Class & Language: A 1950s British Paradox

In the 1950s, it was observed that the British middle class often employed intricate language in an effort to appear more sophisticated. In contrast, the genuine upper class favored the simpler vernacular of the working class, opting for terms like “scent” rather than “perfume.”

A 1940 study examining the linguistic disparities between the American upper and middle classes found similar results. For example, the American upper class preferred the term ‘curtains,’ while the middle class opted for ‘drapes’. Interestingly, the affluent class in the US used the word ‘toilet,’ while their less wealthy counterparts said ‘lavatory’—a reversal of the British pattern.

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