Just another English language question!

Just another English language question!

So we have these three teens knocking on the door of an old mansion. Then the door opens, the butler appears and receives them with a:

“Good evening, young sirs, what can I do for you?”

Sounds right? I’m doubtful of the “sirs” bit. Googling through language forums I’ve spotted some comments suggesting that it was quite old fashioned (which will incidentally fit the mood, anyway!)

It sounds appropriate to me when said by an old-fashioned butler. At least if you’re not trying to be too serious and accurate – I saw something where the author has a character say “Young sirs” and then comments that he had learned all his English mannerisms from P.G. Wodehouse, and of course that’s where I learned mine.

I agree with both of you: it sounds old-fashioned, and it also seems appropriate for a butler in a mansion.

Of course, that’s based on the perception (based mostly, I imagine, on movies and books) that I have of how a butler in a mansion would be expected to talk. I don’t think I’ve actually ever been in a mansion that has a butler. If anybody here is to the manor born (or, alternatively, works or worked below stairs) they might have a better sense of the reality.

Robert Rothman

Aha! “Old fashion” and “not so serious” is exactly what was needed. Thanks!

If you’re going to be writing much dialogue for the butler, you might enjoy reading some P.G. Wodehouse. As matt w says, though they can hardly be called an accurate portrayal of, well, anything, his books pretty much defined the archetype of the stiffly mannered butler in the English-speaking world. The character you should pay attention to is Jeeves, who actually is not old or crotchety, but does stand firmly by his antiquated speaking patterns and over-the-top formality. The ongoing schtick is that his employer Wooster, the narrator of the series, is young, idly wealthy, and frankly a bit of an idiot, and Jeeves constantly has to get him out of scrapes without losing poise; both of them have very distinctive verbal styles.

Here’s a taste of it from the television adaptation, starring the wonderful team of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as Jeeves and Wooster, respectively: youtube.com/watch?v=Nf0nW_vfk1Q

Mind you, Jeeves is not a butler but a valet (or a “gentleman’s personal gentleman” as Wooster tends to call him). Though as Wooster observes, “If the call comes, he can buttle with the best of them.”

Anyway, read P.G. Wodehouse. This advice holds regardless of your interests, but in your case, you will find a wide selection of butlers and their speaking styles. (You might also want to look at the Blandings Castle novels, with Beach the Butler – maybe start at the beginning with “Something Fresh/New.”)

If you’re a second-language English speaker, though, you may find Wodehouse pretty difficult. There is a TON of very period-specific slang and idioms, most of them from the narrator. But the stories are very fun and well written.

I’ve (so far) only read them in translation, but I remember that it was sometimes difficult to keep track of the people with all their nicknames. The books were a fun read, though. (And the tv series is fun too.)