Let slip the dogs of Waugh

Even that prickly person Evelyn Waugh, never shy about parading his opinions, was quite aware that the things people complain about in language and usage are generally idiosyncratic preferences. From a 1955 letter to Nancy Mitford:

“I wish in your Upper-class Usage you had touched on a point that has long intrigued me. Almost everyone I know has some personal antipathy which they condemn as middle class quite irrationally. My mother-in-law believes it middle-class to decant claret. Lord Beauchamp thought it m.c. not to decant champagne (into jugs). Your ‘note-paper’ is another example. I always say ‘luncheon’ but you will find ‘lunch’ used in every generation for the last 80 years [by?] unimpeachable sources. There are very illiterate people like Perry Brownlow who regard all correct grammar as a middle-class affectation. Ronnie Knox blanches if one says ‘docile’ with a long o. I correct my children if they say ‘bike’ for bicycle.’ I think everyone has certain fixed ideas that have no relation to observed usage [italics added]. The curious thing is that, as you say, an upper class voice is always unmistakable though it may have every deviation of accent and vocabulary. Compare for instance the late Lords Westmoreland, Salisbury, Curzon. A phonetician would find no point of resemblance in their speech.”

This is taken from Mark Amory’s 1980 edition of the letters.

A lagniappe for you, the opening of a letter to Nancy Mitford in 1946, to which the book fell open when I took it from the shelf:

“My little trip to London passed in a sort of mist. Did I ever come to visit you again after my first sober afternoon. If so, I presume I owe you flowers. I left a trail of stunted & frightfully expensive hyacinths behind me. On the last evening I dimly remember a dinner party of cosmopolitan ladies where I think I must have been conspicuous. Were you there? I awoke with blood on my hands but found to my intense relief that it was my own. I sometimes think I am getting too old for this kind of thing.”



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