I've just read a book called "Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour" by Kate Fox. It's sort of popular anthropology/social science, looking at the peculiar tribe of people known as "the English", and trying to identify specifically English characteristics. It's an interesting & very funny read, with a lot of focus (unsurprisingly) on humour and class (among many other things). (Her take on humour is a very interesting one. Namely that the English are socially inept and that humour is our coping mechanism for social interaction, which we find awkward/acutely embarrassing. Humour is our default coping mode).
In one section, she lists certain words that if used by someone would identify them as a member of a specific class. One of these words is "serviette". She claims that using the word "serviette" would automatically "flag" the user as working class to anyone listening who wasn't working class. This took me completely aback, since I've always used the word "serviette" to refer to the paper variety, and the word "napkin" to refer to the cloth variety. (It would sound very pretentious IMO asking for more "napkins" in Mackey D's if the serviettes had run out. Equally I wouldn't ask for a "serviette" if eating in a restaurant that uses cloth napkins if there wasn't one on the table).
Does anyone else make this paper/cloth distinction and use "serviette" for the former, and "napkin" for the latter or do you always use one term and never the other?
For me "serviette" and "napkin" have always been two different terms for two different things, not class-identifying synonyms (in England at least) for the same thing.
What do people think about this?
I'm also interested to know if this class distinction between serviette/napkin exists in other English-speaking countries.

Regards
Nick
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For me "serviette" and "napkin" have always been two different terms for two different things, not class-identifying synonyms (in England ... people think about this? I'm also interested to know if this class distinction between serviette/napkin exists in other English-speaking countries.

I can't comment on the situation in the UK. In the US, at least in my experience, "serviette" marks the speaker as British; we don't use it. We differentiate between paper napkins and cloth napkins as I have just done, with different two-word terms. The single word "napkin" can indicate either or both; context often clarifies. ("Sanitary napkin" is something altogether different.)

Bob Lieblich
With just a skosh of insomnia tonight
I've just read a book called "Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour" by Kate Fox. It's sort ... about this? I'm also interested to know if this class distinction between serviette/napkin exists in other English-speaking countries. Regards Nick

'Serviette' seems to be unknown in the US, but it is used in Canada (Ottawa) possibly because of the French influence.
It would indicate that Americans are less French-influenced, but 'CV vs 'resumé' seems to show the opposite, and oddly, the Ottawans also use 'CV' rather than 'resumé'.
It's a useful distinction, paper vs cloth, but then again other useful things seem to have been abandoned by the Americans, such as 'fortnight' (two weeks).

I'm sure there are some AmE usages which are "better" than BrE, but I can't think of any, other than the odd hybrid programme/program distinction used in the UK.
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For me "serviette" and "napkin" have always been two different ... this class distinction between serviette/napkin exists in other English-speaking countries.

I can't comment on the situation in the UK. In the US, at least in my experience, "serviette" marks the ... or both; context often clarifies. ("Sanitary napkin" is something altogether different.) Bob Lieblich With just a skosh of insomnia tonight

Have a nap, Bobkin.

Ray
snip
I'm sure there are some AmE usages which are "better" than BrE, but I can't think of any, other than the odd hybrid programme/program distinction used in the UK.

I can give you one: I've found that the term "happenstance" has almost entirely fallen out of use in the UK.
It's rather fun to use it here, especially by dropping it into a conversation with those who are convinced that those dreadful Americans butcher the language. Such types tend to be quite dismayed to discover that such a charming and useful term is in common use there but not here.

Cheers, Harvey
Canada for 30 years; S England since 1982.
(for e-mail, change harvey.news to harvey.van)
I've just read a book called "Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour" by Kate Fox. It's sort ... that using the word "serviette" would automatically "flag" the user as working class to anyone listening who wasn't working class.

In my view the class distinction is at a different level. Most Brits (i.e. working class and middle class) say "serviette" whereas upper class people prefer "napkin".
This took me completely aback, since I've always used the word "serviette" to refer to the paper variety, and the ... "serviette" for the former, and "napkin" for the latter or do you always use one term and never the other?

I always say "serviette." To my Brit ear, "napkin" sounds American.
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I've just read a book called "Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour" by Kate Fox. In one ... that using the word "serviette" would automatically "flag" the user as working class to anyone listening who wasn't working class.

This one has been around for ever. I'm pretty sure Nancy Mitford made reference in her U / Non-U categorisation.
The short answer is that damn few care these days about distinguishing one class from another and those that do have their own esoteric ways. Serviette / napkin may well be one for some people, although IIRC Nancy simply thought that "serviette" was non-U and marked the user down as ineligible for the upper class so s/he might as readily be middle as working class.
The shorter answer is - it's a load of useless tosh.
John Dean
Oxford
I've just read a book called "Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour" by Kate Fox. It's sort ... working class to anyone listening who wasn't working class. This took me completely aback, since I've always used the word

Apparently this recent book does not credit its sources, but this goes back to approx. 1960, when popular author Nancy Mitford took up a scholarly work on language usage to define English U-speak i.e. upper-class English. Most of its practical distinctions (toilet vs. lavatory) indicate differences of social class (not specific class) within the ambitious middle classes (not working class.) John Betjeman wrote a funny poem about this beginning IIRR "Send for the fish knives, Norman. . ." because fish-knives were a notorious Victorian invention as a class indicator (totally unneeded for any practical reason.)
This is old stuff, still relevant within England (not Scotland, not the USA.)

Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
(Ottawa, Canada)
Apparently this recent book does not credit its sources, but this goes back to approx. 1960, when popular author Nancy Mitford took up a scholarly work on language usage to define English U-speak i.e. upper-class English.

The book does credit its sources, often in the text itself, and where it doesn't in-text it does in its list of references at the back, where (among others) Nancy Mitford's "Noblesse Oblige" from 1956 is credited.
Most of its practical distinctions (toilet vs. lavatory) indicate differences of social class (not specific class) within the ambitious middle classes (not working class.)

What do you mean by "social class" here (as opposed to "specific class")?

Regards
Nick
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