Class conscious

The thing that really bothers me, as I approach my 39th birthday, is the way that people talk. If you happen to be holding forth, and I happen to be listening, here are ten things you shouldn't say. If you do say them, you will provoke in me my dad's old lament: "Dead common!"

1) If you're in a shop, don't say, "Can I get a pint of milk?", unless you actually are an American idiot, in which case it's OK. Say: "Can I have a pint of milk?" Then say: "Please."

2) If you must praise something as being "cool", don't say, "How cool is that?" and then pull a sort of goggle-eyed, incredulous expression.

3) Don't say: "He's really, really clever" (or whatever). Say: "He's very clever."

4) A really, really difficult one, this: if you have a bad experience, try to think of some way of describing it other than "it was a total nightmare".

5) If you are a compere at a comedy club and you are introducing the next act, don't say, "Give it up, please, for . . .", but say, "A round of applause, please, for . . ."

6) This one applies particularly to my two sons. If your brother says, in response to some proposition of yours, "No way!" (which he shouldn't, but probably will), don't reply, "Yes way!" and then keep shouting, "Yes way!" every time he shouts, "No way!", until your father intervenes.

7) If somebody seems about to say something embarrassing, don't say: "Don't go there!"

8) Having broached some perplexing scenario, don't then say: "What's that all about, then?" before pulling the sort of facial expression described in 2).

9) If you are a Formula One racing driver, don't always say "for sure" when you mean "yes".

10) If, six months ago, you gave a man a paint pot and he passed you a ladder, don't say, "So I've given him the paint pot, and he's passed me the ladder", because that suggests these things happened very recently. Say instead: "I gave him the paint pot and he passed me the ladder." I should be able to identify the two tenses concerned by name, but I never had lessons in grammar. Dead common, you see.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Just you wait until I grow up