Graeme Davis


The unique language employed in many British Public Schools has long been noted; that of the Preparatory Schools from which the Public Schools mostly draw their pupils has generally been neglected.[1] Public School English is a feature of such popular sources as the novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) and has had formal analysis at least since 1900, the year of publication of Farmer’s Public School Word Book. By contrast, there are far fewer sources for the language of the Preparatory Schools. In Jennings Goes to School, novelist Anthony Buckeridge provides a surprisingly rich overview of this English linguistic Register as it was in the late 1940s. The Jennings Register is explored here through a Jennings word-list as an appendix to this article, and through discussion within this article of the Register in action. The Jennings Register looks in two directions. It is the primary source of Public School English and therefore of the dialect of British English associated with the Upper and Upper-Middle Classes. However, the Jennings Register surprises in that its sources are primarily Working Class and from popular culture, and in this respect it is a dialect of the Working Class. Preparatory School English therefore appears to provide a bridge between various class-based dialects of British English. It may be regarded as a linguistic and cultural unifier for Britain in the twentieth century.

The structure of British Schools should perhaps be clarified. Public Schools are fee-charging schools, in contrast with State Schools which charge no fees. Public Schools include many of the most famous schools in Britain, perhaps in the world, for example Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Merchant Taylors’, Rugby, St Paul’s, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester. Most are boarding schools, most were for boys only, and most provide education for ages 13-18. Fee-charging schools for the age range of (typically) 8-13 are called Preparatory Schools, and these are schools which prepare pupils for entry to the Public Schools.

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Farmer, John S., 1900, Public School Word Book, Hirschfield Brothers, London

Gower, Ernest, 1965, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, OUP.

Halliday, Michael A.K., 1989, Spoken and Written Language, OUP.

Janes, Michael, 2007, Playground Slang and Teenspeak, Abson Books, London.

Marples, Morris, 1940, Public School Slang, Constable and Company, London.

Trudgill, Peter, 1983, Sociolinguistics: an Introduction to Language and Society, Penguin Books, London.