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Beer history

That Stout Yeoman of the Bar Nonsense


Researching the SPBW and the early days of CAMRA, we’ve come across a few examples of what struck us as the same mock-pompous language so ridiculed by Viz in their ‘Real Ale Twats’ comic strip (“A flagon of your finest ale, stout yeoman of the bar, if you would be so very good”, and so on). Arguably, the use of an antiquated word like ‘ale’ in CAMRA’s name is one very notable example.

We were delighted, therefore, to come across this passage in Martin Green and Tony White’s Guide to London Pubs (the 1968 edition of the book mentioned here), which acknowledges and discusses the phenomenon:

Foreign visitors may be puzzled by a form of pub ‘dialect’ spoken mainly by regulars in Chelsea, West End and City pubs but also in the Saloon Bars of pubs in outlying areas. This dialect is an odd blend of pomposity and facetiousness which passes for wit and, as far as can be worked out, makes the speaker feel like some sort of posed, 18th-century Dr Johnson figure…

A speaker of this dialect will always use more and longer words than are necessary. For instance, instead of saying: ‘Shall we go to the pub?’ he’ll say: ‘Shall we repair to a hostelry?’ Instead of ‘Shall we have a drink?’ he’ll say: ‘Shall we partake of liquid refreshment?’… He will also go in for heavy gallantry; he won’t ask you how your wife is but ‘How’s your charming lady wife?’

Is this resort to overblown cliche an inevitable response to the antiquity (or mock antiquity) of many English pubs? And is the kind of froth blower who prefers to ‘quaff traditional draught‘ perhaps more likely also to enjoy speaking traditional nonsense?

13 replies on “That Stout Yeoman of the Bar Nonsense”

Hmm, I think a little bit of this has been common in CAMRA circles for many years, to be honest. “A swift libation, Sir?”

The Real Ale Twats has a disturbingly strong grounding in truth.

And one of my friends was taken to task for writing up a pub crawl in slightly florid terms, referring, amongst other things, to the “procession of pantechnicons” passing a pub on a busy main road 😉

Ha — a swift libation. Yes, we’ve heard that one.

Disclaimer, though: lots of CAMRA members *don’t* do this, and lots of people who *do* aren’t CAMRA members, etc..

I wonder if there was a vague sense in the 60s that drinking brown beer from a handpump was old-fashioned – your dad had done it before you and his dad before him, so it certainly wasn’t a modern thing to do. (Hence all those square plastic keg fonts – emphatically the new thing.) Talking like Dr Johnson would be a way of taking the p. out of the ‘oldness’ of beer and getting a bit of defensive distance from it.

Then along came CAMRA and embraced the idea of beer-as-old-fashioned, and embraced stout-yeoman-speak along with it – so what had been a way of gently mocking something old-fashioned became a way of celebrating it and celebrating your ability to appreciate it.

Nothing, really. Just (like any old joke) has the potential to be a bit irritating.

EDIT: and we quite like talking nonsense!

I always thought it was golf club language as well, while another phrase that was in use according to some book I’ve got from the 1950s was ‘the major been in?’, giving the speaker possibly the aura of a military man.

Presumably that was only a common phrase or saying in situations where you were curious as to whether somebody with the rank of Major had in fact been in. Or was it a metaphor?

Richard Boston in 1976 quotes T.E.B. Clarke from c.1939 on the subject of ‘the Major’ — a pub type who may or may not have been in the Army and, if so, may or may not have held the rank of Major. He’s a sprightly old gent with a white moustache, ‘erect bearing’ and ‘military habits’, apparently.(Think Fawlty Towers…?)

Which makes me wonder if its a habit people picked up during the war or National Service.

Having said that, it was very common amongst the rugby playing types when we were at university — “I say! A fine, foaming pint of St Ella of the Artois. Good chess, sir, very good chess indeed. Your good health!”

I thought of this post while watching some old Keith Floyd series on Dave last night.
” I say, old chap ” this and ” if you would be so kind ” that.
I must say it made me come over all rather foppish and Terry Thomas-like.
There’s a lot to be said for it.

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