Seven new categories of social class: How the markers have changed

Life was simpler when society was divided into Upper, Middle and Working, and meant landowners, doctors and shopkeepers

Share

The revelation that British people occupy not three but seven classes has thrown a spanner in the sociological works.

A survey, by Manchester University and the London School of Economics along with the BBC Lab UK, established that we can be Elite (the new aristocracy: opera-going, stately home-visiting, home-owning, wedge-saving), the Established Middle Class (well-educated, home-owning, theatre-going), the Technical Middle Class (lots of money but uncultured and without friends in high places), and four levels of working-class, from “affluent” to “precarious”.

But how do you tell them apart? Life was simpler when society was divided into Upper, Middle and Working, and meant landowners, doctors and shopkeepers. When, in the 20th century, the classes fragmented into sub-sets of “skilled working” and “lower-middle” (George Orwell famously defined his background as “lower-upper-middle”) things became fuzzy: the “lower-middles” aspired to be respectable and used “genteel” language; the “upper-middles” aspired to be toffs and tried to sound like milords.

Into this minefield walked Nancy Mitford in 1956 with her distinctions between “U” and “Non-U” behaviour and language. Her friend Alan Ross offered a guide for the socially dyslexic: non-posh people think they should say “greens” and “serviette” and “luncheon” and “lovely home” and “I felt ill” and “mental” and “pardon” and “teacher” whereas the truly posh said, respectively, “vegetables” and “napkin” and “lunch” and “nice house” and “I felt sick” and “mad” and “what?” and “teacher.”

Yesterday, some amusing commentators tweeted to suggest that the main class signifiers are whether you buy hardbacks or e-books, and whether you stick letters or party invitations into the mirror on your mantelpiece. But what about the language we use? I suspect some old U-and-non-U rules still apply. Saying “toilet” instead of “loo”, “bubbly” instead of “champagne” or “Well, this is very civilised” when sitting in a bar, (instead of “Well, this is ok…”) may cause the eyebrows of the Elite to rise superciliously.

Prudish circumlocutions have mostly disappeared, so saying “private parts” instead of “minge” is social death. A new horror of management-speak means that “going forward” and “in terms of…” and “on a daily basis…” and “I myself would prefer…” are anathema. There’s a beady-eyed Elitist pedantry that fixes like a death-ray on phrases like “the enormity of his good works” and “the plot is centred around…” and “are you inferring that…?” And any usage that suggests the user isn’t wholly au fait with modern technology and technospeak is right out: so no talk of “the interweb” or “this Bookface thing” and no cries of “lolz!” or (from your Auntie) “Can you get it up on the Google?”

That’s where the would-be Elite are today: eschewing all hints of cosiness, coyness, corporatism, semantic fogginess or cyberspatial ignorance. We’ve come a long way from worrying about whether to say “lounge” or “living-room”.

Scene stealers

A New Zealand filmgoer has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about a trailer for the Tom Cruise film Jack Reacher. It featured, he said, a scene involving an exploding cliff that he’d looked forward to seeing on the big screen – but when he attended a cinema screening, no cliff-based detonation was apparent. Paramount Pictures apologised and offered him a refund.

What amazes me is that someone should complain about a modern movie trailer that’s left something out. I’m constantly enraged by trailers that don’t just leave you tantalised with hints and intrigued to see the film’s outcome, but give you the whole story – clinches, killings, emotional reunions, the lot. It ruined The Impossible and The Paperboy and a dozen others for me in the past 12 months. Trailer editors: can’t you learn to, as Delboy used to say, leave it out?

Twitter: @JohnHenryWalsh

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
William Hague with his former special adviser, Christopher Myers  

Who needs special advisers? We all do

John Rentoul
Vivienne Westwood and her son Joe Corré deliver an anti-fracking letter to No 10 last week  

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

DJ Taylor
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick