Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Sweeping away class barriers?

with 15 comments

Whaddaya Mean I Don't Do Enough Housework?

Image by las - initially via Flickr

During a radio interview, the author Barbara Cartland (1902-2000) was asked if she thought that British class barriers had broken down. She replied: 

Of course they have, or I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. 

Many a journalist, if asked the same question today, might reply: 

Of course they have, or I wouldn’t be sitting here in this spotlessly clean house talking to you. 

This is about a journalistic tic that drives me beyond bonkers, and an article published in the Guardian online today, written by Julie Bindel, is a neon-flashing prime example of it. 

As soon as I read the introductory paragraph stating that Bindel had visited a Traveller community I felt my hackles rising. Why? Because I knew – absolutely 100 per cent knew – that somewhere in her screed she would take it upon her patronising self to describe their homes as ‘spotless’. I duly scanned the article, and came up double lucky: 

I visit some trailers … and am struck by how the women seem to manage, usually with large families, to keep everything so clean and tidy. 

Conditions on the site are as grim as the homes are spotless. 

Goodness, I expect they even wash their hair sometimes too. And use cutlery. 

Similarly, journalists visiting people who are described as ‘working class’ or living in a ‘working class area’ are usually very keen to point out how clean the proletariat manage to keep their homes. Countless middle and upper class people are interviewed and written about in our newspapers every day. If you can find even one example of their homes being described as ‘spotless’ I will eat my feather duster. 

Travellers and Gypsies 


Am I Allowed to Say That?


15 Responses

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  1. Don’t worry, Bindle gets up everybody’s nose! Did she manage to blame men for anything/everything?

    “Countless middle and upper class people are interviewed and written about in our newspapers every day. If you can find even one example of their homes being described as ‘spotless’ I will eat my feather duster. ”

    On several occasions a couple of years ago, I stayed as a guest with a family best described as upper middle class, I suppose. They lived in a Georgian house, in the midst of three acres of garden and tennis court, and the house was a swamp, with the sole exception of the drawing room, and only the fact that they employed a cleaner saved them from utter squalor. Describing their home as spotless was never gonna happen.

    And they had spiders the size of mice! Fleas, too.


    25/02/2011 at 8:59 pm

    • Bindel blame men? I think you must be confusing her with someone who blames men all the time.

      I’m willing to bet a considerable amount of chocolate that if, for any reason, the family you mention were featured in a newspaper, their home would be described as ‘interesting’, or ‘quirky’ or ‘eccentric’ or ‘unconventional’.


      26/02/2011 at 7:46 am

  2. I had never thought about the inherent condescension in that sort of remark before. I’m aware of how removed from reality some journalists are, having known many and married one. This is sort of like giving fur coats to the homeless.

    Well done, Deborah.

    Invisible Mikey

    25/02/2011 at 8:59 pm

  3. Hi, Mikey, and thanks.

    Journalists do love their clichés, but those accompanied by the audible silence of a hack failing to engage their brain before applying fingers to keyboard are unforgivable.


    26/02/2011 at 7:36 am

  4. Just another example of all the prejudice in our world. So sad.

    Tracy Todd

    26/02/2011 at 9:29 am

    • Hi, Tracy — yes, you’re right. This type of lazy journalistic comment raises so many questions once you start to think about the implications of what is being said. People whose business is words should be careful how they use them. Bindel’s choice of words exposes not only her own unexplored attitudes, but also serves to perpetuate those – often unthinking – attitudes in others.


      26/02/2011 at 9:49 am

  5. A little – OK, a lot – OT, but another hack favourite (not knowing the difference between robbed and stolen**), from Alys Fowler, at the Guardian:-

    “I don’t want to lose all that goodness the weeds have robbed.”

    **”They had robbed the bank and stolen all the cash” pretty much sums it up.


    26/02/2011 at 9:39 am

    • That can be quite a tricky difference to get to the bottom of. It’s one that you can see looks wrong, but would need three cups of tea to clearly explain. After all, you could correctly say: The earth has been robbed of its goodness by the weeds.

      Interesting. Thanks, Ron.


      26/02/2011 at 10:02 am

      • The victim, be it a bank, or person, or the earth, is robbed. That which they are robbed of is stolen from them. Not robbed from them.

        Not that tricky. Honestly.


        26/02/2011 at 10:08 am

        • …just halfway through my second cup of tea here…


          26/02/2011 at 10:11 am

  6. I am not an industrious, clean soul. I’d be what they expect of a dead common person, but once I’m nouveau riche, I will just be quirky and charming.

    I bet Cartland thought the sun didn’t set w//o her permission. I’ve seen pics of her before, would make Danielle Steele look like a waif.


    06/03/2011 at 6:30 am

    • Hi, Lisa – thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s strange how the adjectives tend to change depending on a person’s perceived social status. Often in a very subtle way that at first glance can be tricky to spot.

      Interesting woman, Barbara Cartland. Very pink.


      06/03/2011 at 6:50 am

  7. From Guy Keleny’s Errors & Omissions column in The Independent:

    Vulgar brawl: Last Saturday we reported on trouble at a Cardiff primary school. Police were called in after staff were threatened and two families of school parents came to blows in the playground. But the report failed to tell the reader what the feud was about.

    The story not only fails the “who, what, when, where, why” test; it also carries a whiff of snobbery. If parents at Eton were involved in a punch-up, it would be inconceivable not to ask what caused the quarrel. The omission in Saturday’s story leaves the impression that this is just the sort of behaviour you can expect sometimes from working-class Welsh people.


    07/11/2011 at 2:35 pm

  8. James Naughtie, commentating while visiting the home of a very poor family in India on Radio 4’s flagship news programme, Today:

    It’s a small, clean place.


    24/11/2012 at 9:03 am

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