Friday, 9 March 2012

The rahs are amongst us!

You don't know what a rah is? Go to a seminar room at a British redbrick university or at Oxbridge these days and look at the brands some of the students wear. Is it
Abercrombie & Fitch  or
Jack Wills, or do they wear
Ugg boots?
You're likely to have run into rahs. But it's not clothes alone which turns someone into a rah. You've got to listen to their pronunciation as well. Do they say [klɑː:s] with an extra long and extra dark vowel? Do they monophthongise the word year to yah? Does a student who takes time off call it a  [gɑp jɑːː]? Does he use expressions like 'a lash' (drink heavily), 'to chunder' (to vomit). If he does he is most likely a rah.

Where does the word (pronounced /rɑː/) come from? Wikipedia describes it as a slang term "referring to a stereotypical affluent young upper class or upper-middle class person (male or female) in the United Kingdom." OED tells us that rah is a shortening of hurrah, but does not record the meaning described by Wikipedia. Some sources say that rah is an abbreviation of 'rich a***hole'.

A video clip mocking rahs has gained some popularity recently. Watch here on youtube.


  1. gɑp - really that far?

    Anyway, I thought the point of rah from hurrah was A. that hurrah and hurray were a bit like napkins and "serviettes", and B. that "rahs" were stereotyped to be jingoists.

    In the video, there's a striking difference between year = jɑː and really = riːəli. May be realistic.

  2. Isn't it interesting that the essence of poshness, or at least the essence of a stereotype of poshness, is the pronunciation of a very back open PALM vowel?
    That's exactly the type of pronunciation that the phonetics books of the early C20th described as vulgar cockney and to be avoided.
    And isn't 'rah' just a new twist on 'la-di-da'?
    \Question \/is, if 'la-di-da' was coined in the late C19th for posh, effected speech, what speech features was it mimicking? Surely not that vulgar cockney vowel! Was it coined in the north of England in imitation of the southern BATH vowel?

  3. →Paul
    I very much doubt that la-di-da had a direct origin from any particular regional vowel associations. Rather; I think it has come about imitatively or onomatopoeicly. The backest and openest human mouth posture relates with metaphors we have for referring to behaviour of the self-important, arrogant etc inflated kind eg big-mouthed, puffed up, (a) swell. Haw-haw is in the same phonetic and semantic region: Lord Haw-Haw wasnt named coz of his laughing but on account of his pompous affected style.

  4. I alway thought la-di-da originated as a sort of an imitation of French perceived pomposity.

  5. On the etymology of la-di-da OED says this: "Onomatopoeic, in ridicule of ‘swell’ modes of utterance."