Magazine article The Spectator

MIND YOUR LANGUAGE Because I Said So

Magazine article The Spectator

MIND YOUR LANGUAGE Because I Said So

Article excerpt

70 'Because I said so' is the most common phrase mothers find themselves using to their children that their own mothers used to them, according to a deeply unscientific survey undertaken by a baby-outfitters.

Other such phrases included:

'Take your coat off or you won't feel the benefit'; 'Wait and see';

and 'Were you born in a barn?'

(which the survey renders as: 'You weren't born in a barn' - not the version familiar to me).

I was delighted by the old-fashioned 'Who is "she", the cat's mother?'

I t benefits from logical obscurity.

The child, after all, knows that there is such a pronoun as she.

But the grammar is not criticised, rather the register of speech.

These retorts to children belong to what Basil Bernstein, the sociologist, called the 'restricted code'. This was seized upon by Mary Douglas, the great anthropologist, as elucidating the store of implicit meaning in everyday behaviour. A wellmeaning middle-class parent might explain why it is rude to stare - it might hurt someone's feelings, and you wouldn't like the spectator it if your feelings were hurt, would you? That is an elaborated code. …

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