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R.U.V. OR NON-V?; It used to be U and non-U in those bad old snob days.

Byline: KATRINA TWEEDIE

DOES your vocabulary betray your class?

Social climbers beware, you could be making the ultimate social gaff with your common language.

A cut-glass accent counts for nothing if you refer to yourself as rich, rather than wealthy. Or ask somebody to pass a serviette not a napkin. At least that's the way the world was when Nancy Mitford divided it into the U's and the non-U's.

But now you can forget the U's, today's trendsetting 'set' have given society the V's. Lady Victoria Hervey, rich, louche and outrageous is the Nancy Mitford of the day and the rules of her social game are a world away from Nancy's. So are you a V or a non-V? Now's your chance to find out.

LET'S spare a thought for the aristocracy.

After all, their lives must be so complicated.

While the rest of us worry about missing EastEnders, the poor things have to wade through the increasingly confusing rules of modern social etiquette.

It was all so much easier when the boundaries were clearly defined by nothing more complicated than the labels U (upper class behaviour) and non-U (lower-class behaviour).

Now the upper classes, such Lady Victoria Hervey, 24, sister of the Marquess of Bristol, also simply must be on the celebrity A-list.

Heaven forfend they are forced to mingle with minor B-list plebs.

In her honour, we suggest a new shorthand to separate the elite from mere plebs - are you V (A-list) or non-V (the rest of us)?

The BBC's new TV version of Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, tomorrow, is a timely reminder to harassed posh people how much easier it all used to be.

Mitford's father, Baron Redesdale, was a man of extreme opinions - chief among them the conviction that education spoiled a girl for marriage.

Consequently, Nancy and her five sisters were left to make what sense they could of their heritage.

Her celebrated novel is a barely- disguised account of her eccentric aristocratic family and their notorious adventures between the wars.

An unprecedented snob with imposing rules on manners, few could meet Nancy's exacting standards today.

Except, perhaps, our friend Lady Victoria, whose cut-glass accent and impossible set of demands would be a match for her any day.

Lady V apparently flounced out of a Mayfair jewellers recently with the words: "This is a C-list party and I am an A-list person." And at a party, she muttered: "This is oversubscribed - I prefer quality to quantity."

The Mitfords would have been proud. Like Lady V, Nancy had a rigorous set of demands and devised a bizarre list of words that neatly defined the classes.

Her U words included napkin, instead of the non-U serviette, greens in place of the common vegetables, and sofa rather than settee.

It may elicit sniggers today but in the 1950s it was social suicide to say mirror instead of looking-glass or toilet in place of lavatory.

Social commentator Roddy Martine says the Mitfords' rules still apply to many aristocratic families.

He adds: "The Mitfords were almost the Posh and Becks of their generation. The sisters were radical and scandalous, they captured the imagination of the public and they were pretty too."

That the Mitford family became so influential is astonishing given their bizarre behaviour and beliefs.

While the baby of the family, Deborah, now 80, went down the relatively uncontroversial route of marrying the Duke of Devonshire and became the chatelaine of magnificnet Chatsworth House, another daughter married fascist Oswald Mosley, one befriended Hitler and a third wanted to be a horse.

Yet far from being consigned to the fringes of lunatic history, their legacy lives on.

But then, we only have ourselves to blame - we have always been fascinated by how the other half live and love.

However, times have changed and the cult of celebrity has eclipsed the public's obsession with toffs.

Lady V has discovered it is much easier to rub shoulders with the stars, even if they don't speak BBC English.

Dubbed 'top totty' by the unwashed masses, Lady Victoria has even started dressing like 'common people'. When last year's Essex girl look came in she ditched the ballgown for a faded denim micro-mini.

Half a century ago, young U women were discouraged from filling their pretty little heads with education and instead expected to marry well.

The It Girls, their counterparts today, are still traditionally brainless and the object of benign amusement.

However, today's versions have to face the trauma of daddy's dwindling assets, which makes marrying well even more important unless, like Lady Victoria, you combine fashion and celebrity - her boutique Akademi is a favourite with A-list chums.

But the one thing will always separate the Us from the Vs - she may be A-list but if she asks for a serviette as she sits on the settee in the lounge, she is definitely non-U.

THE V-ETIQUETTE TEST

V Partying with rappers at London's hippest club then falling out in the street as you make a not-so discreet exit

V Going for a weekend's shooting in the country with Guy and Madonna

V Photo shoot for a top celebrity mag along with a few famous chums

V 50 weeks' holiday, two weeks' work (charity gigs), strategy meetings with manicurist

V Undressing for dinner in the latest revealing designer dress

NON-V Going down the pub for a few pints then getting a doner kebab for the bus home

NON-V A weekend's sabotage with the anti-hunt demonstrators

NON-V Family album with snaps of people you don't know

NON-V 50 weeks' work, two weeks' holiday, queueing for a haircut

NON-V Dressing up to the nines in the latest high street fakes
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 3, 2001
Words:946
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