Smart People Speak The Queen's English
"A lot of people think I have an accent. I don't have an accent. This is how the language sounds when it's pronounced correctly."
In American media, especially cartoons, intellectuals often speak overly posh, formal Received Pronunciation with extensive Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness
and Purple Prose
, even if they are not born, raised, educated or have never been in the United Kingdom. This association of RP with intelligence and high culture probably comes from the days where this was the accent associated with those who were wealthy enough to afford expensive education at Public Schoolsnote
like Eton and Harrow and The Universities (both of them
), and the more general idea that characters who speak RP are The Proud Elite
This doesn't apply to brainy RP-speaking characters who are in a setting where everyone is British unless it's obvious that only the smart characters speak with this accent and the others all have regional British accents (eg. Cockney, Oop North
, etc). The examples are in two groups, with one being characters who actually ARE stated to be from England within the story and the other being characters who are not, yet still have the Received Pronunciation accent.
May overlap with Quintessential British Gentleman
. Villainous examples are likely to be Wicked Cultured
. However, while this can overlap with Evil Brit
, it doesn't have to, as many examples include heroic smart characters. Compare and contrast Fake Brit
, (that's where the actor playing a British character isn't actually British) and I Am Very British
(where Received Pronunciation is the only English accent in American media, and the characters in that trope don't necessarily have to be smart). Upper-Class Twit
would be a subversion or inversion of this trope, especially if the twit is English.
If the character is neither American nor British, he/she can be made to sound intelligent without being given the above dialect, but many writers and dramatists simply don't bother
Examples from English characters:
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- The X-Men franchise: Professor Charles Xavier is played by Patrick Stewart (first three movies) and James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class).
- Mentioned by Dave Barry, where he says a person with a British accent could be presenting Hawaii Five-O and Americans would think them extremely enlightening.
Live Action TV
- Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Curiously, when a spell makes him behave like a surly teen, he speaks in a working class accent. In an earlier episode, he relates how, as a youth, he rebelled against his upbringing and fell in with 'the worst crowd that would have me' - so which accent was the put-on is up for debate.
- Doctor Bashir from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Mostly notable in the episode where we meet his parents (at the same time as revealing his intelligence was augmented), who do not share his flavour of British accent at all.
Examples from non-English (or unspecified nationality) characters
Anime And Manga
- The DiC dub version of Sailor Mercury from Sailor Moon is given an accent that is at least slightly English. Luna also would fit in the dub since she's an intelligent Mentor Mascot who does a lot of strategy planning for the "Scouts" and is generally portrayed as more intelligent than Artemis.
- In The Sandman (and by extension the spin-off Lucifer), it is implied that Lucifer speaks this way; after quitting Hell, he relaxes on a beach in Australia and the man he's talking to asks him if he's a "pom" (Australian slang for a British person). Given that Lucifer doesn't come from any earthly country, nor has he pretended to do so for the purposes of disguise in this scene, it seems likely that his voice sounds British, and given his sophisticated vocabulary and general mannerisms, it would be somewhat jarring if he didn't speak the Queen's English. Overlaps with Evil, (or at least amoral, selfish, arrogant and ruthless,) Brit.
Film (Live Action)
- In the Warrior Cats series, the last three audiobooks in the The New Prophecy series are read by Nanette Savard, an American actress. The narration and most of the characters are read with an American accent - except, for whatever reason, the medicine cats, who are read with a British accent. They're regular Clan cats, born and lived with their Clanmates all their lives, and just chose a different job - so where did the accent come from? Are they born with it and for some reason all cats with this accent take the medicine cat's job? Or does healing cats suddenly give you a different accent somehow?
- In the Gamma World novel Red Sails in the Fallout Shaani, a mutant lab rat and self-proclaimed scientist who lives in the middle of a wasteland implied to have been Australia, speaks with a rather pronounced British accent. Later, they meet a low-tech hunter-gatherer who speaks the same dialect, it turns out he's the tribe's Archivist and the accent is a traditional part of the job.
Live Action TV
- Notable subversion/playing around of this trope is Charlize Theron's character from Arrested Development. Her English accent is (according to the narrator) the reason that people don't figure out that she's mentally retarded. Of course, Theron isn't even English (she's South African, but is a naturalized American), which is of course lampshaded in the show.
- Gaius Baltar speaks with an RP accent. Later in the series, it's revealed that he changed it from his family's native accent (which is portrayed as a rural, working-class English accent) to fit in on Caprica; what pushes it into this trope is that Caprican citizens are otherwise represented as varying kinds of North American.
- Roose Bolton in Game of Thrones is a clean-shaven Soft-Spoken Sadist speaking RP in a sea of bearded Large Ham northmen with northern accents, which sets him apart from all the other Stark bannermen. (This was presumably a deliberate choice, as the actor Michael McElhatton is Irish.)
- Frasier and Niles in Frasier both have a sort of Americanized version of RP. There is a logic to this, in that it is established that both their characters are theater trained from their prep school and college days — are are clearly nerdy about the theater (and, of course, the theater in academia is a context where, traditionally, such accents are quite literally "received"). They are also both deliberately "high cultured" — they have striven to this all their lives and the overly chaste RP is part of that aspiration/affection. To that point, Niles admits to Daphne in the pilot episode that he is "quite the anglophile".