Spoken British English

My likes/dislikes from the UK.

Accent & pronunciation


I dislike the tortured vowels of Ulster and of Glasgow. Sounds from those two are by no means the same; I just dislike both. I also rather dislike the narrow sounds of Geordie, and the excessively broad ones of Lancashire. What I dislike about Dublin Irish speech is not the vowels, so much as the failure to pronounce consonants clearly. Softening of T to TH so much that it almost disappears I find very irritating.

Of course, not one of the people from those places will care in the slightest what anybody like me thinks, and they will all even more defiantly stick with their ways if they come across this paragraph; that kind of defiance is perhaps part of why I so dislike those accents. But one cannot undo history.

Of the inferior styles of spoken English — I say inferior, and indeed mean those that the best educated people would definitely not call "well-spoken": Cockney and what is now called "Essex English" but also the basic Hampshire which is apparently not much different and does not resemble "Mummerset" or even genuine Somerset or Devonshire or Bristol accents — there is only this to say: the vowels

Words that were seen and not heard

Also dreadful is the phenomenon that arises when someone from an uneducated background tries to better him- or herself (in itself admirable) and reads books containing words never heard by this student, who instead of noting the pronunciation while looking up the meaning in a good dictionary, guesses wrongly and then introduces the words into a new milieu with (typically) the wrong stress so that a whole class of people end up using a pronunciation alien to those who use the word with its original correct and quite different pronunciation. Such was the case with various trade unionists who, very admirably, went to university with help from the unions but went back to the TUC and taught them to mouthe ghastly utterances such as "COM-po-zite".

Prefixes instead of roots stressed

Probably of similar origins are the many words like research, default, where the well-spoken stress the second syllable but the others stress the first, not understanding that in general one does not stress a prefix unless it expresses a negative (in which case one should, though few do, say it distinctly, as well as stressing the root syllable as in "il-legal", to prevent the previx being swallowed and missed). So I think that "DEE-fault" (for "de-FAULT") and "REE-search" ( it's "re-SEARCH") may for some older speakers have come in this category of words seen in print and never heard spoken, wheras for others (as I say here) the transatlantic influence may explain it.

Upperclass clipped vowels

I also greatly dislike one very distinctive aspect the English upper-class way of speaking: the clipped speech in which vowels are shortened extremely or dropped altogether, so that (for example) the word "police" is pronounced "pleece". To me, this is just as horrible on the ear as the rendering "PO-liss" heard from certain regions.

Another aspect of the English upper-class way of speaking that I dislike is the effect their clipping and drawling has on words like "year" which end up as "yerr" or even "yar". As far as I am concerned, the words "ear", "year", "tear" (as a drop in the eye), King Lear and "fear" are diphthongs, with a brief "ee" before a second vowel positon between "er" and "ar".

Pronouncing abbreviations (especially Latin)

To me it is the height of ignorance to talk in Latin abbreviations. It seems that only less well-spoken, less well educated people do this, although they don't necessarily make the error (also encountered) of using the wrong one (specifically, interchanging e.g. and i.e.). Hearing somebody, especially with a substandard accent generally, say "Ah-ee-EE-ee" rather than "that is to say" or "in other words", or indeed "Ee-Jee" rather than "for example" makes me shudder.

There is an almost worse example of this, worse only because it is being perpetrated regularly by the BBC television continuity department, or whoever it is who scripts and speaks the trailers for future sports programmes for BBC1 and 2. This is saying "vee", the printed abbreviation for Latin "versus" meaning "against, ans in "Liverpool vee Everton" to state the opponents in some forthcoming football match. Ugh!!


This is different from any such problem in America. I trust it is an aversion shared by almost every reasonably intelligent user of English. For me, perhaps the difference is that I do not live in the USA and am not subjected to American news broadcasts, and British news does not cover the purely domestic USA events such as labour union stuff or sport in which the worst perpetrators of cliché are let loose on the public's ear.

However, in this country, these mindless people with their formulaic utterances are almost an insult to the intelligence. And the disease has long since spread, seemingly to almost anybody below exceptional intelligence who is allowed a microphone for half a minute. Here are a few ghastly examples:

Again, a thousand times ugh!

"Literally" features regularly in demonstrations, and the only regular examples of these nowadays (apart from the occasional bit of DIY that is about how to do something rather than capturing the faces of some creature who is havng a lot of it done for them as a surprise) are in the multitude of cookery programmes, especially cookery for men. Apart from the fact that it's superfluous, it is usually either ludicrously inappropriate because it is false (as in "literally, by the skin of my teeth", for nobody with adequate dental care has skin on their teeth) or in some other context where although not actually nonsense it is not remotely relevant, so that one wants to interject: "what, as opposed to metaphorically, then?"