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Blogs Coffee House

Why do we cringe at the term ‘third class’?

20 October 2013

4:20 PM

20 October 2013

4:20 PM

Alas, it looks like the return to third class travel won’t happen. The papers had got terrifically excited about what seemed like a rolling back of 56 years, when British Rail finally ditched its working class fare. The story was on the back of the privatisation of the East Coast Line from Aberdeen to London, for which it seemed at least one of the bidders had envisaged another tier of fares, though it appears the Department of Transport has been thinking along the same lines for the last year.

But of course it wouldn’t have happened, a return to third class tickets. At least, not described in that dramatically honest and comprehensible way. What we would have got instead would have been a new Budget Fare, a Saver Ticket, an Economy Option, a Value Seat, anything except a bald description which would have made clear what was on offer. We don’t nowadays talk about third-class anything, even if it is the lowest and cheapest of three options: the coy descriptions for supermarkets’ own-brand cheap stuff is a case in point.

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In the last half century what we have seen is a radical obfuscation of language, the inexorable advance of management-speak, particularly when it comes to job descriptions. We have in fact come to the point when it seems like an error of taste to describe things as they are, a kind of agonised embarrassment about anything that seems like a linguistic put-down. In this environment where upbeat language is the norm, politicians will never talk about the future when they can talk about going forward. Orwell knew what to make of all this.

I’d have welcomed the chance to ask for a third class ticket, myself, with all its radical class connotations. If we don’t get worked up about the existence of first class carriages with a buffet car inexorably separating the nice, sleek grey seats at the front from the hurly burly of the blue economy seats further down, I really don’t see why we should balk at a pleb class right at the back of the train.

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