IT USED be so simple. Beginning with October 14, 1066, one was either Norman or non-Norman. Up until recently (two days ago), it was U or non-U, the “U” standing for Upper Class.
But now, according to the BBC—an authority of things English, despite its recent kerfuffles—class structure is rather more complex. Here, let’s summarize Auntie Beeb’s assessments as well as previous attempts to keep the chavs in their place.
British linguist Alan S.C. Ross coined the terms “U” and “non-U” in 1954 in Neuphilologishe Mitteilungen, a Finnish journal.
Nancy Mitford—one of the fabled six Mitford sisters—followed up with an essay on the topic that same year and then with Noblesse Oblige, an expanded version in 1956 edited by her, Ross and others.
Curiously enough, and neither here nor there, “Noblesse Oblige” was also the motto of East High, my Cleveland high school.
A followup to Mitford’s contribution, Debrett’s U &…
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