How to Speak With a Proper British Accent, According to a Dialect Coach

Maggie Smith stars in Downton Abbey.
Maggie Smith stars in Downton Abbey.
Masterpiece

For anyone looking to sound more Downton Abbey than Gossip Girl (and who rues the day when Americans lost their British accents), Patricia Fletcher has a few pointers for you.

Fletcher, a dialect coach and author of Classically Speaking: Dialect for Actors, spoke with Business Insider about the methods behind mastering a proper British accent, which largely comes down to rhythm.

According to Fletcher, those who speak in neutral American—which is traditionally accepted to mean those “General American” accents heard in the Midwest or West or on news broadcasts—tend to sit on E sounds whereas our British counterparts are more terse. A word such as really, for example, is typically pronounced by Americans as "reel-lee," while the word sounds much more succinct when coming from a Brit: "real-ly."

There's also the matter of how much speakers are willing to "reveal," according to Fletcher. When Americans enunciate their A-E-I-O-Us, their lips are a bit more lax and expressive. Comparatively, speakers across the pond are a bit more reserved with their mouth movements. "Think of our phrase, that the British have a 'stiff upper lip,'" says Fletcher. "[Americans] reveal our emotions a lot through those vowel sounds."

Keep in mind, however, that the British accent Fletcher is talking about is the more traditional accent you hear in most movies and TV shows. But there are plenty of other regional British accents you can attempt to replicate.

The famously recognized cockney accent—most impressively pulled off by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and not-so-impressively by others—is typically heard resounding through the streets of East London; head to Liverpool, and you’ll hear a bit of "Scouse," or the accent that was birthed from generations of Welsh and Irish settling in the area (if you really want to get a taste of a Scouse accent, listen to The Beatles).

No matter which accent you’re trying to nail, Fletcher advises to try and avoid letting your native intonations sneak in. You can watch the full video here, and then try out your own best imitation of Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Why Do We Call the NCAA Basketball Tournament 'March Madness'?

A euphoric Villanova men's basketball team brandishes the championship trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in 2018's NCAA tournament.
A euphoric Villanova men's basketball team brandishes the championship trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in 2018's NCAA tournament.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Beginning on March 19, the nation’s 68 best college basketball teams will battle for the chance to take home the NCAA championship trophy after a high-energy, single-elimination tournament aptly nicknamed “March Madness.” While the winner might not always come from an unlikely place—California, for example, has a total of 15 championships across four schools, and North Carolina has an equally impressive 13—the nickname itself definitely did.

Back in March 1939, an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) administrator and basketball coach named Henry V. Porter penned an article titled “March Madness” for the association’s magazine. In it, he discussed the excitement surrounding the annual statewide basketball tournament, suggesting that a “little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” As TIME points out, 1939 also happened to be the first year that the NCAA held a championship game, which the University of Oregon won against The Ohio State University.

Porter’s enthusiasm for youth basketball was so great that he followed up his article with a 1942 poem called “Basketball Ides of March,” which included the line “A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight / The Madness of March is running.” The catchy, alliterative nickname caught on throughout the state, and Illinoisans continued to use it without interference for the next 40 years.

According to Slate, it was CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger who first co-opted the moniker for college basketball while covering the NCAA tournament in 1982. By the end of the decade, IHSA had submitted a trademark application for “March Madness,” and the organization butted heads with an NCAA partner over its use of the name on a computer game in 1996. To prevent further legal conflicts, they formed the March Madness Athletic Association and decided the IHSA could use “March Madness” for high school sports, and the NCAA could use it on the collegiate level.

While Porter is usually credited with coining the phrase, Dictionary.com reports the idea of “March Madness” had been around for centuries before he made it all about hoops.

The earliest known record of the aphorism “mad as a March hare,” which refers to hares’ noticeable aggression during breeding season, is in some versions of Chaucer’s 14th-century magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. The phrase and its derivatives, including “March mad” and “March madness,” appeared intermittently through the next several centuries; perhaps the most memorable of these mentions was Lewis Carroll’s character, the March Hare, in his 1865 book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (The Hatter was also mad, but for a different reason.)

By the time Porter printed it in 1939, the phrase was no longer so closely associated with hares—though basketball players, of course, can jump just as well.

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25 Irish Slang Terms You Should Know

Lukas Bischoff/ iStock via Getty Images Plus
Lukas Bischoff/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

People in Ireland speak English, but not exactly the "Queen’s English." With a little help from the Gaelic language—called Irish—the populace of the Emerald Isle have devised their very own collection of weird and wonderful words and phrases. Here are a few Irish colloquialisms to help you understand the next person you meet from Derry, Dublin, or Donegal.

1. Craic

Pronounced “rack,” this is a big one, and it means general banter or fun. Originally it was spelled crack when it was used by Ulster Scots. The Gaelic spelling of the word was not widely used in Ireland until it was popularized as the catchphrase in the Irish-language TV show SBB ina Shuí starting in the 1970s.

2. Wee

This term is used to describe something or someone who is very small.

3. Wean

Pronounced "wayne," this word means child.

4. Lethal or Leefs

These terms are mainly used northwestern Ireland, and both mean “great.” And leefs is also short for lethal.

5. Quare

Pronounced "kware,” this odd-looking word can be used in a variety of ways to mean great, very, and terrific.

6. Feck off

Quite possibly Ireland’s greatest linguistic achievement, this phrase is the perfect way to curse without technically cursing. Replace the e with a u, and you have what this slang term means.

7. Dooter

A short, or wee (see above), walk.

8. Saunter

This term refers to a slightly brisker walk that’s almost a strut, but with less self-confidence.

9. Aye and Naw

You can say aye for yes and naw for no.

10. Yes

While it might be confusing, yes means hello.

11. Lashing

This term means it’s raining heavily. For example, if it’s lashing rain, you may want to just stay inside.

12. Slag

This word is used as a verb and it means to make a joke at someone else’s expense

13. Wired to the moon

You know that feeling you get when you’ve enjoyed a fairly big Tuesday night in a club, and then stumble into work the next morning after downing six espresso shots at the nearest Starbucks? That’s what some might call being wired to the moon.

14. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

When it comes to blasphemy, there are no half measures in Ireland. As a historically religious country, blasphemy is relatively frowned upon, so when an Irish person deems it absolutely necessary to take the Lord’s name in vain, they use the entire holy family.

15. Cat

You can use this word to say something is bad or awful. According to Ireland Calling it’s most likely short for the phrase “cat on a melodeon.” A melodeon is a small organ, so we can imagine a feline walking across one would not sound that great.

16. Brock

You can also use this word to describe something that’s bad.

17. Eejit

According to Claddagh Design, you can use this term to describe someone as an idiot, but in an affectionate sort of way.

18.While man/woman

Again, another term to describe a person who isn’t so bright.

19. Melter

Yet another way to describe a person who is a bit of an idiot, or at least very annoying.

20. Haven’t a baldy notion

If you’re looking for a new way to say “I have no idea,” try this phrase on for size.

21. Wind your neck in

The perfect way to take someone who is overly arrogant down a peg or two? Tell them to wind their neck in. It basically means “be quiet!”

22. Yonks

This means a long time.

23. Bake

This is a word for face.

24. Juke

A quick, or wee, look.

25. All lured

Another way to say you’re feeling delighted.

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