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Harry Mount - The Harry and Meghan Guide to Californian Psychobabble

Blog | By Harry Mount | Jul 03, 2021

Picture by Mark Jones

From upspeak to Latinate phrases, the Sussexes are masters of California-speak, says Harry Mount

Professor Henry Higgins, the supreme language expert in My Fair Lady, would have had a field day with the Harry and Meghan interview.

It is clear that Harry is learning from Meghan how to speak California psychobabble. The interview showed a marked increase in his ‘upspeak’ – the Californian Valley Girl tendency to raise the tone of sentences as they come to an end.

Harry has learnt, too, the art of Californian passive aggression by using therapy speak instead of normal words. Thus, when he was asked a question he didn’t want to answer, he didn’t say, “Sorry – I’d prefer not to answer that.” Instead, he said, “I’m not comfortable with sharing that.” By saying “I’m not comfortable” instead of “Sorry”, the speaker puts the burden of apology on the interviewer – ie if you press me on this one, you’re harming me.

With her Californian upbringing, Meghan is a natural at the number one tip for California speak – always use complex, Latinate words where simple, Anglo-Saxon words are, in fact, much better. Thus she said in the interview that all she wants to do is to “live authentically”, feeding her chickens – and earning millions of dollars for talking about living authentically.

And little Archie is well on the way to spouting Latinate California speak. One of his favourite words, we learnt from his mother, is “hydrate” – a classic example of LA psychobabble, where simple words like “water” are replaced with Latinate words like “hydration”, to lend a false shadow of intellect.

George Orwell was on to the false effect of Latinate words in Politics and the English Language in 1946: “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

Long words and exhausted idioms. Look forward to plenty more of those coming out of – I mean, emanating from – the Californian Court of the Sussexes over the coming years.