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Draco's language use in private

I'm currently having a beta read through my Draco-centric FF, and we repeatedly disagree on his use of language when at home/in private...

What I mean is, I know he had the upbringing of British upper-class and that it should be reflected in his use of language. I'm just not sure how formal he would speak in private, with people he considers - or comes to consider during the FF - as family.

One such disputed moment is:
"[...]We could do something else. You know chess?
Tom nodded eagerly, a big smile on his face. “Of course I do.[...]" (instead of "Do you know chess?")

"You okay?" (instead of "Are you okay?")

Friend and I agree that he sees it a bit more relaxed when in private, hence dropping modal verbs and stuff, but would stick to the proper, more formal usage when out in the public to maintain the reputation.

That's where my beta disagrees, as she thinks that his upbringing as a member of the upper-class wouldn't allow for such a non-formal usage even in private. Now I'm curious what others think about that...

EDIT: Woah! I never thought that my question would bring such a response...

I should have added that English is not my native language, though it was one of my subjects at university, and we did touch the subject of sociolect -- that's why I probably struggle with that apparently not so simple point. ;-)

THANK YOU for answering! It did help me in the end... :-)


The British upper classes use lots of slang and shortened forms, in my experience; they don't talk like academics! So yes, he would absolutely say "You OK?", although I think he might be more likely to say "You play chess?" than "You know chess?".
I think you are viewing the upper class dialect as something that takes work... Like how you might speak French to the waiter, but not to your friends if you (an English speaking you) were in a restaurant in France.


The sort of language that marks toffs as toffs is the language they have heard *from birth*, like as if they are native French speakers. Certainly one would adopt a different tone with one's parents than with one's servants! (politer, probably, servants get yelled at a lot) But it isn't going to be the sort of language that is used casually by your average Joe, especially not your average *American* Joe... Draco no doubt has learned Bad Habits at Hogwarts, his parents will probably be at pains to correct them (with or without a good thrashing... you get to pick how nice they are).

(PS - OK is totally an Americanism; certainly your average Brit will use it, we are infected with American language via TV... wizards don't have TV (muggle borns might bring the habit with them though) and *posh* wizards presumably reject such new fangled nonsense.)
Well, the other problem with this whole idea is that Draco was not at prep or public school, which is traditionally where any local accent picked up from childhood companions and servants gets smoothed out!
mmm, we don't know what early education for wizards is like - I guess you get to make that part up, within the context that the Malfoys are heavily on board with the "we are better than you" message...
“— but you like the Weasleys, don’t you, Potter?” said Malfoy, sneering. “Spend holidays there and everything, don’t you? Can’t see how you stand the stink, but I suppose when you’ve been dragged up
by Muggles even the Weasleys’ hovel smells okay —”

From Order of the Phoenix!

If servants get yelled at a lot, it's recent - or indicative of background. In the 60s still, it was said that you could tell when someone had been brought up in a household with servants because they would have been taught to speak politely to servants.
Was it said by the servants, or by the people with servants, though...
I'm not British (and an ESL) and got similar feedback on one of my first Draco-centric fics as well (it was about what he would say at a breakfast scene at the manor with Narcissa and Scorpius).

My beta said the speaking habits are ingrained to all of us, and in case of the British upper-class they're also trained from the start. So, I went with it and ever have since then. The only exception they let it pass with when Draco talked dirty or swore in the bedroom... ;)

Not sure if this is helpful. It's an intersting question.
It's complicated by the fact that the Malfoys don't come across as truly aristocratic, even though JK has credited them with a background going back to the Conqueror. She also gave them an ancestor or ancestral cousin who was the editor of a newspaper, which is not only "trade" but very low-class trade.

Worse, they try too hard. Real aristocrats wear old clothes covered in dog-drool and get into fights in pubs and generally do whatever they feel like doing without self-consciousness, because they have an absolute confidence that whatever they choose to do is the right thing to do because it's them doing it. They also generally don't care about class - there's an old saying about class and poverty that "The people who matter don't mind, and the people who mind don't matter". It is also, at least in the Muggle world, considered very low class to make a thing about how rich you are.

Of course, the wizarding world may have different mores - we're told on Pottermore e.g. that James boasted to the Dursleys about how much richer than them he was - but by Muggle standards Justin Finch-Fletchley is upper class, while the Malfoys act like middle-class people who are pretending to be upper class by acting the way they think upper-class people would act, based on having watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders. Possibly the family fell on hard times, like the Gaunts, and have only recently re-built their status.

That raises all sorts of questions about how Draco would speak. His comparatively lower-class background might show through, or he might, like his father, try very hard to sound consciously posh at all times (thereby appearing not to be). I believe The Cursed Child gives him a Cockney accent, which is ridiculous, unless we assume he's doing it for effect - if he isn't upper class he would be self-conscious upper middle class, with tortured vowels.

It's possible that he would use "common" language as an act of rebellion and identity-building. Just because he loves his parents, that doesn't mean he isn't a teenager.

Edited at 2016-08-17 11:12 am (UTC)
Malfoys act like middle-class people who are pretending to be upper class by acting the way they think upper-class people would act, based on having watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders.

*snort* This is a very good point. And why on earth does Draco not call Lucius 'Daddy'? Or 'Papa'?
Real answer? Because they're loosely based on a real family the young Jo knew in Wyedean who were only upper middle class - at least, John Nettleship reckoned so.
Seriously? Oh dear... I begin to feel that the genre of HP books needs to be redefined as 'revenge prose'. Did they also somehow cross young Jo?
No, they crossed John. They were on or involved with the school Board of Governors in some way and they didn't approve of John's newfangled modern method of teaching science and tried to get it stopped. But he got to know them later and actually rather liked them.

Most of the adults in the Potter books are at least loosely based on real people at Wydean and JK usually makes them worse or dimmer than they were. This isn't necessarily intended nastily - it's just that, according to John, Rowling first conceived of Hogwarts as a lampoon of the staff at Wydean, which she used to amuse her schoolmates with at lunchtime, so like a Spitting Image episode the portraits tended to be unflattering.

An interesting exception is Pomona Sprout. Apart from changing the shape of the top of her hat by making it pointier, Rowling's own drawing of Sprout is *identical* in appearance to Phyllis Lewis, a well-known local sculptor in ceramics who taught a pottery class at Wyedean. In this case the portrait is a kind one, as she's edited out Phyllis's chain-smoking.
Well, Hogwarts does make more sense as a parody. Very interesting, I wonder who the other prototypes were.

And shame about Sprout and chain-smoking, JKR should have included this detail. I can just imagine her taking a draw after draw on a suspicious magic herbal ciggie. I suppose a permanently stoned Herbology teacher could give the kids all the wrong ideas. :)
I can't go into details or name names in public because apart from John and Phyllis the other models weren't happy about it. But the school had a kind, bearded, bulky (although not all that tall) motorbike-riding Biology teacher who was very emotionally labile, a very tall French mistress, a vague unworldly headmaster (I think with a white beard but I'm not sure of that point) who was blind to his staff's concerns, a teacher called Mr Mooney and one chap who liked to weird the students out by removing his glass eye.

Umbridge is quite closely based on life in some respects and a total libel in others, as the original, although both Machiavellian and annoyingly girly, wasn't especially toad-like, was strongly opposed to physical punishment, and far from opposing practical lessons she had an alarmingly careless attitude to laboratory safety.

Edited at 2016-08-17 01:28 pm (UTC)
Incidentally, Umbridge and Tonks are the names of teachers at St Trinian's, and I learned recently that both the concept of the chocolate frog and both the concept and name "Cockroach Clusters" are lifted from a Monty Python sketch.
Very postmodern. :)

I am not sure I agree with the character assassination of living people though.
Me either. Iirc the Ur-Umbridge was already dead when JK wrote her into a book, but John was very upset when he was first identified as Snape, because he took the simplistic view that Snape was horrible and ugly and that JK was thereby holding him up to ridicule as a bad teacher - and he already had quite enough problems recovering from a serious car crash and then fighting the cancer which would eventually kill him. Fortunately some of the fen contacted him and told him that many fen loved Snape and found him sexy and that he was a hero in the shadows, and after that he embraced his Snapiness and became quite a fanboy, giving lectures and tours and even writing his own fanfics. But JK didn't check to see whether he'd be happy about it before she did it, and Hagrid is an insult to the original because he was actually very bright, if easily panicked.

Phyllis, at least, was wholly happy to be Sprout from the outset.

I would say that the Editor of a newspaper is by no means in a low-class trade position. The print staff, sub-editors, reporters and many others who make the newspaper become a reality may veryvwell be tradesmen, but not the Editor himself.
Iffy. Yes, the Editor is a cut above the rest but journalism has traditionally been very much despised, unless it was The Times. There's a Victorian cartoon where a butler or valet says to his master "Some persons from the press are here, and a gentleman from The Times", and of course there's the famous early 20th C poem by Humbert Wolfe:

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist.
But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to.

The way Dumbledore makes it sound, the paper the Malfoys were involved with was a crude rabble-rousing anti-Muggle rag which used foul langauge and made The News of the World look quite good by comparison. Of course, a hundred years later newspapers using foul language in their political rants wasn't uncommon.

But in any case, any method of earning money prior to about 1950 and which wasn't collecting on the revenue of stocks and shares and the rents and shooting-and-fishing-rights from your ancestral lands, agriculture, the military or an important position in government would put a family's aristocratic status in some doubt. My lot in Ireland were only gentry, not proper aristocracy, but even so the fact that one of them became a very respected bank manager represented a step down.

[Most of the rest of my family were farmhands,or soldiers, or tribal, but the Raes of Keel House were the sort of people who, when asked to fill in their occupation on a form, put "Gentleman".]
They also generally don't care about class - there's an old saying about class and poverty that "The people who matter don't mind, and the people who mind don't matter". It is also, at least in the Muggle world, considered very low class to make a thing about how rich you are.

Yes, that's what I have in mind when writing Draco - that he doesn't care, but now the whole thread got me thinking... 🤔
The only context in which I can imagine speaking the phrase "you know chess" would be something like "that game with the black and white board, and kings and bishops and pawns; you know: chess!"

In that context, I'd say "Do you play chess" or "Do you like chess".

"You ok?" is ok in a kind of murmured aside to a close friend who's just had a bollocking way, or a post-coital was-it-good-for-you one. If it's in a less intimate setting, "are you alright?" (or "are you ok?" is probably better.
I have to say that when I was a teenager growing up just north of London in the 1970s, "You know chess?" would have been considered long-winded. You would point at the chess board, raise your eyebrows and say "Chess?" The question "Would you like a piece of this cake?" was expressed by pointing at the cake and saying "Want?" and the answer was "Want", or just a nod or a thumbs-up sign.

I'm not sure if this extended as far as Wiltshire, or whether it still happens or not.
The mark of being upper-class is not caring and not looking as if you are trying too hard (which would be too self-conscious), so yes, he would use contractions and slang and wouldn't be formal at all. The use of some words is a class marker. You can find a lot of info if you google 'U vs non-U'

This is tongue-in-cheek, but not a bad link to give you an idea, and related links below worth checking out: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/22/how-talk-posh-glossary-non-u

I am not sure how posh JKR meant Draco to be, but if he is in any sense 'wizarding royalty', then... :)

Edited at 2016-08-17 11:53 am (UTC)
Ouch. That's a bit unkind, and the idea that the Royals have people to hold stuff for them is based on the story that Charles has his valet squeeze his toothpaste for him. Nearly everybody forgets that he smashed his arm very badly round about 1990 and it took many months to heal, and probably never fully recovered.

The language is good, though.
Well, this is parody, so I hope nobody interprets this as a faithful portrayal of the Royals. They did equally outrageous portrayals of Helen Mirren and Judy Dench, the 'Cameroons' (who were not in government then, iirc) and others. My purpose in posting this was primarily educational... and it is rather funny.
Yes, and the accents are good.
I agree with many of the previous commentators.

If Draco is well-spoken, it's not something he puts on in public; it's just how he speaks. He would therefore tend to maintain the same rigid sentence structures in private.

I would expect him to say "Do you play chess?". The phrase "You know chess" reads a little awkwardly to Brit, largely due to the word "know", which would typically be used in the context of "Do you know of chess?" rather than "Do you know the rules of chess?".

In the context of "You okay?", the skipped word at the start suggests a middle class upbringing. I'd expect Harry to say this based on his childhood spent with the Dursleys. Similarly, a working class upbringing would be more likely to give rise to "You alright?". I would expect an upper class upbringing to result in "Are you okay?".

I can't provide any useful explanation as to why this is the case, but that's how I'd see it. I'm a middle class Brit, married to a working class Brit.
As already said, the Malfoys come across as upper middle class rather than upper class, let alone aristocracy.

But that aside, upper classes do generally have a more formal way of speaking in public, with acquintences etc., than in a more relaxed setting - just have a search for some of Prince Phillip's slip ups for the proof of that.
But that aside, upper classes do generally have a more formal way of speaking in public, with acquaintances etc., than in a more relaxed setting [...]

Yes, that's what I have in mind when I write Draco - and that's what I tried to express in my OP. :-)

Just now I'm even more confused...

Edited at 2016-08-17 06:35 pm (UTC)
I think you and your bets are both confusing informal ways of writing with informal ways of talking. There's very little difference between the sentence "are you ok?" and "You OK?" when spoken allowed: both of them are going to sound much like, "A'you OK?" because the stress is on the "you".

Upper-class people slur and skip syllables just as much as anyone else: the idea that upper-class people pronounce every syllable is partly because our writing systems tend to favour high-prestige forms of speech, and partly propaganda by people with high-prestige accents (eg. the idea that speaking with a regional accent is "lazy" or "takes less effort".) But there's very little pronunciation difference and certainly no class difference between "are you ok?" and "you ok?"

If you want to represent that Draco's in a less formal setting by using less formal written English, that's a valid stylistic choice! It's not really got much to do with class, though.
Mm. But try to avoid Americanisms, because it's unlikely Draco has much exposure to Muggle TV and he doesn't hang around with Muggle-borns either, so unless there was a school fad at some point for talking like an American, he wouldn't - whereas a Muggle-born of his generation might use American phrases they'd picked up from films.

So Draco might call somebody mate, if he were being informal, but not dude or (probably) guy.
Funnily enough, I always thought I (with my English RP accent) was quite well- and clearly-spoken until I moved to Canada and realised that I elide a huge number of my vowels. I'm middle- rather than upper-class, but academic middle. So yes, I agree that the idea that middle- or upper-class people enunciate clearly is nonsense; we just have what is considered to be a prestigious accent.
If anything, upper class people are expected to drawl.
Compared with the colonials, Brits elide most of their vowels.
Yep; I think we're afraid that actually pronouncing them would make us sound enthusiastic or something.
If you want to represent that Draco's in a less formal setting by using less formal written English, that's a valid stylistic choice! It's not really got much to do with class, though.

Ah, thank you! That's a good point, and probably the argument I was looking for. :-)

Class was kind of her main argument, and I just couldn't really explain why I still prefer the less formal style in those moments...
I am going to be heretical.

We are making assumptions of how Draco speaks based on upper class British - but British muggles.

Given the disdain which Purebloods show for Muggles, I think the last thing they would do is imitate their speech patterns. Besides, having no contact with them, they would have no idea as to how they speak.

Now go and use your imagination.
Actually, I didn't have in mind his social status (upper-class, middle-class) when I said that I don't see Draco speaking like that. I was thinking to his uptight upbringing that Lucius, who was concerned with his appearance in an affected and excessive way, gave to him. I'm sure it was hell to pay every time he slipped and said something improper not only in public but in private too. Or at least that's the way I see it. And what you learn in childhood is hard to forget no mater how relaxed you are. Of course, he can speak like that as a rebellious act against everything his parents taught him.

Edited at 2016-09-03 03:49 pm (UTC)