Friday, 26 October 2012

'A few lines to tell you that I'm in the pink!'

Downton Abbey, in the days before learning curves
I've given up trying to spot satellite dishes and road markings when I sit down to watch Downton Abbey every Sunday night. During the first and second series I lived in hope of catching out those whose job it was to get every Edwardian detail right. But they were too good for me and by the current third series I'd conceded defeat ... until last week. That's when I heard, rather than saw, something straight out of the 21st century - Matthew Crawley describing himself as being on 'a steep learning curve'. Are you serious? They didn't have learning curves back then!

They did, however, have their own words and phrases which come across loud and clear in their letters. Below are some of the most popular.

  • 'Swank' was well used: 'From here in my office (swank!) I have a glorious view of Falmouth Harbour,' wrote Sgt Maj John Glasson Thomas to his sweetheart before departing for France. And later: 'You will see that I'm swanking on official notepaper - 'tis cheaper than buying pads, eh?'
  • 'In the pink' was how servicemen let their families know they they were fine, and 'A1' was also a great favourite, probably deriving from the Army's classification which showed how fit for work a soldier was.
  • 'Lively' and 'exciting' were frequently used to describe fierce fighting and danger in the trenches; this no doubt reflected the British stiff upper lip, as the alternative was to say 'it's terrifying'.
  • And here's an unusual one (unless you're Canadian) - 'jake'. This crops up time and time again in Canadian letters - 'everything is jake' meant that everything was OK.
I have yet to start on letters written by Australians, but I'm sure they will provide me with a few more choice phrases!

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