Linguistic Class Codes

While it may not be my favorite chapter, I thought that the Fox’s chapter on linguistic class codes was quite interesting. She notes that “one cannot talk at all without immediately revealing one’s own social class.” This is probably true in many parts of the world, but it seems like the English care about said social class much more than we do. Not only do the English socially rank those they’re talking to, they’re “class-obsessed.” I was surprised by this phenomenon. Maybe we subconsciously do this in the United States, but I’ve never really thought about it before. In England, it’s a different story. Fox mentions a “scandal” in which Kate Middleton’s mother used the words “toilet” and “pardon” in front of the Queen. The English people couldn’t believe she’d do such a thing, and the story made headlines. It wasn’t like the news broke in a tabloid either; the BBC reported on the “allegations” against Kate’s mother. This struck me as absolutely goofy. What does it matter if someone uses the word toilet. “Pardon” even seems polite in my mind (ridiculous, I know).


After reading this chapter, I started thinking about how I’ve probably (not unreasonably) used every tabooed word in the book since we’ve been in London. Maybe I’ll think twice about my choice of words going forward. However, I see this status-driven cultural trend as a mark against the English. Now that I know the speaking do’s and don’ts, I’m interested to stop and listen to the way people talk around London.

  • I’m with you Hayden. It sounds silly that there would be such an uproar over Kate’s mom using the word “toilet,” instead of the more proper, “loo.” “Pardon,” sounds like a perfectly polite word to me, too. The other week, I thought to ask my British co-intern her thoughts and experience with British linguistics. She’s 19 and has lived in London her entire life. I asked her if she ever uses the word, “loo.” She said no, not really. I was surprised. But then it got me thinking, maybe the word is just going out of fashion. I then asked her what her reaction is when Americans ask for the “restroom.” She laughed and said she thought it was funny. Wanting to blend in as best I can, I asked if it would be better to use “bathroom.” She nodded and said even she uses “bathroom” from time to time. I’ll keep asking for the “bathroom,” but I’ll make sure to switch over to “loo” the next time I run into the Queen.

Leave a Reply