Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Pass the cruet please

click photo to enlarge
In 1954, Alan Ross, Professor of Linguistics at Birmingham University, published an academic paper called, "Linguistic class indicators in present-day English". In it he looked at class differences in pronunciation, writing style and vocabulary. In the paper he coined the terms "U" (for upper class) and "Non-U" for, essentially, the aspiring middle classes. Ross's idea was that you could differentiate "U" speakers from "Non-U" speakers by how they pronounced words, how they wrote, and particularly by certain elements of the vocabulary that they used. His research was taken up and given wide publicity by the novelist, Nancy Mitford. Other writers and poets contributed to the extensive debate, some in a rather light-hearted way.

There probably was a serious - though not especially important or significant - point to Ross's original paper. And certainly some socially insecure people looked at the subsequent interpretations and became concerned to use the "right" words. However, most people saw it as an amusing irrelevance to their lives and their understanding of society. But, because the whole debate received wide coverage in the press and elsewhere, those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s invariably came across the instances that Ross and others used to illustrate the principle of "U" and Non-U". For those who didn't, or for those for whom this is simply another example of the class-bound society that is/was Britain, here are some examples: Lavatory (U) Toilet (Non-U), What? (U) Pardon (Non-U), Sofa (U) Settee (Non-U), Writing paper (U) Note paper (Non-U), Jam (U) Preserve (Non-U). There are many more!

Perhaps you're wondering what the connection is between what's written above and my photograph of a table top in the first floor cafe of Spalding's "South Holland Centre". Well, the other day we called in for a cup of coffee, and, as we took our seats at the large, part-etched window overlooking the market place, I was struck by the light and reflections. So, I placed my camera on the highly polished table, adjusted the composition and took this slightly surreal and colourful shot. When I came to give it a title I went for the purely descriptive, "Coffee, Flowers and Salt & Pepper". But that sounded too wordy so I considered "Coffee, Flowers and Cruet". But then I remembered what I'd once read concerning "U" and "Non-U": allegedly the two key pieces of vocabulary that distinguished the two categories were napkin (U) serviette (Non-U), and salt and pepper (U) cruet (Non-U). I couldn't possibly commit such a social faux pas I thought - tongue in cheek - so settled on "Coffee, Flowers, Salt & Pepper"!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On