An Enquiry into the Identifiable
Characteristics of the
English Aristocracy,
edited by Nancy Mitford


Date of First Publication: 1956

Until Nancy Mitford wrote ‘The English Aristocracy’ in 1955, England was blissfully unconscious of U-Usage and its lethal implications. The phenomenon of ‘Upper-Class English Usage’ had, it is true, already been remarked upon by Professor Alan Ross who, in an academic paper printed in Helsinki a year earlier, claimed that the upper classes were now distinguished solely by their use of language, but it was the Honourable Mrs Peter Rodd (as she was addressed by U-speaker Evelyn Waugh, Esq) who first led the cat out of the bag. Her article sparked off a public debate joined vigorously by Evelyn Waugh, ‘Strix, and Christopher Sykes, whose counterblasts are collected here.

Osbert Lancaster, caricaturist of English manners, takes the debate into the visual dimension, and John Betjeman poeticizes on the theme with characteristic charm.


‘This is a jolly, ephemeral book . . . Its fashionable conclusions are, of course, impermanent; and unborn social climbers will find it no more reliable as a guide, than the Space Traveller would find an Edwardian Bradshaw – whose inoperative charm it none the less entertainingly shares.
Times Literary Supplement

‘When I speak of these matters I am always accused of being a snob, so to illustrate my point, I propose to quote from Professor Alan Ross of Birmingham University. . .After discoursing at some length on pronunciation, the professor goes on to vocabulary and gives various examples of U and non-U usage. Cycle is non-U against U bike. Dinner: U-speakers eat luncheon in the middle of the day and dinner in the evening. Non-U speakers (also U-children and U-dogs) have their dinner in the middle of the day. Greens is non-U for vegetables. Mental is non-U for U mad. Note paper: non-U for U writing paper.’