Toby Young Toby Young

Status Anxiety | 29 November 2008

Classlessness means your five-year-old chanting ‘sheepshaggers’ on the terraces

Classlessness means your five-year-old chanting ‘sheepshaggers’ on the terraces

According to Ferdinand Mount, a revolution has taken place in upper-class manners in recent years. Where it was once socially acceptable to be openly snobbish, drawing attention to telltale signs that a person was ‘not quite our class, dear’ or ‘HMG’ (homemade gent), it is now strictly taboo. ‘To remark on someone, for example, saying “pardon” where U-speak would use “sorry” is now unkulturny, crass, out of it,’ he writes in Mind the Gap. ‘And when you hear someone — usually an elderly person living in the country — indulging in such old caste talk, you wince and try to change the subject.’

I have to confess, I am slightly confused by Ferdy’s attitude to this subject. Is he saying that the upper classes have genuinely embraced this new spirit of classlessness or that they now avoid ‘caste talk’ for fear of seeming vulgar? My suspicion is that, as a member of the upper classes himself, he feels quite proud of the fact that he is no longer a snob, but through sheer force of habit he cannot help pointing out that snobbery is ‘non-U’. In other words, drawing attention to someone’s lack of breeding is not simply morally repugnant; it is also ‘common’.

Naturally, I am anxious to fit in with this new democratic mood, if only because I don’t wish to appear lower class. But how far should we be prepared to go? It is one thing to bite your tongue when your friends say ‘serviette’ rather than ‘napkin’, but what should you do when your five-year-old daughter asks to go to the ‘toilet’? Is it now non-U to point out that words like ‘settee’ and ‘lounge’ are non-U? If I correct Sasha, will I be saddling her with an out-of-date world-view that will result in her being socially ostracised?

My wife, being considerably posher than me, is firmly in the Ferdinand Mount camp.

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