a native speaker.

Bonus: Watch out for the punchline at the end.

Summary
A man and woman are in a fancy restaurant. The French waiter is very keen to make their stay satisfying. The man asks for another fork because his is a little bit dirty. The reaction of the waiter is extreme. he apologises profusely. He fetches the head waiter who comes to apologise. He makes over the top apologies. The restaurant manager comes out and his apology is serious and dramatic. Finally the chef comes out. He’s a huge angry man with a meat cleaver. He’s furious with the customers because they made a complaint which has caused so much sorrow to the staff of the restaurant. He shouts revenge as he tries to kill them.

The punchline?
“Lucky I didn’t tell them about the dirty knife!”

The main point is
I think this sketch is making fun of people who keep quiet about little complaints or use language to minimise problems, because they’re scared about making a fuss. This seems to be what they imagine could happen if they point out a problem. This is the worst nightmare of every British person who awkwardly makes a complaint. They’re terrified of making a fuss or causing a scene.

Minimising language

It’s not “I’ve got a dirty fork”, it’s “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”.

It’s ridiculous really – either you’ve got a fork or not. You can’t have a bit of a fork. Your fork can be a bit dirty, but it’s a bit silly to say “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”. However, this kind of minimising language is very common when people want to make something sound less serious than it is.

E.g. 1 “We’ve got a bit of a dirty table. Could you give it a bit of a wipe for us please?”

E.g. 2 Imagine someone announcing to someone that there’s been an accident, but they’re trying to minimise the seriousness of it because for some reason they’re embarrassed about it or they want to reduce the shock.

“Can I have a bit of a chat with you. Just a bit of a chat. It’s no big deal, it’ll just take a second.

It’s just that we might have had a little bit of a problem downstairs. There’s just sort of been a little bit of an explosion in the kitchen. Just tiny little bang really – more of a pop really, just a tiny little pop – you’d hardly notice it really. I heard it though and thought “Did I imagine that? Did someone just pop a balloon, or fart or something?” and then I picked myself off the ground and had a look downstairs and, yeah, the restaurant is a bit err, it’s a bit scratched and there’s a slight hole in the wall, and in the ceiling and a few puffs of smoke. At first I thought – “oh is that the chef having a cigarette out the back? I thought he’d given up!” But no it wasn’t him – I guess he won’t be smoking again in a hurry! Can you speak to him? Well, he’s a bit tied up at the moment, no he can’t come to the phone he’s… just resting. I think he fainted or just fell over after the thing, the thing that happened in the kitchen, and his head might have fallen off slightly and he might have lost a couple of other limbs in the confusion but anyway, no need to worry too much, it’s basically under control more or less, I just thought you might , want to pop down to the kitchen to have a look and maybe call an ambulance. Yeah, I would but I’ve lost my legs and I’m feeling a bit sleepy so I’m going to have a bit of a lie down, but I thought you might like to know… OK?

So, it’s always “A slight problem” or “A bit of a problem”.

Go through the paragraph again and highlight the minimising language.

Back to the comedy sketch…

This sketch is making fun of our culture I think – the way we are afraid of causing a fuss. Also it makes fun of the over-the-top way that fancy restaurants might apologise for small problems. They’re so keen to welcome and satisfy their customers. The sketch also gets completely carried away, especially when John Cleese’s “Mungo” comes out.

To an extent it’s a little bit pointless analysing Monty Python’s comedy because they make fun of absolutely everything, but I feel that they’re definitely poking fun at stuffy, polite culture.

Why do people minimise negative things? They want it to sound less serious. They don’t want to make someone feel they’re complaining. They want to show that it’s no problem – but why would it be a problem?

If you had a dirty fork you’d just say – “Excuse me, can I have another fork please? This one’s a bit dirty” the waiter is not going to be mortified. He’ll just get you another fork. This sketch represent’s the customer’s worst fear – that there will be a problem or a fuss.

“We don’t want to cause a fuss! Don’t make a scene!”


Now let’s go through the sketch again and understand it in detail.

RESTAURANT SKETCH: COMPLETE SCRIPT

Lady It’s nice here, isn’t it?
Man Oh, (It’s a) very good restaurant, three stars you know.
Lady Really?
Man Mmm…
Waiter Good evening, sir! Good evening, madam! And may I say what a pleasure it is to see you here again, sir!
Man Oh thank you. Well there you are dear. Have a look there, anything you like. The boeuf en croute is fantastic.
Waiter Oh if I may suggest, sir … the pheasant à la reine, the sauce is one of the chef’s most famous creations.
Man Em… that sounds good. Anyway just have a look… take your time. Oh, er by the way – I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork, could you … er.. get me another one?
Waiter I beg your pardon.
Man Oh it’s nothing … er, I’ve got a fork, (it’s) a little bit dirty. Could you get me another one? Thank you.
Waiter Oh … sir, I do apologize.
Man Oh, no need to apologize, it doesn’t worry me.
Waiter Oh no, no, no, I do apologize. I will fetch the head waiter immediatement. (immediately – in French)
Man Oh, there’s no need to do that!
Waiter Oh, no no… I’m sure the head waiter, he will want to apologize to you himself. I will fetch him at once.
Lady Well, you certainly get good service here.
Man They really look after you… yes.
Head Waiter Excuse me monsieur and madame. (examines the fork) It’s filthy, Gaston … find out who washed this up, and give them their cards immediately.
Man Oh, no, no.
Head Waiter Better still, we can’t afford to take any chances, sack the entire washing-up staff.
Man No, look I don’t want to make any trouble.
Head Waiter Oh, no please, no trouble. It’s quite right that you should point these kind of things out. Gaston, tell the manager what has happened immediately! (The Waiter runs off)
Man Oh, no I don’t want to cause any fuss.
Head Waiter Please, it’s no fuss. I quite simply wish to ensure that nothing interferes with your complete enjoyment of the meal.
Man Oh I’m sure it won’t, it was only a dirty fork.
Head Waiter I know. And I’m sorry, bitterly sorry, but I know that… no apology I can make can alter the fact that in our restaurant you have been given a dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery
Man It wasn’t smelly.
Head Waiter It was smelly, and obscene and disgusting and I hate it, I hate it ,.. nasty, grubby, dirty, mangy, scrubby little fork. Oh … oh . . . oh . . . (runs off in a passion as the manager comes to the table)
Manager Good evening, sir, good evening, madam. I am the manager. I’ve only just heard . .. may I sit down?
Man Yes, of course.
Manager I want to apologize, humbly, deeply, and sincerely about the fork.
Man Oh please, it’s only a tiny bit… I couldn’t see it.
Manager Ah you’re good kind fine people, for saying that, but I can see it.., to me it’s like a mountain, a vast bowl of pus.
Man It’s not as bad as that.
Manager It gets me here. I can’t give you any excuses for it – there are no excuses. I’ve been meaning to spend more time in the restaurant recently, but I haven’t been too well… (emotionally) things aren’t going very well back there. The poor cook’s son has been put away again, and poor old Mrs Dalrymple who does the washing up can hardly move her poor fingers, and then there’s Gilberto’s war wound – but they’re good people, and they’re kind people, and together we were beginning to get over this dark patchthere was light at the end of the tunnel . .. now this . .. now this…
Man Can I get you some water?
Manager (in tears) It’s the end of the road!!
The cook comes in; he is very big and has a meat cleaver.
Cook (shouting) You bastards! You vicious, heartless bastards! Look what you’ve done to him! He’s worked his fingers to the bone to make this place what it is, and you come in with your petty feeble quibbling and you grind him into the dirt, this fine, honourable man, whose boots you are not worthy to kiss. Oh… it makes me mad… mad! (slams cleaver into the table)
The head waiter comes in and tries to restrain him.
Head Waiter Easy, Mungo, easy… Mungo… (clutches his head in agony) the war wound!… the wound… the wound
Manager This is the end! The end! Aaargh!! (stabs himself with the fork)
Cook They’ve destroyed him! He’s dead!! They killed him!!! (goes completely mad)
Head Waiter (trying to restrain him) No Mungo… never kill a customer. (in pain) Oh . .. the wound! The wound! (he and the cook fight furiously and fall over the table)
CAPTION: ‘AND NOW THE PUNCH-LINE
Man Lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife.
Boos of disgust from off-screen.

582. Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities

Can you identify which UK celebrities are posh and which are not? Let’s listen to some British celebrities speaking, check their Wikipedia pages and work out of these people are truly posh or not. You’ll hear samples of lots of spoken English in this episode and we’ll focus on accent and pronunciation.

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Introduction Transcript (Videos below)

This is episode 582 and it’s called “Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities” and in this one we’re going to listen to a lot of famous British people and work out if they are posh or not.

This follows on from the last episode in which I talked about what makes a person posh and what posh people sound like when they speak.

You should listen to episode 581 before listening to this I reckon.

In the last episode you heard me say that a really important thing is to listen to people speaking and to hear lots of examples of posh speech. In this episode you’re going to hear loads of different people speaking. Some of them sound posh and others don’t. So you’re going to hear a mix of different accents. I could probably break it down like this – posh RP, standard RP and regional accents.

We’re going to go through a list of British celebrities. Can you identify if these people are posh?

I’ll name the person. We’ll listen to some audio of them speaking and see if their accent is posh. We’ll look out for some little clues that kind of give it away. Then I’ll have a look at their Wikipedia pages to get some more info and find out if they really are posh.

Remember the 7 types of poshness we talked about before.

  • poshness of birth
  • poshness of wealth
  • poshness of accent
  • poshness of education
  • poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
  • poshness of exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling)
  • poshness of assumed superiority

The key things in the Wikipedia biography are: educational background (private schools, boarding schools, single-sex schools, prep schools) and family background (any connections to nobility). Also we’ll pay attention to the way they speak.

So it’s basically – poshness of birth, poshness of education and poshness of accent that we’re looking at here.

Remember that hardly anyone has all the traits of being posh. For example, I expect that most of the people in my list don’t score very highly in the “poshness of assumed superiority” because most of them are humble actors but maybe some of them actually are arrogant enough to assume that they’re better than everyone else. Anyway, the main things we’re looking at are birth (family connections) education (which school) and accent.

Again, it’s not very fair to judge people, and I’m just trying to help learners of English to be able to identify certain things about people from England.

As we go through these video clips which are on YouTube, the focus for me is on just the way the people speak. We might have to skip past some of the language (vocabulary) while doing this. Normally when I use audio like this on the podcast I break it down word by word so you can understand everything. There might not be time for in-depth analysis like that. We’ll focus on the accent, I might explain what’s being said a bit, and then we’ll check the Wikipedia page for that person and move on.

So, are these people posh or not? Let’s go.

Videos & Speech Samples

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Adele

Prince Harry (duh)

Keira Knightley

Wayne Rooney

Jack Whitehall (and his Dad)

Paul McCartney

Idris Elba

Emma Thompson

Brian Sewell

Any other UK celebrities you can think of? Add a video in the comment section.

 

581. Posh or not posh? (Part 1) Understanding Posh People and Posh Accents

Everything you always wanted to know about posh people, but were afraid to ask. This episode is all about poshness in people, posh accents and what it really means to be posh.

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Transcript

Today I’m doing an episode on the theme of British accents and culture by focusing on the notion of ‘poshness’ in people. I’ll explain everything I think you need to know about what the word “posh” really means, and then I’m going to go through a list of famous British people, give some details from their Wikipedia pages, perhaps listen to some samples of them talking and you’ve got to work out if they are posh or not posh.

I’ve decided to name this game “Posh or not posh?”

This will probably take several episodes, so to be honest I might not actually get to the “Are they posh or not?” quiz until part 2, but we’ll see.

As I’m talking about how posh people speak you’ll probably be wondering what their accents sound like so I’ll do some posh accents throughout this episode, and you’ll have a chance to listen to lots of speech samples of people – some posh, some not, in probably the next part of this episode.

The reason I’m doing this is to help you understand what ‘posh’ really means, and how to identify poshness in people.

The thing is, that as an English person, when I meet another English person I can work out in just a few minutes quite a lot about them based on the way they speak, look and behave. Now, perhaps I shouldn’t because you’re not supposed to jump to conclusions about people or judge a book by its cover, but in my experience English people are able to identify things about each other, like social background and so on, and probably make certain judgements about each other by noticing clues that non-native speakers of English often are not aware of.

In many cases the most revealing clues are the linguistic ones – like speech patterns, accent, choice of words. So, I want to help you to understand this whole subject and to notice these clues so that you understand this whole thing like someone from the UK.

I don’t want to teach people to be judgemental, or encourage you to make assumptions about people based on the way that they speak – but I do want to just help you learn how to identify certain cultural and linguistic clues that you might otherwise be unaware of.

In the process you’ll learn details about upper-class society in the UK, what makes a person truly posh (or not) how posh people really speak, and you’ll learn more about some famous UK celebrities and the ways they speak English.

I should say too that I don’t believe being “posh” is automatically a good or bad thing really. It depends on the behaviour and attitudes of people as individuals, and it’s not fair to make generalisations about everyone. So I’m not saying being “posh” is a bad thing, even though posh people are sometimes disliked by people in the UK for various reasons. I’m also not saying that “posh” people should be looked up to for any particular reason. I’m just trying to help you learn what “posh” English really sounds like.

What does “posh” really mean?

So first we need to clarify exactly what “posh” means and what makes someone truly posh. I have mentioned this word quite a few times before on this podcast, but anyway, here it is again.

“Posh” when referring to people

Collins Dictionary Definition

adjective [informal]
If you describe a person as posh, you mean that they belong to or behave as if they belong to the upper classes.
I wouldn’t have thought she had such posh friends.
He sounded so posh on the phone.
High-class
Upper-class
Not just ‘rich’, there’s a lot more to it than that, as we will see later.

Posh Spice

Some of you might be thinking of Victoria Beckham at this point, because her nickname in the Spice Girls was “Posh Spice”. (Ginger Spice, Scary Spice, Baby Spice, Sporty Spice and Posh Spice) The press in the UK gave her that nickname because she had an air of sophistication and class about her, and she liked to wear quite chic clothes, but in terms of her background she wasn’t posh at all. Now you could argue that she is now more posh than she used to be, in some senses of the word, because she has achieved quite high status and is probably very rich and quite well-connected in the fashion world and so on, but there’s more to it than that, as I’ve said, and so she still isn’t truly posh. You can hear it in the way that she speaks.

The same applies to David Beckham, who although he is rich, successful, high-status (in the sense that he’s a successful celebrity footballer), well-connected and brushes shoulders with royalty and so on, is not really posh either.

So that’s the word “posh” for people. Upper-class, basically. That doesn’t really explain it though because now we’re into the whole concept of the class system and what upper-class really means – if indeed it still means anything these days, since we’re living in an era when, arguably, class distinctions don’t really exist any more, although I don’t really agree with that, or at least you can still see traces of the class system running through society in terms of power and the attitudes we have about each other. I’ll come back to this stuff about poshness in people in a moment.

I also want to say that we can say that ‘things’ are posh too, not just people.

“Posh” when referring to things

adjective
If you describe something as posh, you mean that it is smart, fashionable, and expensive.
[informal]
Celebrating a promotion that my wife got at work, we went to a posh hotel for some cocktails.
That’s a posh car.
They’re having a posh dinner party in the house over the road.

We also use the adjective for anything which is fancy or high-quality. E.g. I’ve got a posh new laptop.

Back to poshness in people now.

What is upper-class?

How do we define upper class or high class? It can be a question of perspective.

“Posh” can be used to just describe people who you think are of a higher class than you, and this makes it a little bit subjective because what is posh for one person isn’t necessarily posh for someone else.

For example, if you live in a hole in the ground and you see someone who lives in a cardboard box, you might say “Ooh, you’re a bit posh aren’t you, living in a cardboard box! Oooh! Look at you with your fancy lifestyle”.

Similarly, if you live in a little terraced house in a slightly rough part of town and you meet someone who has a detached 3-bedroom house in the countryside, you’d say – “Bloody hell you’re pretty posh”. And if you live in a 3-bedroom house in the countryside and you meet someone who lives in a huge stately home like the one in Downton Abbey you could say “Wow, you’re really posh”, and that person visits the Queen and thinks “This is a bit posh isn’t it?” So it does depend on your point of view to an extent.

But, it’s not just your living conditions though. There are other indicators of poshness. You could be homeless and yet still very posh indeed. It’s also not about being rich. You could be penniless and still be posh.

7 rules of being posh

American writer, resident in the UK for nearly 30 years, Guardian columnist Tim Downling @IAmTimDownling identifies 7 rules of being posh

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/22/poshness-foreigners-view

After 25 years of living in Britain, US-born Tim Dowling believes he has finally worked out the class system. Here’s what he has learned

“There is no one kind of poshness. There are actually seven distinct types: poshness of birth; poshness of wealth; of accent; of education; also, the poshness of excellent taste, as well as the poshness of eccentric and exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling); and, finally, the poshness of assumed superiority. Some of these are inextricably linked, and some quite naturally overlap, but almost no one is possessed of all seven.”

I think The Queen possesses all seven qualities. (How, Luke? Pray, tell us.)

Just to restate and slightly redefine:
1. poshness of birth [This relates to your family connections to the aristocracy, which has a clear hierarchy of status – the higher you are in the family, the posher you are]
2. poshness of wealth [the richer you are, the posher you are]
3. poshness of accent and register [the way you speak]
4. poshness of education [the school and university you went to]
5. poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
6. poshness of eccentric and exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy
expressions of bad taste – bling) (in contradiction to point 5)
7. poshness of assumed superiority

I might add poshness of eccentricity to that too, marking it out from point 6.

How do you know if someone is posh?

What are the indicators of poshness?

Applying the 7 Rules/Indicators

I think the seven types of poshness described by Tim Downling are pretty good actually.

For example – let’s apply it to my family. I had a friend once who was convinced that I was posh. He was actually quite disdainful about it. He was from a working class or lower middle class background, and lived in an urban area in a terraced house. I knew him from college and we were in a band together. He used to come to my place for band practice. My family at the time lived in a house in the countryside outside the city. He had a car. Our house was quite big, admittedly. 4 bedrooms. I don’t think I’m that posh, but I can see how some people might think I am, like this friend of mine – let’s call him Ian.

Ian thought my family, my house and my life were posh – but I reckon that was just from his point of view.

Also there’s a bit of politics involved and if you’re left-wing in the old fashioned “up the workers” kind of way, you would view the upper-classes as the elite establishment who serve themselves at the expense of ordinary working people. This kind of attitude runs through some people, who sort of sneer at things they consider to be of the upper or upper-middle class.

I also got the impression Ian was a bit resentful of these things, and the fact that my parents were approachable and nice, and I always felt a bit bad when he tried to make fun of me for being posh – because I didn’t see it that way at all. I thought he’d got me wrong.

Here’s what he thought made me posh:

My family didn’t speak with a brummie accent. We spoke with RP. They were also quite cool and groovy parents who shared similar tastes as me.

We had different words for some things. He called it the living room or sitting room, we called it the lounge. He called it the settee or couch, we called it the sofa.

Our house was just bigger, which meant that we had more money – but only because my Dad had managed to get a good job at the BBC, perhaps because he went to Oxford University…

Hmmm, those things do make me sound a bit posh. But he got into Oxford because he worked really hard when he was younger, because his parents just brought him up well and because he’s clever. Nobody else in our family went to Oxford except my Dad and his brother went to Cambridge, but my grand parents and great grandparents never went to Oxford or anything. My Grandad was a civil engineer who served in WW2. I think Ian’s Dad hadn’t gone to university for whatever reason.

But Ian would do that “ooooh, in the lounge! Why don’t you lie down on the sofa in the lounge then!” all that stuff.

I don’t think he was right in thinking that I am posh. I’m not. I went to a state school not a private one. I didn’t speak with a proper posh voice – just RP with some brummie (video footage shows I had a brummie accent at the time!) because I wasn’t actually born in that area – we moved there from West London when I was 9. So I might have sounded posh to him, but not really posh! There is a difference between my RP and posh RP (hopefully we’ll hear some of that later). And, crucially, there is no old money in our family – no landowners, nor the slightest hint of a connection to the nobility. The fact is, although he would sometimes comment or make fun of me by going “oooh, the lounge – aren’t you posh! Ooh, you’ve got a gas AGA stove in the kitchen!! Ooh look at you”. None of that mattered to me at the time. I was more interested in how he played the guitar and what kind of music he was listening to. I probably was from a slightly higher class than him – perhaps I’m middle or upper middle class and he was lower-middle class or something, but it’s ridiculous isn’t it – to split hairs like this. I think mainly it was the environment I grew up in and the lack of certain working class tropes, like the kinds of brands they’d buy and even the way they’d talk to each other. And our house was full of art on the walls and books and stuff. I just felt like it was mainly my parents who had education and were interested in literature and things.

These distinctions are quite petty, but I have to say – they are undeniable. There were differences between us, but I like to think they don’t really matter. That probably confirms that I’m from an upper-middle class family. I don’t know!

I’m not in touch with Ian any more by the way.

All this can get pretty complicated, and I wonder if things are similar in your countries. I can’t really imagine what it’s like in China, Russia or anywhere else for that matter.

But to keep it as simple as possible, for me, genuine poshness is associated with truly upper-class people. You can act posh, sound posh, look posh, even smell posh, be considered posh by other people, but the only true sign of poshness is your family background. Family connections.

True “Upper-class” really means having connections to aristocracy, even quite remote connections. The more family connections you have to the aristocracy the posher you are.

These connections need to be hereditary ones, meaning things you’re born into. As long as you’ve got that, everything else you do doesn’t matter. You can speak like anyone else, look like anyone, live like anyone, have no money left and still be super posh if it’s in your blood.

Family Connections

Levels of aristocracy

Aristocracy  = Royalty and The Nobility

The aristocracy is the genuine upper class, in terms of inherited social status, or poshness by birth.

Royalty

The Royal Family is the direct blood relatives of the monarch. So this includes the King or Queen, Princes and Princesses. Dukes are also part of the royal family. Well, the Royal Dukes anyway (like The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip). There are also Noble Dukes too, who aren’t royalty. They’re nobility. Complicated isn’t it? Yes, it is a bit.

The Nobility

There’s a level below royalty too, which is still a part of the aristocracy. That’s the nobility.

There are 5 levels of nobility or peerage. Peerage means the system of inherited titles of nobility. Again, something you’re born into.

The ranks of the peerage are (in descending order)

  • duke
  • marquess (pron: markwiss)
  • earl
  • viscount (pron: /ˈvaɪkaʊnt/)
  • baron

There’s also the word “Lord” which you will have heard of. The term Lord is used in several ways. The general word “Lord” is another way of referring to a member of the nobility, like a baron. You’ll have heard this in Downton Abbey – the main character is known as Lord Grantham, but his real title is The Earl of Grantham. So “Lord” is just a term of address for anyone in the nobility.

But also a “Lord” is a political title given to someone who sits in the House of Lords, in Parliament.

Most of those Lords in Parliament are given their title by the government – they’re selected because of their expert knowledge, so they’re not nobility.

If you have someone in your family with one of those peerages or titles – Lord, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount or Baron it means you have connections to the nobility, which is part of the aristocracy.

I wonder how many aristocrats I have listening to this podcast. Perhaps you have connections to aristocracy in your country (of course you might use different titles and stuff).

If that’s true and you are connected to the nobility, then “Hi! You’re really posh!”

Here in France where I live at the moment, there was a revolution of course, which ended the reign of the royal family when the country became a republic. But there are still noble families here and some very posh people. I taught a few of them at University. Some names came up in my register that were clearly very posh – usually in French these are names featuring the name of a place somewhere in France. I even had one guy who was a Windsor, and I’m not kidding – he was half-English and was related to the royal family on his father’s side. He was some kind of aristocrat. He told me that he knew Prince Harry and that he lived on a barracks in Westminster. That was both interesting and awkward because I didn’t find out until the end of the course, and one of the topics we’d covered was monarchy in the UK.

It was an English class at university, but this guy was basically bilingual. He still took my class though. I knew he was posh because he told me he lived in Westminster (when he spent time in London) and almost nobody lives in Westminster – in Zone 1 of London, except the Queen, the PM, some civil servants, some soldiers, and various super-posh people. So we’d spent some time dealing with arguments both for and against the abolition of the royal family in the UK, just as an exercise in academic writing and debating skills. I wonder how he felt. He said he enjoyed the class, which was nice.

There’s actually a list of peerages (hereditary titles), where all the family connections are published. It’s called Burke’s Peerage and you can get it online www.burkespeerage.com/

There are a few listings for Thompson – knighthoods mainly, it seems. Apparently knighthoods are listed in there. A knighthood is an honorary title, given by the Queen. It does not make you part of the nobility though. Really, a knighthood is just a title (Sir or Dame for a Damehood) and doesn’t give you any advantages really, although I’m sure it helps book restaurant tables and so on!

It seems so complex because there are loads of complex volumes and lists. I’m not in there, and neither is my Dad – OF COURSE.

If you don’t have those connections, you’re not really, truly posh. But you might be described as posh because you might have some aspects from other categories or people might just judge you to be from a certain background.

A few other signifiers of poshness:

Education – The school they went to, especially if it’s an exclusive ‘public’ school. Boarding schools. Top university educations from Oxbridge Colleges.

Wealth – especially in the form or property and land – possibly farmland, a stately home in the family for example.

Habits and lifestyle – cricket, golf, tennis, horse riding, polo, hunting, fine art, theatre, ballet, opera, gastronomic food. They’re not exclusive to posh people, but you often find posh people are into those things, definitely the ones involving horses. They’re very horsey, posh people.

Speech – certain words, a certain accent.

Posh Speech

Here are some features of how posh people speak. It’s a combination of accent and choice of words.

It’s actually pretty complicated – there are several types of posh speech, I have to say.

Old fashioned posh (like the old BBC accents, The Queen’s accent) – you could call it old fashioned heightened RP.

But there’s also a modern posh accent that upper-class young people might speak – like Prince Harry, Kate Middleton or the guy in the Gap Yah video (more on that later). Modern posh young people might actually borrow certain words or features of colloquial speech from lower class culture, but there are still certain aspects of pronunciation that will reveal their poshness – particularly certain vowel sounds.

So modern posh people, like William and Harry, can sound really similar to middle class people like me, but they give themselves away with certain little clues in word choice, pronunciation and just a general attitude too. It’s parodied really well in a YouTube video called Gap Yah, which I’ll deal with later on when we look at some examples of speech.

I need to do more episodes that cover these types of speech in more depth. The best way for you to notice these things is to listen to a lot of samples of people speaking in these ways. So what I should do is other episodes that feature: William, Harry and Kate, comedy clips parodying modern posh people (like the video called Gap Yah) and perhaps clips from Made in Chelsea. Also, episodes with some old fashioned posh RP – like clips from Downton Abbey, The Crown, or comedy parodies of old upper class people speaking. That’s a lot of content! You could also check these things out online.

But here’s an overview of some general features of posh heightened RP.

Heightened RP, or “posh RP” – or RP with certain features.

To a large extent it’s clear English with every sound clearly enunciated. You will probably love it, just saying. Usually learners of English love hearing “posh” English because it’s clear (which really means it matches the old fashioned English that was used to make old learning materials for decades) Mostly posh English is  just like normal RP and you might not notice a big difference with my accent, but there are little features that mark out posh speech from just standard RP.

These things are probably very difficult for learners of English to notice, but an English native speaker would pick up on them almost immediately.

Some features of posh speech:

Consonant sounds at the ends of words are not dropped, like ‘t’ or ‘d’.

No glottal stops – dropped T sounds

Imagine Tom Hiddleston as Loki in the Marvel films.

But having said that I can definitely imagine a posh guy in a pub ordering some drinks and intentionally dropping his Ts in order to sound cool, or when talking to a mechanic.

“Yah, can I get another couple of sparkling waters, yah, thanks Toby”

or

“Right, yah so you reckon the carburetor is fucked. Ok chaps. Well let’s bloody well make it unfucked, pronto! hayahyahyahya!”

TH sounds are pronounced fully not as /f/ or /v/.

Thirty three thousand months of Thursdays thinking thoughts”

So far, so normal RP…

Tripthongs are flattened. E.g. power – shower – riot – hire – fire – gap year – layer – mayonnaise – player.

“I’m terribly grubby after playing some rugger. I’m not much of a player – more of a spectator really. Never was particularly good at sport, you know. Had a bloody hard time at school I must say. I always found it so awfully competitive.  But look  I’m going to go off and have a shower I think. We’ve just had a rather good shower installed in the 8th bedroom in the north wing actually. I think it’s a power shower as a matter of fact. I tell you what, if Daddy saw me like this he’d be bloody furious. Not the done thing at all, hohhoh. It would be somewhat… awkward let’s say. He does get, exceedingly ticked off at that sort of thing. Rather an angry fellow you know, my my my my father, you see. He’d probably do something drastic like get me fired from my job again and I’d have to get hired somewhere else. So this is a podcast is it? Jolly good. It’s an absolute riot this internet stuff. I did a bit of English teaching on my gap year actually. Oh yeah, it was bloody great fun actually. Anyway, I must dash…”

Certain words -e.g. These adverbials: terribly, awfully, rather, not at all, exceedingly, somewhat, frightfully.

Calling their parents Mummy and Daddy (especially the girls).

Saying “yah yah yah” and “you know” quite a lot.

Other posh signifiers

Clothing

Obviously posh people are going to wear expensive brands, but the posh look is probably like this: Hunter boots, or boat shoes, chinos, corduroy or stonewashed jeans, a checked shirt, with a boating sweater on top, perhaps a polo shirt, a rugby shirt, possibly a blue blazer, an old-school tie, a wax jacket or a puffy jacket, possibly a puffy waistcoat, possibly a flat cap but not necessarily. Women might wear a fur waistcoat. Floppy hair. Dressing like they’re either going to spend the day on a boat, or spend the day hunting in the countryside.

Formality and smartness

You can imagine posh people dressing up in expensive evening wear but also having some eccentricity (like affectations) and scruffiness.

Cars

Range Rover

Posh names

Double-barreled surnames – surnames with more than one part, especially if the pronunciation and spelling of the names are really different. Politician David Lloyd George, composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, astronomer Robert Hanbury Brown, actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Helena Bonham Carter.

Not trying to be posh.

Genuine posh people have nothing to prove and therefore can be pretty eccentric.

Behaviour

To be honest, posh people are just as likely to behave badly as non posh people. The image of the “hooray Henry” is a well-known one. It’s basically a sort of posh hooligan of sorts. Hooray Henries might populate towns like Oxford and they’ll get drunk and do stupid things. Some very posh schools have secret members’ clubs that involve nasty initiation rituals, eg the Bullingdon Club which was famous for smashing up restaurants and then throwing down money to pay for the damage. Former PM David Cameron was a member, so was Boris Johnson and various other members of the Tory party establishment.

Attitudes

It does depend on the individual, and there are some extremely charitable and wonderful posh people, but at it’s worst the attitude of posh people is one of disdain for the lower classes and an assumed sense of superiority.

Where are posh people to be found?

In Chelsea, Sloane Square, Kings Road, Oxford, Cambridge, Home counties, Henley on Thames, Ascot, Wimbledon.

More Categories of Poshness

Let’s go through some categories of poshness again. Which one is the most important (I think you’ve got it by now)

The school – but non-posh people get into top schools all the time.

The wealth – but plenty of non-posh people are rich and some really posh people are broke.

The lifestyle – anyone can fake it and live like a posh person without being truly posh.

Relationships with family – pressure from parents to live up to high standards, perhaps distant relations with parents due to growing up with nannies or in boarding school, monetary support from parents.

Nepotism

Politics – the majority of posh people vote Conservative, although occasionally some are socialists.

The accent – anyone can fake that too, and many people do.

Eccentricities – this is quite a good indicator. You might find that truly posh people are a bit odd. Think of Prince Charles talking to trees and wearing timeless clothes.

Owning land – often posh people own large areas of land and might be involved in agriculture.

But ultimately – it’s about family connections.

How do most people feel about posh people? Do we like posh people?

As you might expect – it’s complicated, it depends and it’s a matter of perspective.

There are attitudes towards truly posh people, and then attitudes to people who act posh but aren’t.

Also it’s a case of how people behave, rather than which social class they belong to.

Quite a lot of people don’t like the aristocracy because of the associations with a lack of democracy but it depends if they have personality. E.g. it’s possible to disagree with the concept of aristocracy, but to get on with an aristocrat.

We like eccentric, down-to-earth, kind and jovial posh people but there’s a feeling that many posh people, such as the people in the reality show “Made in Chelsea” are snobbish, arrogant, small minded, privileged, selfish, judgemental, elitist, patronising, superficial and cut off from reality. But maybe the thing about the people on that show is that we all know that in many cases they’re not fully posh, just the product of social climbing. It’s not just a question of disliking people who have money, there is something about the attitude and the behaviour too.

Also there’s a sense of injustice that these people enjoy high-status lifestyles and privilege not because they’ve earned it, but because Daddy paid for it. People argue that these people live in a bubble and don’t understand the struggles of most ordinary people, and also that they look down on other people and consider themselves superior.

Also, people tend to dislike those people who are social climbers – perhaps people who aren’t truly posh, but who are desperate to raise themselves in social status and class, and perhaps who are very snobbish about people lower than themselves – as an expression of their class aspirations.

E.g. Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. She’s middle class, or perhaps from a lower class family in fact – but she is desperate to appear upper-class. Ultimately, she’s fake and she’s a snob.

But honestly, I think what people really don’t like is if people are faking it and acting superior when they’re not, or if people are just being mean in some way – e.g. assuming they are superior to everyone and talking down to people.

When a person is genuinely posh and has proper connections to nobility, you might find Brits are a bit more sympathetic to them. But people who are trying to show off their wealth and who have aspirations to being seen as posh, but aren’t actually posh – we dislike that! They don’t know their place! Don’t get above yourself!

It must be the same in your culture. Don’t we all dislike it when people are fake, condescending, conceited, disrespectful and snobbish, regardless of their social background? Equally we will like people who are charming, respectful, amusing, kind and so on, regardless of what their background is.

Class is hard to explain to people who haven’t had exposure to the culture, grown up here, met all kinds of people, you might not have the same feelings about this subject. It’s also related to politics. A lot of the time people visit the UK and are absolutely charmed to pieces by people that the rest of the country might dislike.

E.g. A lot of Americans just fall over themselves when they hear a posh British accent. Even someone who isn’t really posh – but who just speaks with RP, like me, is immediately given something like noble status by many Americans. Like “Oh my gaad I love that Briddish accent you sound so regal and sophisticated”.

Foreign people are often fond of the stereotype of British people as being very posh – as if that’s normal. But it’s not really normal. E.g. the image of the gentleman in a suit with a top hat or something, or the family from Downton Abbey who spend a lot of time drinking tea and talking in quite a formal and polite way. Most of us aren’t posh and we see genuinely posh people as a bit weird and disconnected from real life.

Are those stereotypes about posh people true?

Partly, but I think that most truly posh people also face plenty of challenges and hardships of their own.

There’s also a certain amount of upward snobbishness and generalisation going on. People from middle class backgrounds might resent upper class people. E.g. fox hunting

Some of the dislike of posh people is jealousy, but not all of it.

It’s not really fair to generalise. We should judge people on an individual basis. I’m sure plenty of upper-class people are really great.

We shouldn’t judge all posh people by the people we see in Made in Chelsea.

It’s probably not fair to tar them all with the same brush. Just in the same way we shouldn’t generalise about any group in society.

E.g. you wouldn’t say all working class people are hooligans just because of the actions of some football fans on TV.

Nevertheless, a lot of people take the piss out of posh people, resent them for their privilege,  and even hate them for the fact that they’re rich because of old fashioned elitism and the so-called Eton mafia.

So, now that you’re armed with your new knowledge about posh people, do you reckon you can spot a posh person?

Let’s see.

End of part 1?

How posh are you, Luke?

Criteria:
poshness of birth
poshness of wealth
poshness of accent
poshness of education
poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
poshness of exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling)
poshness of assumed superiority
I might add poshness of eccentricity to that too, marking it out from point 6

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/quiz/2014/sep/22/are-you-posh-quiz


Gap Yah