Is it true that we Brits still pay much-too-much attention as to how a person speaks?

Is it true that we Brits still pay much-too-much attention as to how a person speaks?

03-09-2021R.I.

Coming fast after the recent furore regarding various television presenters and personalities inability to sound their ‘Gs’ - as in ‘sittin - waitin - walkin’ and accusations of snobbery and elitism it provoked. It appears that other vocal tics are claimed to be either very sexy or a complete turn-off depending on your gender or social class.

Imagine it! As a chap who when a teenager was told by his mother to - “stop mumbling” I now find out that women are apparently turned-on by men who mumble, because it is linked to being macho. Actor Marlon Brando and rock legend Elvis Presley were both inveterate mumblers if you remember.

Brando even stuffed cotton wool in his mouth playing Don Corleone in The Godfather - to make himself sound even less intelligible, and Elvis in his early career was as well known for his groaning “Aaahhaahhaa’s” as he was for his sexily gyrating hips that upset old people so much. Furthermore, it seems that a crisp pronunciation of the Queen’s English delivered by men who sound that they are talking from the back of their necks with teeth clenched firmly together is said to be a bit of a turn off sexually.

Indeed, I suppose that is why some old Etonians nowadays like to affect a sort of strangled bloke(ish) drawl to cover up their pristine vowels. However, if women like men who mumble, apparently us chaps find precise pronunciation alluring in the opposite sex as it indicates femininity. For instance, women such as Elizabeth Hurley can turn mens knees to jelly by just sounding posh, nothing at all to do with the fact she still has a fabulous figure, or anything as vulgar as that. Rough trade or posh totty? It is down to your own gender old chap - or is it old girl?

This brings me neatly to the subject of - is it true that we Brits still pay much-too-much attention as to how a person speaks? This can work both ways - some people will avoid those of us who verbally mangle every sentence spoken, whilst others of us in a fit of inverted snobbery will mock those who talk ‘proper’ or, perhaps even posh. The degree to which these issues reveal themselves is almost a British - nay English obsession. Generally, our American cousins find this whole attitude laughable - but, because of many hundreds of years of vowel misappropriation the way one talks in this country really does matter. Did you notice my use of the word ‘One’ in the last sentence?

This is an absolute nailed-on example of trying too hard to talk proper. My old mum used to say that anyone talking in a way above their supposed station in life was - “cracking her jaw” or trying to sound a little more fragrant than her upbringing would suggest. Others go in the exact opposite direction, trying to disguise their social status by moderating their speaking voice to fit in with some sort of preconceived norm.

Apparently, it seems that some young Americans are fascinated by the fact that we British actually speak English just like them. Yes, really! Because of the USA’s infamous introspection in almost everything, some of them have always been puzzled why we English, speak English the way that we do - as if we had somehow used-and-abused the language that they now call their own.

I read somewhere recently that about a third of the world’s population speak or understand the English language - not a bad result for a common tongue moulded and refined from various ancient and modern civilisations on a relatively small island just to the left off the continent of Europe.

Throwing some shapes? Please don't...

I had to feel sorry for government minister Michael Gove the other day, not because he has made a hash of his political brief or had been caught in a Wayne Rooney type of sexual sting - but, because he was caught on camera throwing a few shapes in an Aberdeen nightclub recently. One can (here I go again!) only feel sorry for the poor chap as he was caught in ‘action’ by an iPhone waving fellow clubber.

Of course Gove is not alone sharing his ill considered dance moves - I seem to remember fellow Tories - Theresa May and Boris Johnson both looking extremely daft whilst trying to appear cool, it just doesn’t work does it? Come on, if you are under thirty-five and have some sort of rhythm about you, chances are you will get away with it, but - after that? No chance.

On a personal level, I now try to avoid at any cost ever going near a dance floor. In times past I was at a Christmas party held in a Palma night-club when I approached the tiny space that was designated as to where one (I’m at it again!) might jig-about for a while alongside attractive young people. Happily for me, a chap that I knew came up to me and whispered in my ear - “Don’t do it mate, trust me - don’t do it.” I was, and still am - forever grateful for his advise.

Not that you have to be in a Palma nightclub to make a complete tit of oneself (I’m warming to this!) family occasions can be just as embarrassing for the keen but less than talented elderly clubber. At a family wedding more than a decade or so ago, I decided to ‘go for it’ and spent almost an hour dancing with grim faced maiden aunts and pretty bridesmaids.

As I returned to my seat for a stiff drink of some sort, my then - just about teenage daughter, leaned over to me and vouchsafed the following - “Daaad please stop dancing will you, I feel physically sick.” Let that and Michael Gove’s present embarrassment be a lesson to anyone out there over a certain age, tempted to lurch about on a dance-floor for any reason. Just don’t!

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