U and Non-U Updated

In a posting on the academic weblog The Conversation, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, Simon Horobin, has updated Nancy Mitford’s 1955 essay on class distinctions of usage in English speech and manners. Waugh’s contribution to the public debate that followed her essay’s publication is among those cited. He had warned that English usage was fluid among classes and was subject to constant adjustment. According to Horobin:

In his contribution to Noblesse Oblige, Evelyn Waugh observed that while most people have fixed ideas about proper usage, which they use to identify those who are NLO (“not like one”), these are often based on little more than personal prejudices and an innate sense of one’s own superiority. The cartoonist Osbert Lancaster, who supplied drawings for Noblesse Oblige, satirised this view through his creation Lady Littlehampton, who confidently pronounced: “If it’s Me, it’s U”.

Noblesse Oblige is the collection of essays on this topic published in 1956 in which there appeared, inter alia, both Mitford’s essay and Waugh’s cautionary rejoinder. Waugh’s essay (entitled “An Open Letter to the Hon. Mrs. Peter Rodd on a Very Serious Subject”) had first appeared in Encounter magazine for December 1955. An expanded and revised version was published in Mitford’s 1956 collection and is also included in Essays, Articles and Reviews; the portion cited by Prof. Horobin appears at pp. 499-500.

NOTE (13 January 2016): This article later appeared in the New Statesman on 12 January 2016.

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