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See also: nonu



From non- +‎ U (characteristic of the upper classes), coined by British linguist Alan S. C. Ross (1907–1980) in a 1954 article,[1] and popularized by the English journalist and writer Nancy Mitford (1904–1973).[2]



non-U (not comparable)

  1. (chiefly Britain, colloquial, dated) Not U; not characteristic of the upper classes, particularly regarding language. [from 1954]
    Antonym: U
    • 1954, Alan S[trode] C[ampbell] Ross, “Linguistic Class-indicators in Present-day English”, in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen [Modern Language Communications]‎[2], volume 55, number 1, Helsinki: Modern Language Society, ISSN 0028-3754, JSTOR 43341716, OCLC 1091957817, archived from the original on 15 April 2015, page 24:
      I may also note here that the U-demarcation is of two types: – (1) a certain U-feature has a different, non-U counterpart as non-U wealthy / U rich; (2) a certain feature is confined to U-speech and it has a counterpart which is not confined to non-U speech e.g. the pronunciations of girl as [ɡɛl], (? [ɡjɛl]), [ɡæl], [ɡɛəl] are U, but many (perhaps most male) U-speakers, like all non-U-speakers, use the pronunciation [ɡəːl].
    • 1956 February 25, Thought, volume 8, Delhi: Siddhartha Publications, ISSN 0040-6449, OCLC 1695469, page 16, column 1:
      Pudding when used to mean all sweet dishes at the end of a meal is Non-U; the U expression is sweet. Similarly greens for vegetables is a Non-U expression.
    • 1968 August 21, “U and Non-U Today: 2. Actions”, in New Society: The Social Science Weekly, ISSN 0028-6729, OCLC 639635506, page 267, column 2:
      A wedding is a great occasion for u/non-u indicators. The u mother will be quietly dressed; the non-u one will be more ostentatious and have a corsage. The u father will be wearing his own morning coat and a carnation. The non-u father will bolster his carnation—on his hired morning coat—with a sprig of fern, and perhaps even carry a pair of grey gloves.
    • 1976, J[an] T. J. Srzednicki, “Structure of Beliefs and Group Structure”, in Elements of Social and Political Philosophy (Melbourne International Philosophy Series; 2), The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, DOI:10.1007/978-94-010-1353-6, →ISBN, page 135:
      The U/non-U priority rule will be in accord with servant master-type rules if masters are U and servants are non-U, for then the rules support each other. But since a master who cannot command is not a master, a non-U sergeant must take priority over a U-recruit, the same with impoverished aristocratic chauffeurs working for nouveau-riche plebeian millionaires.
    • 1977, Beverley Nichols, “Toilet-training”, in The Spectator: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, Theology, and Art, volume 238, London: F. C. Westley, ISSN 0038-6952, OCLC 219844110, page 15, column 3:
      Was it all a huge joke … this U and non-U business? Yes and no. John Betjeman assured me that it was. But some jokes have an element of cruelty and a great many sensitive people, particularly women, must have suffered agonies of embarrassment because they were uncertain as to what was 'done,' and what was not.
    • 1992, John Algeo, “Sociolinguistic Attitudes and Issues in Contemporary Britain”, in Tim W[illiam] Machan and Charles T. Scott, editors, English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics (Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics), New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 165:
      The concept of U (for upper-class British usage, as opposed to non-U, or everything else) was introduced by Alan S. C. Ross (1954) and was taken up by Nancy Mitford (1956), becoming for a time something of a parlor game in which the participants tested themselves and everyone else for signs of U and non-U status.
    • 1993, Philip Pettit, “For Holism, against Atomism”, in The Common Mind: An Essay on Psychology, Society, and Politics, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN; 1st paperback edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1996, →ISBN, part II (Mind and Society), pages 205–206:
      To speak of lavatories is U, of bathrooms non-U; to lay cloth napkins at table is U, to lay paper napkins non-U; and so on through a myriad of equally trivial examples. I assume that there is something distinctively collusive in the way Sloanes use the U-concept: that as they individually decide whether something is U or non-U they look over their shoulders to make sure they stay in step—the community is the authority—rather than looking to the thing itself to see what profile it displays.
    • 2001, Stephan Gramley, The Vocabulary of World English (English Language Series), London: Arnold; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 205:
      For this we must turn to speculations such as those offered in connection with U and non-U English.
    • 2011, David Crystal, “65: Lunch: U or Non-U (19th Century)”, in The Story of English in 100 Words, London: Profile Books, →ISBN, page 171:
      Eventually, as we now know, the present-day use of lunch and dinner became established among the fashionable classes. As the 20th century dawned, the pages of Punch magazine are full of references to business lunches and evening dinner parties. Meanwhile, the lower orders of society continued to use dinner for their midday meal, and so the U/non-U distinction was born. But the story of lunch and dinner is not over yet. Expressions such as lunch-box and packed lunch have reinforced a change of usage among many non-U children, so that they now happily talk about school lunches (though still served by dinner ladies).

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Alan S[trode] C[ampbell] Ross (1954) , “Linguistic Class-indicators in Present-day English”, in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen[1], volume 55, issue 1, Helsinki: Modern Language Society, ISSN 0028-3754, JSTOR 43341716, OCLC 1091957817, archived from the original on 15 April 2015, footnote 2, page 21:
    In this article I use the terms upper class (abbreviated: U), correct, proper, legitimate, appropriate (sometimes also possible) and similar expressions (including some containing the word should) to designate usages of the upper class; their antonyms (non-U, incorrect, not proper, not legitimate, etc.) to designate usages which are not upper class. These terms are, of course, used factually and not in reprobation [...]. Normal means common to both U and non-U.
  2. ^ non-U, adj. and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2003; “non-U, adj.” in Lexico,; Oxford University Press.

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