An ongoing challenge in writing and editing is to avoid either being obsessive about detailed rules of grammar and usage or being proudly ignorant of any such rules. In his 1997 book The King’s English, Kingley Amis framed the choice as one between berks and wankers. He wrote:

Not every reader will immediately understand these two terms as I use them, but most people, most users of English, habitually distinguish between two types of person whose linguistic habits they deplore if not abhor. For  my present purpose, these habits exclude the way people say their vowel sounds, not because these are unimportant but because they are hard to notate and at least as hard to write about. 

Berks are careless, course, crass, gross and what anybody would agree is a lower social class than one’s own. They speak in a slipshod way with dropped Hs, intruded glottal stops, and many mistakes in grammar. Left to them the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin. 

Wankers are prissy, fussy, priggish, prim and of what they would probably misrepresent as a higher social class than one’s own. The speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters not generally sounded, like Hs. Left to them the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin. 

In cold fact, most speakers, like most writers if left to themselves, try to pursue a course between the slipshod and the punctilious, however they might describe the extremes they try to avoid, and this is healthy for them and the language.

As someone who clearly is in more personal danger of falling into the wanker category, I suppose I must resolve to let my inner berk out to play more often.

One thought on “Finding the Path Between Berks and Wankers

  1. George Carlin used to say in one of his bits that “anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.”

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