Friday, February 10th, 2012

People From The Fake Past Talk Too Much Like Us

Ben Zimmer, who writes a language column for the Boston Globe, has edited a series of clips featuring all of Downton Abbey's various verbal anachronisms. (SPOILER ALERT FOR AMERICANS: This video contains some non-plot relevant bits from episodes 7 and 8, both of which will air in the U.S. on PBS this Sunday, February 12th. Of course, it's possible that you are some kind of scofflaw and have already watched all of season two with some illegal Internet trickery. Shame on you, but yes, you can watch this video without fear.)

Zimmer's written breakdown of the featured clips is here. (But he doesn't even take up with the whole hamster debacle.) [Via.]

10 Comments / Post A Comment

at least she didn't say "I could care less". That leaves some people apoplectic.

@FuriousNewYork As well it should.

Two things you need to understand: 1) these Armstrong & Miller sketches ( are very popular. 2) DA creator Julian Fellowes is a tory and all tories can ever do is steal. Milk, gags, Malvinas, doesn't matter as long as it's stolen. JK about the Malvinas.

These don't seem too egregious. It's not like Lord Grantham complimented the countess as looking, "totally bangin' today."

Mr. B (#10,093)

I prefer to save my pedantry for pointing out the instances of English novelists putting Britishisms in the mouths of purportedly American characters. (It happens A LOT.)

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Mr. B and vice versa, to be fair, but oh, yeah that is grating.

Jared (#1,227)

"ultimately the odd verbal and set dressing anachronisms don’t actually matter a toss and what matters is the quality of the plotting and the acting."

This is not as good a defense of Downton Abbey as he/she seems to think.

Ushe Kimi@facebook (#215,442)

From what I can gather, Fellowes did this film with the late Robert Altman and decided to do another Upstairs-Downstairs rubbish that the yanks and lower-middle class Brits like so much. I was watching the first series on Netflix, interchanging with True Grit. The latter film's authentic language puts this faux "masterpiece" to shame. It's just that certain historic phrases, words and terms flow with the context and feel of the age and Downton Abbey is in the class of As the World Turns.

scrooge (#2,697)

More interesting than the verbal anachronisms, perhaps, are the behavioural ones. Heroes from historical dramas nearly always seem to have the sensibilities of today. No doubt, though, viewers would be outraged if they didn't. Dear Sir… I am writing to take strong exception… etc (vide Monty Python)

La Cieca (#1,110)

Over and over again they say "are you all right?" in the sense of "I can tell you're emotionally a mess right now, care to talk about it?" I just don't see this kind of personal question crossing the master-servant divide, not in a well-run household anyway. It was expected that a lady could break down in tears and tell her maid her troubles: that was part of the ladies' maid job, which otherwise was pretty cushy. But beyond, "Good morning, Withers. Is your cold better, I hope?" it just wasn't done to meddle in a servant's private life.

You might argue that the Countess (Cora I mean) might bend the rules because she is unfamilar with them, but by now she's lived in England (and at Downton Abbey) for well over 20 years, more than half her life. Acting as liberal as she does with O'Brien would most likely cause her to lose the respect of the whole staff, and she'd be dealing constantly with open and obvious discipline problems. But none of that happens here, and I think it's both a distortion and lazy dramaturgy.

Curiously, the Dowager Countess is written very authentically with regard to her relationship with servants, including the patronizing she doubtless regards as noblesse oblige. I wonder if Dame Maggie pushes back against the anachronisms, whereas other cast members lack the clout?

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