Reprint: English as She is Spoke by Randolph Bedford

| No TrackBacks

A correspondent writes that I should accept "the English language as spoken in the country of its origin," and asks if I want English as spoken on the Barcoo or in Surry Hills (Sydney).

The language of the Barcoo is direct English without affectation, though often illuminated; the English of Surry Hills used to be that of Cockaigne at the Antipodes, and is now rapidly becoming direct English, also without affectations.

English "as accepted in the land of its origin" covers a hundred dialects, and some of the worst affectations of the language. The dialects of Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Midlands, Devon, and Cornwall are not attackable. The patois of the Breton village and the provincialian of the Auvergnat are still French; Piedmont and Sicily speak Italian, though not the Italian of Tuscany; and similarly, though some Lancashire talk may be almost unintelligible to the stranger, it is still English of a sort. The Scotch speak in English with all the differences of men talking in an alien tongue; the wit and imagination of the Irish has made a richer English for Ireland. Whoever invented Welsh must have had as building material the ruins of many aboriginal dialects.


Where language or its idioms are natural, objections are almost pedantic, but the interests of beauty, as of truth, are served by objection to the dishonesty of affectation -- objection to the mental falsity and petty vanity that produce it. It was to that mental falsity and petty vanity that I alluded in objecting to the affectations of "Announcerese"-- such verbal horrors as "suparia" for "superior," "marely" for "merely," "par" for "power," "fah" for "fire," and a weather report as "clardy with shahs" for "cloudy with showers." My reference was to the "Announcerese" of the A.B.C., for the reception of B.B.C. radio is rarely good enough to make criticism sure; often mixed with static that disguises voices which clearer reception would enable me to identify as adenoidal.

But this week the B.B.C. reception was clear enough for me to hear the announcer -- a lady -- say that a talk on the Italian-Greecian situation was one jf the best "sairies of the Ar" -- meaning "series of the hour." It is a silly affectation even in London where the "silly ass" of Wodehouse language has replaced English in the West End, and for its copyists.

Compared with the Wodehouse dialect with its spurious cheerfulness and its humour manufactured with great difficulty, the language of the East End is honest and direct. English is not English where it has preferred sentences of "untin' and shootin' an' fishin', an' rippin'," and a direct people, as the Australians mostly are, must not permit themselves that affec- tation which is the lowest form of play acting.

Correct English

Of English speech as accepted in the land of its origin there are the examples of the clean unaffected diction of people in high places. Nothing more natural than the voice and diction of ex-King Edward VIII.; no more natural human speech was ever made than the present Duke of Windsor's declaration of abnegation and abdication. The King, though short of Edward's voice quality, speaks excellent direct unaffected English, and so does the Queen; Churchill's English is also forthright and correct -- marred a little, I think, by an occasional inflection, suggesting the slight unreality insep- arable from the histrionic sense.

But the insincerity of affected speech -- the encouragement to assuming a part -- to play acting in private or public life -- is its own condemnation. And seeing that radio enters the home and can scarcely be shut out of it, one must ask "is it likely that any child seeing the written word 'power,' and hearing it announced 'par' can get the best results from the day's educa tion discounted by the evening's entertainment?" It extends the number of mentally false people -- because there will also be imitators of affectations which are mainly the expressions of frustrated vanity, seeking a protective compensation; and of an impudent vanity that can say what it likes to the customers without fear of the customers talking back.

Met An Irishman

These affectations are also insults to men and women who know and love the language. In "Explorations in Civilisation," I laughed over an Irish man I met at Cogers Hall, off Fleet Street. Said he, "Y'have Tennyson -- the perfection of the sinses. Look at his nose. He cud shmell better than any other man. Says he:

   "Me very heart faints an' me whole soul greeves
   At the moist rich shmell of the rotting leaves
   An' the fading edges of box beneath
   An' the breath of the year's last rose!"

'"e cud shmell all that -- rotting leaf and fading s'rub an' dying rose. And or his ear-- man! for his ear."

   "Shwate is thy voice; but every sound is shwate
   Myriads of riv'lets hastening thro the lorruns;
   The moan of doves in immemorial allums;
   The murmurst of innumerable bees,
   Tennyson the perfection of sound."

An honest, sincere, and direct version. Now imagine Banquo's speech before Macbeth's castle, translated to "Announcerese"-- and note the destruction of beauty by the affectations of the cousin Slenders of the Radios.

   This guest of Summah
   The Temple haunting Martlet does approve
   By his loved Manshonray, that the heavens breath
   Smells wooingly ar; no jutty, frieze, buttress
   Nor coigne of varntage but this bird hath made.
   His pendant bed and procreant cradle
   Whar they most breed and haunt I have observed
   The ar is delicate.

All men who love English at its best -- the English of Shakespeare, Carlyle, and Tennyson -- must take the affectations that have always discounted its beauty, the affectations that have a larger spread because of their greater distribution by radio.

All language is the correct language; any idiom the correct idiom that has decency and directness; that does not stoop to play act -- a detestable quality always when off stage. More correct than the Wodehouse language and its sedulous apes in Australia are the pidgin of the Papuan, who is direct and tells his story in the fewest words possible, and with the highest literary quality, simplicity, and forthrightness. In the early days of Coolgardie I knew Chief Shaw, who was Mayor of Coolgardie and of Adelaide at the same time. He would be his Goldfields Worship this week and then by coach to railhead, train to Albany, and ship to Glenelg, he would become Mayor of Adelaide again.

In the days when he used to go to bed at least three times in a week, Chief Shaw gave a Mayoral ball at Adelaide Town Hall. At 5 a.m. the Town Hall ran dry; and the lads of the village adjourned with Shaw to the bar of the Old Napoleon.

"Ball go off all right, Mr. Shaw?" asked the barman.

"My oath it did. About half-past two this morning Lady ---" (wife of the then Governor) "came to me and smacked me on the back and she said 'So help me God, Jim! this is the best blanky hop I have seen in 20 blanky years." Of course, what the lady did say was, "It has been a charming dance, Mr Shaw."

Probably even the ribald version was better than the affected translation.

First published in The Courier-Mail, 16 November 1940

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 21, 2011 6:59 AM.

Great Australian Authors #51 - Randolph Bedford was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: My Epitaph by Randolph Bedford is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en