Jim Tent writes: Great Britain is still highly class conscious. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to hear all manner of words and expressions that denote class, often in a derogatory or resentful way. "Toff" is representative. "Hon" also refers to the honorable so-and-so and is seen more often in the plural: "hons." I confess I do not know anything about its finer nuances, i.e. how derogatory or laudatory it is. Perhaps George Sassoon would be willing to offer his advice.

RH: Things have changed since my English days.  When I was a child, the king was viewed with almost religious reverence.  Now people speak casually of the royals and even of the royal soap opera. Titles are no longer taken seriously. "Hon" is used in the US, but in a different way.  In the US money makes class. Recently a list of billionaires was published- The response was a mixture of awe, envy and resentment. Job and academic titles also have class implications. All this is veiled behind constant talk of "we, the people".

Anthony Smith, president of Magdalen College, writes: I think Jim Tent has got it wrong. In modern Britain there is much envy but no deference. Position in itself earns virtually no respect, whether the position is that of a royal, a politician, a priest, a policeman, a professor or a banker. People like to have titles, but people without them do not hold those who do have them in awe. Among the 'New Labour' crowd and perhaps the young in general there is an obsession with celebrity but people do not necessarily respect those whom they flock to look at. The tabloid press's chief role is to pull down in social esteem the very people whose reclame they have previously inflated. Earned success or triumph are supposedly respected, but those who win acclaim have to beware for they have simultaneously been rendered proportionately more vulnerable.

Today the United States is far more class conscious than the UK, even though Americans often do not understand that calling someone Sir or Lord (because that is part of their name) implies no particular sense of precedence. Of course I cannot be sure that I am correct in respect of every bit of the great social mosaic of the UK, but I think that what I say goes for a very large tranche of the population.

In the interim, Randy Black wrote to a pal in London: He’s politically against ‘royalty’ while his wife of 25 years is pro-royalty. I’ve witnessed some interesting discussions in that household. Here’s his contribution to the toffs discussion:” “The answer to your question is that a "toff" is what we would refer to as a snob or upper class, etc. You know the old "tally ho" approach. I think the "nob" has an "s" missing from the beginning.” (Randy says he is clueless on the issue, but generally understands that toff has something to do with being ‘born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth.’ …another interesting visual insult.)

RH: Nob and snob are different words, with different connotations. "Snob" may be related to "to snub".

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: October 23, 2004