Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson has vented her frustration with some of the slang terms popular with today’s youth following a recent visit to her old school, the Camden School for Girls in north London.

She told Radio Times: "We have to reinvest, I think, in the idea of articulacy as a form of personal human freedom and power.

"I went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing their 'likes' and 'innits?' and 'it ain'ts', which drives me insane.

"I told them, 'Just don't do it. Because it makes you sound stupid and you're not stupid."'

She argued that youngsters need to learn the occasions on which certain expressions are appropriate and when they are not.

"There is the necessity to have two languages – one that you use with your mates and the other that you need in any official capacity," she said.

COMMENT: So it was okay for Shakespeare to use slang and invent new words but not for today's youngsters?

Thompson is an Oxbridge lovey, very much part of establishment. And like most of her kind, no doubt believes that she is better than the plebs who jolly well should know their place in society and, above all, do what they are darn well told by their betters.



  1. Say what you like about Emma. It’s your blog, after all. But you have to admit that you preach in a way different to how you talk normally, so she’s right about the two languages, even for you.

  2. MP, I believe what she is getting at is that if the kids know ONLY the slang expressions and can’t speak well when it’s required (as in a job), they very likely will not have very successful careers. The same arguments were made here in the colonies when Ebonics was touted for African-American students here, to honor their unique culture. It was pointed out that if the students learned only Ebonics, they’d end up in the mail room for their entire working lives – not much of a career.

  3. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she’s been an outspoken atheist for years, would it?
    Maybe she just wants people to be able to understand each other.

  4. Well, but there is a price to pay for access to power, and part of it is conforming with norms. Sorry, but there’s a difference between a regional accent, and local argot. But I can see that in the UK this is all bound up with that class issue too.

    We have a class issue here, of course, but it plays out in very different ways.

  5. Think I’m going to comment and not necessarily vote on this one. I’m an ex-English teacher (In the States) who understands both sides of this ever present coin.

    I don’t think it’s, “cool,” to be an elitist when it comes to language, and I guess that means I disagree with Ms. Thompson.

    Language is an every changing thing and all strata of society contributes to the changes that make up our language. It’s always been that way.

    Of course that’s just my personal two cents worth on this issue.

  6. In all honesty, Anon, I had know idea she was an outspoken atheist.

    Maybe she just wants people to be able to understand each other.

    Ah, now if she is starting a campaign to make everybody in the world speak in English, then I’m with her.

  7. She’s absolutely right. I have a different vocabulary that I use when speaking with friends from when I speak with parishioners. I know certain phrases and idioms will be acceptable in one group and not in the other. We all do it, and the Poll results show that the majority of readers here are in agreement with Ms. Thompson. And I don’t care what her religious or non-religious affiliations are.

  8. Shakespeare enriched the language with his slang, the girls in my house and their friends impoverish it. Unless you believe that the ubiquitous use of “gay” to signify everything appalling under the sun is an enrichment.

    We used to have teen slang too, but we only spoke it among ourselves. The problem is that many young people no longer have the full range of their own language available to them. The slang is all they can do.

    It’s not about being elitist, arrogant or anything else, it’s about recognising that we haven’t done our young generation any favours by not teaching them to articulate themselves in a way that is necessary in today’s world.
    We ought to be thoroughly appalled at what we’ve achieved here!

  9. Erika, in what way have educators failed in their teaching? I would have thought that slang is a rebellion against that which has already been taught.

  10. In all honesty, Anon, I had know idea she was an outspoken atheist.

    All hail the wisdom of Know Idea! 😉

    FWIW: “innit” is a linguistic barbarism . . . innit? [Makes “ain’t” sound positively scholarly!]

    We have to reinvest, I think, in the idea of articulacy

    Is “articulacy” an actual word? [Maybe it’s just made-up jargon, innit? ;-p]

  11. yeah it’s a tricky one – I get distinctly fed up with my 14 year old punctuating every sentence with 100 ‘likes’, particularly when the 6 year old copies her. However the english language is evolving all the time. If you read a book from 50 years ago, let alone 100 or 500, the language is so different, in the structure of a paragraph to the actual words. ‘gay’ as mentioned above is a classic example.
    I agree with the comment above that Emma Thompson is probably being a bit of a snob in this case. Whether you use slang, keep saying ‘like’ or ‘whatever’ it doesnt change the sentiment or the message or whatever is being spoken. Maybe Emma just needs to get ‘down with the kids’ !!

  12. The intonation in the way they say “like” may be novel but the use of the word at the end of a statement has been around all my life, like.

  13. The Daughter of the Magic Roundabout was nagging the current inmates of her old skool for Posh Burdz – nipping their heids for that insanely irritating affectation of Estuary English by the Inbred (or the Aristocracy if you like). I’m with her on this – but I am slightly Autistic and grammar is one of my little fetishes!

  14. As a native of Glasgow, I am fluent in the dialect when necessary – and that can be when I’m addressing the great and the good, who make me want to be a talkin’ bunnet! But I think it’s important to be able to adapt the register of speech to the occasion. It’s not much good talking Glasgow to a French person who has only learned standard English (try understanding a Breton French speaker).
    Besides, Shakespeare was no slouch when it came to distinguishing the speech of the upper-class types (usually blank verse) and the proles…

  15. “Ah, now if she is starting a campaign to make everybody in the world speak in English, then I’m with her.”

    I truly laughed out loud when I got to this comment. It is so very you, MadPriest!

    As someone who is also slightly autistic, Fr Dougal, I agree. Of course, having been brought up by the grammar nazi of the western world didn’t help. And yet, I actually love slang. It can be wonderfully rich and evocative.

    I don’t think this is an either/or situation. Yes, language is evolving; it has to. Still, at any given time there exists such a thing as “standard English” and (whether we approve of this or not) people will be judged by the appropriateness of their language in many situations.

  16. Yes, Ellie. But ET is not referring to Standard English (as spoken on the BBC etc.) but academic English as spoken by profs and luvvies. I mean, if you use a word like “articulacy” your main aim is not to be understood. It is to impress upon others that you are cleverer than they are.

  17. It’s not about using slang as well, it’s about not being able to use anything but.
    I have no idea who is at fault, MP. It certainly isn;t a rebellion against what they;ve been taught because they largely don’t learn it in the first place.

    My girls are growing up partly bilingually in a highly literary household, and yet it took my older one to take English Language at 6th form before she has finally accepted that I might have a point when I rail against saying “could of” instead of “could have”.

    Her private school educated friends are able to speak properly and string a whole sentence together without a single “eh, like, whatever” in it.

    There’s nothing progressive about not enabling our young generation from accessing the riches of their own language and all the thinking skills that come with it.

  18. She’s been on TV here in the US a few times denouncing religion as a bad idea.
    I don’t know if she contributes to the Bus Slogan ads.

  19. It appears ET is a lot more of a celeb in the US than the UK. She’s just someone who appears occasionally in costume dramas and was married to that other luvvie, Branagh as far as we are concerned. She’s not the sort of person the English venerate. Perhaps Americans like her accent. In England that would get her excluded from parties, not invited to them.

  20. I forgot to clarify – that clip is from when Emma was portraying “herself” on Ellen a number of years ago – seemed apropos to the conversation.

  21. well, MP, I hope you’re just being silly. During the series of “coming out” episodes, Ellen got to be Emma’s assistant. This was a fictionalized Emma Thompsen, however, and Ellen discovers that this Emma is a lesbian – but the bigger secret is that she’s not even British…it was a very funny episode. I particularly liked the “revelation” that Laurence Olivier was from Mobile, Alabama.

  22. I was being arch, puckish, funny when I voted “yes”. As this has gone very serious I shall endeavor to reverse that vote by clicking “no” from two different computers. ( :>) )

  23. I thought you were smarter than that, Mad Priest

    That’s a common mistake people make. Fortunately I’m not so your childish insult was wasted on me.

  24. I find regional, ethnic, age, class and other variants of English to be enriching and fascinating but I do believe those who cannot articulate their thoughts so as to be understood in broader society, including in a business contexts, are at a distinct disadvantage. I also reconize that the preceding sentence reeks of my elitist education and my blessedly wide experience of expression. Having worked in Oakland for over a decade I could understand a fair chunk of Ebonics and recognize its patterns and sometimes use them myself. My “grammatical precision” varies widely by context and I use “ain’t” and “innit” and terms I learn from my younger coworkers. Having said all that, I come down with those who think education should include learning to speak, understand, read, and write in a manner that is clear and widely understood. My grown nephew can speak and understand but cannot read and write, to his great personal detriment.

  25. If we did not all speak a certain level of “standard English,” in spite of small spelling differences, we would be hard pressed to even have had this much of an intelligent conversation.

    This also is not a phenomena restricted to English. There are a number of street versions of Spanish scattered throughout America Latina, and it is monotonously painful to the ears after a while with its repetition every few words of constantly repeated words or phrases. It is a gutter language filled with rude and obscene communication.

    And I have friends who speak this street trash talk who are also smart enough to know that they at least need to have a facility to speak a standard Spanish, as well as the the ability to recognize situations when they should be using it.