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Good day everyone!

I am currently writing my first fan-fiction.

Here are some basic traits of one of my characters.

He usually talks in normal English with a small infusion of 'moi' and 'thou/thee'. However, when he is excited, he goes into this over-dramatic verbiage rampage, like the one I tried to show below. I'm trying my best to ensure the main sense of what he is saying is not lost.

Should I scale down a usage of uncommon/colloquial wording?

Sample:

And thou were quite generous to put its downside on a full display as a nice bonus!

Normal English:

And you were kind enough to (visually) show its downside to the full extent as a nice bonus!

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    A small note on grammar: "thou wert" is the correct conjugation. Sep 6 '18 at 23:13
  • "wert"? Never heard of it... Sep 6 '18 at 23:14
  • It's the archaic second person singular past of 'be'. Second-person singular no longer exists in English at all - only second-person plural 'you' and the verbs that follow it. Sep 6 '18 at 23:27
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    @DigitalDracula I disagree. "How to write a character who speaks sophisticated English" is quite within the scope of Writing.SE. Correcting the grammar of a specific sentence is not, but using the sample to look at broader elements is. Sep 7 '18 at 8:56
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    @DigitalDracula How to use elements of language (register, dialect, slang, etc.) to achieve a specific goal is part of writing. We even have a tag for it: language. Sep 7 '18 at 9:14
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@MatthewDave is quite right in saying that a sophisticated person's language would be distinguished by lack of 'lower-class' colloquialisms. Add to that impeccable grammar, and a rich vocabulary.

By rich vocabulary I do not mean random use of fancy words. Instead, I mean words with a narrower meaning, that fit the given situation with greater precision. For example, above, I could have said "good grammar" or "perfect grammar". "Impeccable" has a narrower meaning than either, so it's less likely for a person to have seen it. Using the word with ease implies one is sufficiently well-read to have the word not only in one's passive vocabulary (understanding what it means), but also in one's active vocabulary (using it correctly). And being well-read remains to this day a mark of upper classes. It was even more so in the past.

Inserting archaic words that are no longer in use is not a mark of "posh" English. Instead, it is the shorthand Holywood use to signify something is happening in the past, or that a text being read is old (a trope known as Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe). Moreover, Holywood usually use older words incorrectly, disregarding period grammar and often muddling what the words actually meant. (For instance, 'thou' is often used in movies as a politer form of 'you'. In truth, the opposite is the case. 'Thou' was second-person singular, while 'you' was second-person plural. Etiquette dictated that social superiors, and then equals too, be addressed in the plural, until finally the plural supplanted the singular entirely. A similar form of address still exists in French, Spanish and Russian, among other languages. For more information, see T-V distinction.)

Another mark of good education, and therefore of higher class, is maintaining the same register throughout one's conversation (or changing registers deliberately for a humorous effect). A register is the variety of language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. For example, language might be more formal, or it might be less formal. In your example, however, "quite generous" and "nice bonus" belong to different registers.

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  • In your last paragraph, do you mean "quite generous" and "nice bonus" do not mix well together? Sep 7 '18 at 3:40
  • @VadzimSavenok "quite generous" does not mix well with "nice bonus". Sep 7 '18 at 6:11
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    @VadzimSavenok: Galastel refers to "register" in the sociolinguistic sense, which loosely means: "...the set of meanings, the configuration of semantic patterns, that are typically drawn upon under the specified conditions, along with the words and structures that are used in the realization of these meanings..." .Galastel points out a clash of registers in a single sentence in your OP provided dialogue: a character who is a sophisticated English speaker would tend to avoid such clashes unless used for specific intentional effect. [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register_(sociolinguistics)] Sep 7 '18 at 15:55
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    If your intent with the character is that they be explicitly risible, you could write the character such that they continually perform unintentional register mismatches, mistakes about use of "thou" versus you, continual arrhythmic and inharmonious word choices in overly-convoluted sentences, all with complete earnestness and vim. Should you choose this path, you will run the risk of writing a classist, or at least educationally-biased character whose primary character flaw is lack of education or erudition. Some readers may find this amusing; others may take umbrage. Sep 7 '18 at 16:02
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    If rather, the intent is for the character to seem clever and ironic, I think this will require a more deft touch in how and when register clashes are used, and in many cases, clarity, brevity and incisiveness will lend your character more verbal power and appearance of intellect. Sep 7 '18 at 16:05
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Sophisticated/upper class English is not the same as antiquated or Elizabethan English. You're doing the latter, not the former.

Honestly, the key to a sophisticated person is their lack of 'lower-class' colloquialisms; not necessarily a large amount of 'complex' words, but all of their words should be at the very least fit in as either formal or upper-class lexicon.

For example, to the point of parody, upper-class British people call Badminton 'Wiff-waff'. But specific colloquialisms aside, the most you'll get is formal English. They still use contractions, they still laugh and joke like the rest of us.

They do not, as some people think, deliberately make their dialogue wordier or more convoluted. The people who do complicate their dialogue with excessive 'sophistication' are usually middle-class snob wannabes that are trying to sound upper-class.

For the example you have, I'd put:

Thank you for putting its downside on full display; it was generous of you.

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  • Well, in case of my character, i'm not going for a "polite" mockery, more like an open mockery, exclaimed with excited tone. Sorry if I did not provide enough context initially. Sep 6 '18 at 23:16
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    In that case, perhaps: 'Thank you for putting its downside where it's visible; your generosity knows no bounds'. When in a mocking tone, exaggerated wording is expected in both sophisticated and unsophisticated English. Still, cracking out the thous and thees? I wouldn't recommend that. Sep 7 '18 at 0:00
  • Wife-waff is ping-pong. As far as I know badminton is just badminton, though it evolved from something called ‘battledore and shuttlecocks’ and during British occupation of India was called ‘Poonah’ after the town of Pune.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 7 '18 at 0:49
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    @MatthewDave Ah, ‘tis ever the fate of the arriviste and the parvenu to give themselves away by lack of understanding of that they aspire too. And it’s as neat an example of the pitfalls that await the querent as one could ask for.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 7 '18 at 7:41
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    @Spagirl Something I've always found interesting is that upper-class colloquialism seems to involve outright replacement of a word (a la a euphemism) while common colloquialism by constrast tends to merely shorten/modify the regular word. This even goes as far as nicknames; an upper-class person would call their child Matthew something like 'Darling' or 'Honey', while a lower-class person would do the more personable thing and call them 'Matt'. Sep 7 '18 at 8:22

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