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February 13, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

The makers of Downton Abbey take great care to recreate the look and feel of the period in which it is set. But occasionally anachronisms in the dialogue slip through.
posted by Horace Rumpole (123 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought the contrast in methods between the first and second links was especially interesting: one identifies suspicious phrases and checks them against references for first identified usage, while the other compares the entire corpus of two-word phrases in the show scripts against Google Books looking for outliers.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:33 AM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, just sayin'. I love that magical phrase. Its speaker left unburdened of opinion, while guiltless of offense.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:37 AM on February 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


NPR had a story about this today. I've often had moments where the dialog in the show seemed too...familiar. Now I know why.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:39 AM on February 13, 2012


If a phrase is in The Remains of the Day it doesn't matter if it is correct for the period, it might as well be. Just Saying.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:42 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meh. The problem with citing dictionaries for this sort of thing is that dictionaries cite print sources. Words rarely start their lives in print; this is especially true of slang.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:47 AM on February 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Are there spoilers in any of these links? I heard the intro to the NPR story this morning, but I turned it off in case of accidental spoilers.*


*I'm looking at you, Terry Gross and your Six Feet Under spoilers. Grr.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:47 AM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are there spoilers in any of these links? I heard the intro to the NPR story this morning, but I turned it off in case of accidental spoilers.*

Definitely at least minor ones.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:50 AM on February 13, 2012


I was sitting on the couch playing Minecraft last night while my wife watched Downton Abbey, and someone on the show talking about "sucking up" just seemed to clang so anachronistically that it shocked me out of Minecraft for a second.

and a fucking zombie pushed me into lava.
posted by COBRA! at 11:51 AM on February 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


If a phrase is in The Remains of the Day it doesn't matter if it is correct for the period, it might as well be. Just Saying.

Yes, that's kind of how I feel about it, but that's a curious comment on how historical memory gets changed.

I had a funny Remains of the Day moment several years ago. I was writing an article on recent translations of Freud into English, and I came across the phrase "remains of the day" in Joyce Crick's translation of Interpretation of Dreams, used to describe the residue of concrete daily experience in dreams. It really stood out, and I really tried to find out if the phrase was an allusion to something other than the novel. I couldn't find anything, but I found at least one other review that also felt it was a mis-step on Crick's part to use it.
posted by OmieWise at 11:51 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there spoilers in any of these links?

Yes, it turns out Patrick didn't die on the Titanic, he was actually just injured while jumping over it on his motorcycle.
posted by resurrexit at 11:52 AM on February 13, 2012 [23 favorites]



I love Downton Abbey, but when I watch it I can't help but feel that it's just Gosford Park Fan Fiction. It's soapy, and slapped together and sloppy in language. But...I still like it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:53 AM on February 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sys Rq - I had the same thought about the NPR piece this morning - not that I know any better, but when we're talking about the slang habits of the working class, how sure can we be about dictionary cites?

On the other hand, it seems to me that by 1910 the working class was often a subject of fiction stories (think Dickens, who portrayed the habits of the working class so lovingly) so I'm thinking this might be less of a problem when we're talking about such a (relatively) recent time period?
posted by muddgirl at 11:55 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somewhere in the San Fernando valley, someone is furiously pounding out the "plot" of Downtown Abby.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:56 AM on February 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


YouTube me when you hear one of them say "Oh snap!"
posted by stormpooper at 11:57 AM on February 13, 2012


Even though I like DA, think the politically correct sensibilities on the show annoy me more than the language. Everyone seems unrealistically tolerant for that era.
posted by timsneezed at 11:58 AM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love Downton Abbey, but when I watch it I can't help but feel that it's just Gosford Park Fan Fiction. It's soapy, and slapped together and sloppy in language. But...I still like it.

Even if it were, I would be totally okay with that.
posted by entropone at 11:59 AM on February 13, 2012


I like Downton Abbey for a lot of reasons, but "realism" is not one of them.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:59 AM on February 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ah, just sayin'. I love that magical phrase. Its speaker left unburdened of opinion, while guiltless of offense.

I just saw this on Twitter:
I just figured out the American phrase "I'm just saying" translates to "I'm suggesting correlation = causation in this particular case"
posted by grouse at 12:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's soapy, and slapped together and sloppy in language.

At least for the version that is being aired in the US, the "slapped together" feeling may be, in part, due to it being edited-down from the UK version.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Related: Shit the Dowager Countess Says.
posted by Rangeboy at 12:01 PM on February 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I read the Once and Future King (published in the 1950's, but including material from the 30's and 40's) when I was in middle school (so, early-mid-80's). I distinctly remember a scene where the young Arthur is taunted by some sort of knight who rounds off the taunt with a very 1980's "NOT!".

I've never bothered to re-read The Once and Future King--so it's quite possible I remember this and it's not in the book at all, but this story on NPR this morning reminded me of that. Vernacular is interesting.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:03 PM on February 13, 2012


I love Downton Abbey, but when I watch it I can't help but feel that it's just Gosford Park Fan Fiction.

Doesn't it have to be written by a fan to be fan fiction? Whereas Downton Abbey is written by the writer of Gosford Park.
posted by biffa at 12:03 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


OmieWise: Bit of a derail, but a line from Alexander Pope's Dunciad is "Yet eat, in dreams, the custard of the day" ... which is pretty close to the meaning you describe. "Custard of the day" probably would have sounded even more out of place ...
posted by orthicon halo at 12:04 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"'American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly,' she said. " - what absolute nonsense.
posted by zeoslap at 12:06 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Somewhere in the San Fernando valley, someone is furiously pounding out the "plot" of Downtown Abby.

That's what she said.
posted by liketitanic at 12:07 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


But a whole gimmick of White's Once and Future King is sort of anachronism, especially Merlin. You should re-read it, it's awesome.
posted by resurrexit at 12:08 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


"'American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly,' she said. " - what absolute nonsense.

If anything, I'm disappointed with how the second season seems to be zipping along, as if it has some important appointments to meet.

And the Mr. Bates and Anna story line has gotten quite silly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:08 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there a cutoff date after which we expect the language in period dramas to be correct? Because while we could well understand the speech of a real Downton Abbey, take that back another hundred years, or two, or three, and things get dodgy. We obviously don't expect the Tudors to speak as they would have done, so why here?
posted by Jehan at 12:12 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


all of these phrases were at least 6x as common in the teens as today:

a plutocrat

posted by Beardman at 12:14 PM on February 13, 2012


"'American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly,'

Yes, that's why Mad Men does so well: because it's so very action-packed.
posted by jeather at 12:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


If anything, I'm disappointed with how the second season seems to be zipping along...

Except for the William bit, which took forever. As soon as he announced his intentions, his fate was pretty clear, and took a very, very long time in coming.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard this on NPR this morning as well. Interesting stuff, though it hasn't driven me to distraction yet.

The second season is a bit soapier and more haphazard than the first... probably in part owing to the time skips, but still. Still having fun with it, though. I also agree with the comment upthread that everyone seems unrealistically tolerant, to the point that when they occasionally display the intolerance you would expect for that time period and class structure, it seems out of character.

And the Mr. Bates and Anna story line has gotten quite silly.

Agreed. In addition, I feel like the show in general loves making Bates' life terrible at every turn and that's gotten kinda tiresome for me to watch. They need to give him a break.
posted by Kosh at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stephano: Here; swear then how thou escapedst.
Trinculo Swum ashore, man, like a duck. I can swim like a
duck, I'll be sworn.

- Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act II, Scene II

Sometimes, language just sounds anachronistic.
posted by The Bellman at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes and it's still going on! Christ, just kill it already. Oh wait.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2012


Did the Tudors even speak English to each other?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2012


The language is the least of the issues.

The first series had some depth to it, was gently paced and didn't lay it on too thickly. It was aimed at being Gosford Park for the traditional British Sunday night drama spot, after The Antiques Roadshow on the BBC.

The second series has all the dramatic depth of a cornflakes commercial. It feels like Julian Fellowes has knocked it together as a slightly upmarket version of The Bold and the Beautiful straight for an international audience. The plot and the acting has all the subtlety of William "Fridge" Perry tap dancing.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:18 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


And the Mr. Bates and Anna story line has gotten quite silly.

Agreed. In addition, I feel like the show in general loves making Bates' life terrible at every turn and that's gotten kinda tiresome for me to watch. They need to give him a break.


And Mr. Bates is so goddamn self righteous and saintly. I want to slap that smug smile off his face.

I think Edith is my favorite character. She seems the most realistic and the actress who plays her does a great job.
posted by timsneezed at 12:19 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Did the Tudors even speak English to each other?

Why wouldn't they? Are you thinking of the Hanovers, who were German?
posted by kmz at 12:20 PM on February 13, 2012


Doesn't it have to be written by a fan to be fan fiction? Whereas Downton Abbey is written by the writer of Gosford Park.

Well yes, that was sort of the joke. Rather canibalistic if you ask me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:20 PM on February 13, 2012


I haven't gotten into this show but I'm currently reading another big pop culture item, Stephen King's 11/22/63, and there seem to be several anachronistic moments and phrases that have popped out at me and others. (This is aside from the instances where King deliberately points out how the time-traveling protagonist's friends in the early 60s have picked up his slang words.)
posted by NorthernLite at 12:21 PM on February 13, 2012


As usual, Tom & Lorenzo have it just right: Part of what makes it so hilarious is that it’s strictly Days of our Lives material, but everyone involved is determined to treat it like Shakespeare.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:21 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I shall not hesitate to point out that checking staid & girdled language reference books for anachronicity is hardly apropos. Far from being snappy conveyors, they are the most quintessentially fussy lot, unwilling to accede to the publication of recent constructions until all the cows have come home. And are in their stalls.

Of course it is easier to research in them than to check the columns of the newspapers of that time. Far easier. I'll just finish by pointing out that, speaking of staid, Catholic churches were allowed to replace Latin with modern English 50 years ago. But then I don't insist on classics recorded on original instruments or reading Beowulf in the original whatever-the-hell-that-is.
posted by Twang at 12:24 PM on February 13, 2012


How is it that not one of those articles points out that Vera Bates says "As if!" when talking to John Bates?

Vera Bates, Valley Girl? AS IF!

Where's languagehat? If "As if!" was around in the '20s, I want to know about it!
posted by tzikeh at 12:27 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some interesting Mad Men anachronisms: "There's no way Joan could have quoted Marshall McLuhan in 1960."
posted by oulipian at 12:27 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


or reading Beowulf in the original whatever-the-hell-that-is.

OLD ENGLISH, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.


Sorry; Old English is my favorite non-Modern English language, and I get very defensive.
posted by Edison Carter at 12:27 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't insist on classics recorded on original instruments

A lot of popular classical piano was written before the modern piano was invented.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:28 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The tolerance very carefully ends at people who are trying to end the class stratification. (I've seen all of S2 and the Christmas special, so there may be spoilers.)

Thomas is an evil villainy villain. Now that he's going back in service he might end up good again. O'Brien started out an evil villainy villain but then decided she loved being a maid, so she was quickly redeemed.

Richard is evil (and tacky!) nouveau riche.

Ethel gets pregnant out of wedlock, fired, and has the grandparents try to buy her child.

Branson is going to get implicated in some Irish rebellion. He's also a jerk about how Sybil could actually care about her family.

It's very interesting watching the show very subtly do that -- whatever its failures in plotting, the overarching "we miss the class system, it was awesome in all ways" is always there.
posted by jeather at 12:31 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did the Tudors even speak English to each other?

Why wouldn't they? Are you thinking of the Hanovers, who were German?


Well, Henry Tudor was a Welshman that spent much of his youth in France and married a woman who's lineage was French and Luxembourger (Luxembougeois?). Henry VIII then grew up prepping for the priesthood until his brother died and he had to marry his Spanish (Catalan relly) wife. So I don't know, what the heck did they speak to each other in?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:32 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I share the concerns on the dating of the phrases, it should also be considered that this is an extremely upper-class, conservative family, even the servants for the most part are fairly high up the chain. While some phrases almost certainly appeared in slang decades before they were in print, I doubt these country aristocrats would hear them until that point at least, if not later.

And yes, it's all soap. I'm hoping the third series brings things back down a bit.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:32 PM on February 13, 2012


I know I used the phrase "Just saying," possibly even "Just sayin'" in that ward off offense way on a computer BBS in the mid 90s. I know this because it made me a friend--someone who noticed my use of the phrase because she used it too, so 2005 seems rather late for this phrase to first appear in print. And, of course, we were typing, not saying and it was way after 1920, but, uh, I'm just saying.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:33 PM on February 13, 2012


I just keep hoping Daisy ends up owning the lot of them.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:34 PM on February 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


"To me, Lady Mary is an uppity minx." (Episode 7, early 1919) This line from Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper, uses another term that would have only been known in the U.S. at the time: uppity.

Couldn't Mrs. Hughes have picked it up from Cora or her family? They are, after all, American.
posted by vacapinta at 12:36 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm just upset at the obvious inaccuracies in the dentistry! Come on, even the peasants have good teeth on this show, and the Brits aren't exactly stereotyped as having perfect teeth.

Also, is a little maid on maid action too much to ask?
posted by cjorgensen at 12:37 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some interesting Mad Men anachronisms:
"Awwa!" Neal Whitman, a linguist and Visual Thesaurus contributor, brought this to our attention last year. Whitman pointed to Ben Yagoda's 2007 article for Slate on interjections identifying "Awwa!" with its cutesy intonation as "a 21st-century innovation."
What utter horseshit. Disappointed children weren't invented until the year 2000?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:37 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is it that not one of those articles points out that Vera Bates says "As if!" when talking to John Bates?

I don't know how old "as if" is, or when the first attested usage of it is, particularly as a rejoinder used on its own. I leave that research as an exercise for you. But I would caution against going public with your disbelief until you have checked for yourself the earliest attested usage and the contexts it appears in. Some slang is a lot older than you think it is.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:38 PM on February 13, 2012


"'American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly,' she said. "

Then why is most American TV writing so damn repetitious?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:39 PM on February 13, 2012


Re: Soapiness. Whatever. Oz was the soapiest soap that ever soaped, and it was still pretty great.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:39 PM on February 13, 2012


Disappointed children weren't invented until the year 2000?

In my day we took what we got and we LIKED IT by gum!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:40 PM on February 13, 2012


^ Some slang is a lot older than you think it is

Er, yes? That's why I asked for languagehat to clarify....
posted by tzikeh at 12:42 PM on February 13, 2012


As usual, Tom & Lorenzo have it just right: Part of what makes it so hilarious is that it’s strictly Days of our Lives material, but everyone involved is determined to treat it like Shakespeare.

Yes, that neatly laid out everything that's gone wrong with this season, the pacing. Not even Tudors like nudity could have saved it. But it would have helped.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:43 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a TV series like this where the characters aren't either saints or villains or villains turned saints, or, like Mr Bates, a saint with a shady past that's redeemed by noble excuses. It'd be great to have characters who are mostly OK but sometimes do shitty things without justification.
posted by timsneezed at 12:45 PM on February 13, 2012


"American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly"

I have to wonder if this view isn't part of a self-fulfilling prophesy on the part of tv execs. It's far too common today for a show to be killed-off after only a handful of episodes, if it doesn't immediately rocket into the ratings stratosphere. Thus, the need for shows to be immediately accessible so the audience can "get into a story very quickly".
posted by Thorzdad at 12:46 PM on February 13, 2012


Re: Soapiness. Whatever. Oz was the soapiest soap that ever soaped, and it was still pretty great.

I've no problems whatsoever with soapiness, but I do have problems with cramming too much in there. The first season had just enough to keep everything interesting, but now there's too much in there to really care about any one thing anymore. The pacing is all wrong, now.

Same thing happened to the OC between first and second season.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:48 PM on February 13, 2012


The soapiness is a plus for me. I remember watching Monty Python sendups of cheesy British romances and cornball WWI dramas as a kid, and wishing I could have seen the source material for these parodies. Now, through the magic of lazy storytelling and cheap nostalgia, I can!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nobody pulled off anachronistic dialog like Deadwood, whose usage of "current" profanity was intentional. God, I loved Deadwood.
posted by disillusioned at 12:55 PM on February 13, 2012


David Mitchell writes about the balancing act of creating a beliveable yet engaging historical novel in the back pages of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. I think the more important thing is that the language feels logical within itself - that it not be a slave to historical accuracy and yet not lazy about refering to modern phrases needlessly.

Everything serves the story - otherwise the language becomes unrelatable or distracting. For a visual parallel - look at how everyone's grooming and make-up seems so modern - it's done that way so that it does not draw attention to itself. Watch an early episode of Upstairs Downstairs - or even Brideshead Revisited (which can veer into 80's Romantic music video at times) - and see how dated those shows look now - even though they were set in the past.
posted by helmutdog at 12:56 PM on February 13, 2012


Watching it from America, hence done with Season 2 and they are adding the Christmas episode next week, this stanza from the Buffy musical keeps ringing in my mind:

What a lot of fun, you guys have been swell!
And there's not a one, who can say this ended well!
All those secrets you've been concealing
Say you're happy now, once more with feeling. . .

posted by Danf at 12:56 PM on February 13, 2012


We obviously don't expect the Tudors to speak as they would have done, so why here?

I doubt too many writers would be up to the Tudor task, but I think it could make for some interesting drama.

As to DA, why not here? Clearly plenty of folk pick up on this stuff, why shouldn't the screenwriter? Fellow went to Cambridge, damme, should know about these things. Or at least run it by people who do. (Of course, part of the entertainment comes from catching the fumbles, some of which are inevitable, but not in the numbers this guy dropped them. Laziness or ignorance or calculation? Which of these?)

"I can't help but feel that it's just Gosford Park Fan Fiction."

In fact he wrote the screenplay for that as well, so there you go.

Some slang is a lot older than you think it is.


True enough, but even so, the As If riposte would have had to have gone into deep sleep between then and years when I was a child. So it almost doesn't matter if it actually was around back in 1918, if it sounds anachronistic, it degrades the illusion of this being a period piece.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:00 PM on February 13, 2012


How is it that not one of those articles points out that Vera Bates says "As if!" when talking to John Bates?

OED says:

1902 F. Norris Pit (1903) i. 10 ‘Maybe he'll come up and speak to us.’ ‘Oh, as if!’ contradicted Laura.

Though this is in an American context and the OED does not record it in UK usage until considerably later.
posted by biffa at 1:02 PM on February 13, 2012


On the "well done, DA" front, I have to say I liked the bit where the chauffeur Tom commented on the Russian revolution, saying basically that it was all over and there was no way the Bolsheviks were going to execute the Tsar. Much of history makes infinitely more sense when you remember that historical actors were all, as it were, unspoiled for the next episode.
posted by amy lecteur at 1:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Part of what makes it so hilarious is that it’s strictly Days of our Lives material, but everyone involved is determined to treat it like Shakespeare.

But I thought that some people, including People with Degrees Who Study This Sort of Thing, had pointed out that Shakespeare was the Days of Our Lives of his day?

Anyway, despite the fact that as a good little card carrying progressive, the class system sickens me, I love this show. (In fact, I love most British Period Dramas. Maybe deep down I actually like the class system? Uh-oh.)

Partly because of the aforementioned cred, I rejoice in every setback Mary suffers. I'm also waiting for Karma Houdini O'Brien to get what's coming to her.

With regard to language, one thing I've found that helps the audience is to lean heavily on the period proper language in the beginning, then slowly transition to language that sounds a bit more like what modern folk are used to reading and hearing, but without totally going the Samurai Champloo route.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:14 PM on February 13, 2012


"I just keep hoping Daisy ends up owning the lot of them."

Like Louisa Trotter in The Duchess of Duke Street set earlier than Downton Abbey and made in the '70s but richly soapy. Gemma Jones is formidable. Very satisfactory culinary excess included.
posted by Anitanola at 1:28 PM on February 13, 2012


It's not so much the presense of anachronistic phrases as the absence of any real attempt to speak the way people of that class and era would actually have spoken.

Try watching a British film from the late 1930s or 1940s, even, particularly one which depicts people from that class (which an awful lot of them did). The diction and phrasing are markedly different from anything you'd hear today, and Downton is simply not aiming for that at all.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:36 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lady Mary will NOT speak the way you want her to, dammit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally I'd like to hear JUST ONE PERSON speak like Bertie Wooster before the show ends.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:40 PM on February 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


Philip II of Macedon: If I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.
Sparta: As if!
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:44 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er, yes? That's why I asked for languagehat to clarify....

No offense to languagehat (who I understand doesn't post much anymore), but he's not the only MeFite interested or knowledgeable about language, and many such questions hardly require a linguist to clarify them. The "as if" question as it turns out was answerable with a quick Google (an OED cite is one of the first things that comes up). For other usages often anyone with an unabridged dictionary can clear things up. (And everyone should have an unabridged dictionary, of course.)
posted by aught at 1:47 PM on February 13, 2012


1902 F. Norris Pit (1903) i. 10 ‘Maybe he'll come up and speak to us.’ ‘Oh, as if!’ contradicted Laura.

Though this is in an American context and the OED does not record it in UK usage until considerably later.


And, and - Lady Mary is an American! Obviously Fellowes knew this!

As if.

(Next season her mother is supposed to be Shirley MacLaine, which may be a guest star too far for this household.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:49 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Edith is my favorite character.

LADY Edith to you, if you please.
posted by Danf at 2:09 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think my favorite one is when Carson the butler says to Lord Grantham: "Fuckin' A, bubba." Because, as we all know, he would have said "Fuckin' A, m'lord"
posted by briank at 2:23 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


the class system sickens me, I love this show

This is what I've been wondering about. I haven't watched the program, but I'm suspicious by nature. Edwardian English aristocracy, which I gather is the main focus of the program, is surely my least favorite demographic in history. The way they behaved in the period leading up to WWI, and after, is simply repulsive. OK, I'm a radical, and I think these people should all have been sent to the gallows then and now. But how are they portrayed?

And the cannon fodder they sent to slaughter in Flanders fields was spectacularly abused at home. Do they show that? Do they show the rapes, and the eighteen-hour workdays, and the filth, and the shit and chemicals, and the floggings, and the absolute lack of labor protections, and the abysmally shortened lifespans, of servant life in that time period?

It doesn't take a huge amount of research to uncover; just thumb through the pages of Bill Bryson's "At Home: A Short History of Private Life". Shocking stuff.

English life in this time period, in these class conditions, was deeply horrible. Is this being conveyed at all? Or is it all Masterpiece Theatah, Upstairs Downstairs, Particularly British Service stuff, designed to appeal to princess-fantasists?
posted by Fnarf at 2:41 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Last night they said "suck up to." I thought to myself, that cannot possibly be right.

But I don't see it on the list of anachronisms.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:43 PM on February 13, 2012


And the cannon fodder they sent to slaughter in Flanders fields was spectacularly abused at home. Do they show that? Do they show the rapes, and the eighteen-hour workdays, and the filth, and the shit and chemicals, and the floggings, and the absolute lack of labor protections, and the abysmally shortened lifespans, of servant life in that time period?

It's not gory and gross, but I don't think it especially romanticizes the time period either. Many of those things are shown. it's nothing like "Mad Men," where people enthusiastically cheer on the awful sexism and bad behavior of the period because the production design is nice and the guy is handsome.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:45 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last night they said "suck up to." I thought to myself, that cannot possibly be right.

The OED's earliest citation for to suck up to in the sense of 'to curry favour with' is from 1860.
posted by The Tensor at 2:46 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


But how are they portrayed?

Oddly enough, the family is shown as very nice and caring for their servants.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:47 PM on February 13, 2012


IMO, it's pretty romanticized. It's not overtly "Rah rah class system!" but as I mentioned in a previous thread the issue of being working class, as something that would cause unique problems in someone's life, really isn't addressed.

I don't want to get too spoilery, but I could.
posted by muddgirl at 2:48 PM on February 13, 2012


And, and - Lady Mary is an American!

No, Lady Cora is. lady Mary is her eldest daughter.
posted by Edison Carter at 2:48 PM on February 13, 2012


Oddly enough, the family is shown as very nice and caring for their servants.

...and in return most of the servants can't imagine anything better than life as a servant. The ones who have bigger dreams are villains or communists.

But I don't expect Downton Abbey to be realistic. I just like to watch it with my eyes open.
posted by muddgirl at 2:51 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The ones who have bigger dreams are villains or communists.

Nah, there was that one maid that Sybil helped become a secretary.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:52 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nah, there was that one maid that Sybil helped become a secretary.

I suppose one out of three isn't bad... and wasn't she really hesitant to even mention it to anyone?

Do they show the rapes, and the eighteen-hour workdays, and the filth, and the shit and chemicals, and the floggings, and the absolute lack of labor protections, and the abysmally shortened lifespans, of servant life in that time period?...

English life in this time period, in these class conditions, was deeply horrible. Is this being conveyed at all? Or is it all Masterpiece Theatah, Upstairs Downstairs, Particularly British Service stuff, designed to appeal to princess-fantasists?


[Spoilers for Upstairs/Downstairs, in case anyone cares about spoilers for a 30-year-old TV show]
Doesn't a servant get raped by a guest in Upstairs/Downstairs? And she tells the master she's going to have an abortion (so she can keep working and not starve), and he begs her to save the baby and he'll help her? But then the master has to fire her before he himself could be impugned? Compared to Upstairs/Downstairs, Downton Abbey is very, very tame.
posted by muddgirl at 2:55 PM on February 13, 2012


I would argue that wanting to go from a maid to a secretary isn't really trying to bridge the class divide in the same way as the other ones were.

I enjoy it! I just find the politics of it weird sometimes.
posted by jeather at 2:59 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also the one gay character is evil.
posted by timsneezed at 3:02 PM on February 13, 2012


I would argue that wanting to go from a maid to a secretary isn't really trying to bridge the class divide in the same way as the other ones were.

On that subject, the idea that a housemaid could secretly learn to type in those circumstances and only be found out when it was more or less accomplished was one of the more simply and glaringly unrealistic plot points.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:04 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also the one gay character is evil.

He was gay in two episodes.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:06 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also the one gay character is evil.

And the cook is fat, what the hell?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:08 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the cook is fat, what the hell?!

"Never trust a skinny chef," said by someone-or-other.
posted by cooker girl at 3:10 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's very interesting watching the show very subtly do that -- whatever its failures in plotting, the overarching "we miss the class system, it was awesome in all ways" is always there.


That is so not true.

The servants live incredibly miserable private lives for all sorts of tragic reasons, and the subtext throughout the show is "imagine how much worse it would be to work as a servant for actual human beings instead of the angelic Crawley clan."

There is no moral duty to turn every period piece on the Edwardian era into something out of Berthold Brecht.
posted by ocschwar at 3:11 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't get that impression at all, ocschwar. My memory isn't very good, but we never see other servants, and in general the servant's private lives are miserable for every reason except for the fact that they are working class. The economics of the British class system is (again, as far as I can remember) never even touched upon.
posted by muddgirl at 3:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also the one gay character is evil.

While he's certainly no candidate for beatification even at his best, I always felt Thomas was evil as a kind of "hate that hate made" thing. When people treat him nicely, he generally treats them nicely in return. When they're shitty to him, he's shitty to them.

And he still hasn't done anything as evil as O'Brien. Where is her comeuppance?!
posted by lord_wolf at 3:16 PM on February 13, 2012


The servants live incredibly miserable private lives for all sorts of tragic reasons,

As do the Crawleys (though slightly less tragic). This is because they are all characters on a soap opera.

and the subtext throughout the show is "imagine how much worse it would be to work as a servant for actual human beings instead of the angelic Crawley clan.

I don't see that at all. I think we're supposed to see the Crawleys as pretty standard, somewhat better than most (and infinitely better than the nouveau riche), but not insanely wonderful.
posted by jeather at 3:18 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thomas is made much less evil in the second season, where he just comes off as a bit craven and dim. I think fans call him the evil character for classic Romance Novel reasons - he's cruel to servant girls and probably puppies. The fact that he's classically evil and also gay is what makes me a bit off.
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 PM on February 13, 2012


The fact that the family is actually quite nice is what makes Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) so delicious to watch. She truly believes in the class system and has no problem letting anyone know. Her inquisitive "What is a weekend?" cracked me, Maggie Smith is aces in that roll.

The family does snow a bit of its snottiness when Matthew shows up, but that doesn't last long.

And he still hasn't done anything as evil as O'Brien. Where is her comeuppance?!

See, O'Brien is one of favorites, simply because she really went there, but pulled back to late. It's a rich character. Bates has a bit of that human evilness, what with his temper, but that's all in past, so we don't see much of it. If only Anna was more developed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:20 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


(For those who don't read old-school romance novels - one sign of an evil character in historical romance novels is that he would be bisexual at best, a pedophile, and probably also an animal abuser.)

(Not that I think Thomas fits that stereotype exactly, it was just an interesting parallel to me during S1.)
posted by muddgirl at 3:23 PM on February 13, 2012


Anyway, back on topic, I think it was Tom & Lorenzo who pointed out that the motto for this show should be, "Choices have consequences." Examining the economic and social backgrounds behind choices would muddy the whole, "You made your bed and now you have to lie in it" theme.
posted by muddgirl at 3:25 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thomas is made much less evil in the second season,

Not sure where y'all get that either. He's desperate enough (for obvious reasons) to try to seduce a duke, and when that fails becomes a big bundle of bitterness and cynicism. Not impossible to empathize with him.
posted by ocschwar at 3:28 PM on February 13, 2012


[Season 2 spoiler]

Look, when the butler of the house is so offended at the idea of a chauffer marrying a lady that he practically vomits up his dinner, it's not surprising that fans of the show will cast a craven 'uppity servant' as a villain.
posted by muddgirl at 3:31 PM on February 13, 2012


That's something I find delightful about Boardwalk Empire. Painstaking attention is paid to period details in the set design and costumes, but the words coming out of the characters' mouths are pure 21st Century. Or as Nucky Thompson would ask, "What's that all about?"
posted by squalor at 3:43 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I understood the appeal of the chauffeur. He's just going to wear her down by persistence? Ick! Stalker land!
posted by small_ruminant at 4:07 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thomas is made much less evil in the second season,

Not sure where y'all get that either. He's desperate enough (for obvious reasons) to try to seduce a duke, and when that fails becomes a big bundle of bitterness and cynicism. Not impossible to empathize with him.

The seduction happens in season 1. In the US we're near the end of season 2 and Thomas has, indeed, been much less evil toward the end.
posted by cooker girl at 4:46 PM on February 13, 2012


I wish I understood the appeal of the chauffeur.

He's handsome, political like her and doesn't have much use for the artificiality of the upper class.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:44 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I understood the appeal of the chauffeur.

*I assume any reader of this comment has seen the episode that aired in the US last night.*

1) Sybil said a couple of years into the war, "Sometimes it seems like every boy I ever danced with is dead" -- her first season was just before the war started, and since then she's been cleaning shrapnel wounds and eating dinner with her sisters. I think part of the idea is that she hasn't had the opportunity to meet anyone eligible as a romantic interest for years. He's really the only young man around.
2) They share an interest in politics, as well as each having some principled objections to the way society is structured -- for her, the lack of a franchise and social mobility for women (which is why she helps the maid get a job as a secretary).
3) He is super-cute.

I actually think the relationship is well-motivated, and also that it's realistic to assume that she would have absolutely no idea what it's actually like to struggle financially and would have eventually very much regretted her decision had her father not relented and said he would give them money.
posted by palliser at 6:44 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


He's handsome, political like her and doesn't have much use for the artificiality of the upper class.

And he seems, so far, to be encouraging her to pursue her nursing career even after they're married!
posted by cooker girl at 6:45 PM on February 13, 2012


I'd love to see a TV series like this where the characters aren't either saints or villains or villains turned saints, or, like Mr Bates, a saint with a shady past that's redeemed by noble excuses.

But Lady Mary is a total asshole.

This show is what would happen if somebody accidentally arranged for half a zillion pounds in lovely costumes and antique horses and the services of Dame Maggie Smith to be signed over to a six-year-old who was super into playing with his Barbies, but wasn't very good at it yet.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:47 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Spoilers for Upstairs/Downstairs, in case anyone cares about spoilers for a 30-year-old TV show]
Doesn't a servant get raped by a guest in Upstairs/Downstairs? And she tells the master she's going to have an abortion (so she can keep working and not starve), and he begs her to save the baby and he'll help her? But then the master has to fire her before he himself could be impugned? Compared to Upstairs/Downstairs, Downton Abbey is very, very tame.


I don't think that's exactly how it goes... Definitely a servant is made pregnant by an aristocrat. Definitely Lord Bellamy blocks the abortion and negotiates with the father. The father denies responsibility and makes trouble. Bellamy's lawyer insists Bellamy has to drop it, hanging the servant completely out to dry. I think the impregnation happens before she is working at the house on Eaton Place though. Awww screw it, I'll look it up... It was Season 1 Episode 6: Mary is raped by the son of her former employer just before she comes to work at 165 Eaton Place.

Upstairs Downstairs has a hard edge to it, the first season especially.
posted by Chuckles at 8:07 PM on February 13, 2012


But Lady Mary is a total asshole.

She starts out that way but by season two she's had most of her flaws ironed out of her.
posted by timsneezed at 8:17 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


While we're griping about cliches, anachronisms, and inaccuracies, the spinal cord injury subplot was way off base. In those days, Matthew wouldn't have survived very long without catheters and antibiotics... think days and weeks. And fathering children (in a later era, when more was understood) would not have been out of the question. And what the heck were they telling him about adapted vehicles?
posted by Soliloquy at 9:18 PM on February 13, 2012


Dowton Abbey and True Blood have tricked me into liking soaps. Damn you both!

Anyways, while comparing spoken language to text may be inaccurage, it provides a starting point for further investigation, which is part of what the Sapping Attention post does. It identifies a few outliers and then looks at those individually.

It's really amazing what the increasing availability of low-cost tools for data analysis of massive linguistic data sets is bringing us. It's getting increasingly easy for casual users to investigate and visualize information.
posted by formless at 10:03 PM on February 13, 2012


I'm glad to hear Matthew makes a miraculous recovery (we're watching via Amazon and just finished episode 6 of Season 2) because HOLY HELL HIS BROODING. I was about ready to shove him in the floor and rant about all the spinals that I saw in 'Nam and how this goldbricker could walk.

What, no one else has Big Lebowski/Downton Abbey crossover fantasies?
posted by sonika at 5:05 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the episode that PBS aired this week...It was like the writers suddenly realized they'd really been meandering all season and had to cram every possible plot twist into the final episode. Miracle healing! Sickness! Convenient death! Marriage! Arrest! Mea culpa! Love! Pride! Torment! Crane shot!!!

As much as I like watching the show, I really wanted to toss a brick through the screen Sunday night.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:26 AM on February 14, 2012


Had to happen. Mary and Matthew are destined to be together.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:54 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm just upset at the obvious inaccuracies in the dentistry! Come on, even the peasants have good teeth on this show, and the Brits aren't exactly stereotyped as having perfect teeth.

An English person writes: YAWN
posted by mippy at 9:25 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The worst inaccuracies, for me, are in books/series etc. set within what for me or the writer is living memory. People taking O-levels in 2004, listening to The Smiths in 1981 (or conversely, dragging on youth subcultures into years where they really don't belong) or, indeed, phrases like 'that's so not true' in just-about-period-pieces which didn't really enter British English until Friends took off over here. There was a series called I Love The 90s that aired in 2001-ish, and the terrible, simple mistakes made by whomever compiled the soundtrack sent me into a paroxysm of pedantry.

The annoying thing is, as I get older, I'll be getting cross about these things just as people forty years older than I am like to nitpick Mad Men. (I don't watch Downton Abbey, or as my mother calls it, Downtown Abbey.)
posted by mippy at 9:30 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Season finale followup post from Ben Schmidt.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:39 PM on February 20, 2012


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