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Linguistic anachronisms II

December 26, 2014

I was watching Downton Abbey with my daughter last night (we were watching it ironically, I should note) and one of the characters asked: “How silly is that?”

The episode was set in 1924 (as one of the characters helpfully points out). But nobody said that in 1924. Or even in 1954, or 1974. The idiom of rhetorically asking “How [adjective] is that?” with the implied answer “A lot” didn’t come in until, I think, the 80s. I remember Ben Elton using it in a monologue some time in the late 80s, anyway, and it sounded to me a) new and b) stupid. I haven’t come to like it any more since. But regardless of that, it’s not a phrase that should be used in a costume drama set in the 20s; it jars as much as if a character was wearing a crop-top. Shape up, Fellowes!

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