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'Downton Abbey' Criticized for Using Historically Incorrect Language

by Catherine Lawson, posted Oct 21st 2011 8:50AM
Who knew that PBS period drama 'Downton Abbey' could be so controversial? Viewers in the U.K. are halfway through Season 2 right now and there has been criticism that the storylines are moving along too fast. Now some viewers have complained that the use of anachronistic language is marring their enjoyment of the series.

Hot on the heels of a recent debate over a character saying "as if" (the horror), John Simpson, of the 'Oxford English Dictionary,' told 'The MailOnline' that some other expressions used, such as "get knotted," "logic pills" and "shafted" were not in use until much later than 'Downton Abbey's World War I time-frame.

He said "get knotted" originated in the 1960s, and added that "I did think 'shafted' felt quite wrong ... it imposed too much of 1960s and 1970s culture on to the scene. ... Expressions may be anachronistic, and they may also be used by the wrong 'class.' That is common with costume drama." However, Simpson stressed, "we need to bear in mind that the program is light entertainment."

A sentiment echoed by producer Una Maguire, who admitted that they'd made some mistakes, but disputed the origins of the expression "get knotted," saying that it was 19th-century naval slang.

Accusations of "dumbing down" for the audience in Season 1 sparked off a firestorm in the U.K., with 'Downton' creator -- and newly ennobled life peer -- Julian Fellowes being labelled an outrageous snob by some commentators.

After critics and viewers had pointed out some inaccuracies such as the presence of TV aerials and road markings, and the use of the word "boyfriend," Fellowes lashed out, saying "The real problem is with people who are insecure socially. They think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the program to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater than your knowledge."

He later admitted that it was a mistake to have let those errors creep in and denied that the drama had lowered standards or become less historically accurate in a push to attract younger viewers. In an interview with 'The Radio Times' Fellowes insisted that "We don't want to spoon feed our audience."

He added, "There are still references that younger members of the audience may not understand, and I don't feel the need to explain them because I like the idea of inspiring people to go on the internet and look them up. I do not want to patronise our audience and I don't want to exclude anyone from enjoying 'Downton Abbey.'"

Check out Maureen Ryan's preview of 'Downton Abbey' Season 2, which will premiere on PBS in January. But be warned: !!!Spoiler Alert!!!

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I thought this show was Cougarton Abbey?

October 21 2011 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's really no different than a foreign-language drama dubbed idiomatically into another language--do you translate "mon petite chou" literally or pick a similar sentiment in the dubbed language? At some point viewers are not going understand the meaning of many colloquial expressions without a guide, like Shakespeare.

October 21 2011 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Plummer, Joseph

Has anyone noticed the " commercial" about going to some place for Christmas purchases? from an LL ? Please stop, I don't want to see commercials in these forums about... dating, finding "my"true love, etc. put them where they belong, on the commercial format and pay the fee.

October 21 2011 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Plummer, Joseph

I Really enjoyed the British drama series," Enemy at the Door". the German occupation of the channel islands. that series ended in my opinion too early with the death of one of the main charecters. It should have ended with the final surrender of the Germans on the Island in 1945 instead of in 1942. Each episode was unique introducing new charecters while maintaining a constant link to the main German staff and the Islands Doctor and his family. However, I haven't seen this "Downton Abbey", It too will probably end much like the other series, too early instead of going the distance. as for the dialog, those "modern" terms" probably snuck in because the writers probably thought that those terms were very old not realising that they were 1960's terminology. much like the phrases; Going Down.,.,Far Out... In the Groove Man.... Cats.... Gruevy... In the Bag-Man...etc. from the 1950's beatnik scene. along with snapping your fingers in the air while looking down instead of applauding

October 21 2011 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love a writer that uses the excuse for his lack of research as a lesson for the younger folks so they will learn the value of research. (head tilt)

October 21 2011 at 11:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm so happy that this gives me a chance to call Julian Fellowes on the carpet for his plageuristic (sic) episode when Maggie Smith had the flower show where her roses competed with another fellow. The plot was lifted from the movie "Mrs. Miniver". Gotta watch that Mr. Fellowes and come up with your own ideas for a story line.

October 21 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ehleonardh's comment

I knew this was somehow a familiar plotline.....thanks for reminding me it was from Mrs Miniver!

February 14 2012 at 10:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I absolutely loved this series and can't wait for season 2. Honestly , if a few non-period phrases / slang makes it through , I don't care. As long as it isn't something like peace out baby , or groovy lol.

October 21 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I enjoy these programs for the entertainment value. I don't expect a history lesson's worth of accuracy, keeping in mind that history is inaccurate at best. And folks will fight over who is right in history. We are still debating the Civil War. It is entertainment.

October 21 2011 at 10:54 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I enjoy watching British period drama precisely because of their attention to detail. It would be be disappointing if they let their standards slide.

October 21 2011 at 10:40 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Make all the excuses you want. It's badly written.

October 21 2011 at 10:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to justines91's comment

It's not badly written and received an emmy for a reason. It's a great show , try watching an episode or 2. Try watching PBS at all.

October 21 2011 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to idontcare761's comment

It is adequately written by American standards, but by Brit standards it's pathetic. I remember the upset when there was a zipper not adequately disguised in the Brother Cadfael series.... I watched "Abbey" for about 10 minutes and couldn't stop laughing. It's OK - not everybody gives a fig if history is ignored. They could always say "based on the fact that people didn't used to have cell phones..." That's enough history for a lot of people, whether you think it's sad or you don't.

October 21 2011 at 11:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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