Before the vacuum cleaner, before refrigeration, indoor plumbing, radiant heat, electric lights, and washing machines, the world was filled with professional working women, like the very fetching one above.
Call it the second oldest profession: servants.
It was not only the very rich employing servants. Housework was laborious and physically demanding work. In poorer homes, older children or extended family members could be put to work, but lacking those, a woman with a house, a garden and a bevy of small children needed to hire extra hands.
Of course an ambitious servant would want to move up to a wealthier home and a better station. While a housekeeper had charge of the staff of maids, in the pecking order of female personal servants, the Lady’s Maid was top dog.
Thus we have the publication in 1825 of The Duties of a Lady’s Maid; with Directions for Conduct, and Numerous Receipts for the Toilette.
While there is the usual discussion of proper behavior (piety, uprightness, and Christian humility) a lengthy section of the book deals with “Vulgar and Correct Speaking”:
It will neither be required nor expected of you to speak with the elegance and polish of an accomplished and highly educated lady, nor with the accuracy of a professed governess; but it will add much to your respectability, and will, in most cases, be pleasing to your employers if you avoid vulgar expressions, and gross provincialisms, which are always a mark of low breeding, and may make it suspected that you have kept vulgar company.
Oh my. Much of the recommendations have to do with proper grammar: double negatives getting a great deal of attention, and improper contractions (a good ‘un). Can’t and won’t are not horrible but they are still vulgar. Use of the word them in place of those or these (them colours are very pretty) is vulgar.
Affecting “hard terms and long sounding words” is vulgar. Showing a fondness for any particular word and overusing it is also vulgar:
You may, for instance, observe that many persons will repeat the words vast and vastly in almost every sentence which they utter. . .The words terrible and frightful and horrid and many others of a similar kind are frequently applied by vulgar people in the same way to things which are the very reverse of terrible or frightful.
Hmmm. That passage made me think of Lydia Bennet.
Exclamations are bad: Goodness me! My Goodness! La, madam!
Of particular interest to this Regency novelist with characters from various parts of the United Kingdom are the sections devoted specifically to England, Scotland and Ireland.
The major English vulgarities:
1. The practice of ending everything with a question. “The bonnet looks very smart, don’t it?”
2. Using the word on for of: “I can’t say nothing on’t” (double negative also) instead of “I can say nothing of it.”
3. Using as instead of that: “She wasn’t here as I know of.”
4. Improper use of there and here: “That there house, this here book.”
5. Using lot or lots. “Lots of things” instead of “A number of things.”
6. Using the name of a person at the end of a sentence with the word is or was before it: “She was very kind, was Mrs. Howard.”
7. The lay/lie/laid conundrum which puzzles twenty-first century writers as much as any nineteenth century servant.
8. Adding an r on the end of a word: “idear, fellor, yellor”
9. The natives of London commit “the greatest mistakes” by swapping the v and w sounds and misusing the h sound: “a wery ‘igh vindow”
Scottish servants are warned not to change their accents, else “you are almost certain to make yourself ridiculous.” Alas, there are two pages of Scottish vulgarities which I am not going to repeat here. What struck me most is that some of these have made the transition to common American usage:
“Close the door” instead of the proper “Shut the door”
“Foot of the table” instead of the proper “Lower end of the table”
“A drink of beer” instead of the proper “A draught of beer”
The rest, not so much:
“Below your clothes” instead of the proper “Under your clothes”
“Disconvenient” instead of “Inconvenient”
“I will go the morn” instead of “I will go tomorrow”
and many more. In fact, “the list might be greatly extended. . .If you are attentive, you will soon be able to write out a more ample one for your own use.”
Ah, the Irish.
The first vulgarity peculiar to the Irish is that they talk too much. They say “it is” instead of a simple “yes”, “it does not” instead of a simple “no”. They mispronounce words, confounding the a and the e sounds. A list of words is provided (spake vs. speak, plase vs. please).
Both the Scots and the Irish “sound the r very rough and jarring”. The natives of London go to the opposite extreme, leaving the r out altogether, (ghell instead of girl, cawd instead of card). Except I suppose when they are tacking that r onto the end of a word as we mentioned above.
A twenty-first century professional can turn on a television newscast and hear standard acceptable accent and usage. Yet we still have our variations in pronunciation and colloquial expressions. I say “vive la difference”! What do you think?
All Images: Wikimedia Commons