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Smart People Speak the Queen's English

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Woody: Pardon me, old chap. I have a question...
Zach: Why the hell does he sound British now?!
Scientist: Woody is a stupid person, and that's what stupid people think smart people sound like.
Woody: Fair play.

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 (e.g. 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. In this context it is worth recalling that until the late 20th century, most continental European schools taught an English pronunciation very much like RP and that is probably still the most frequently taught accent, even if some teachers will use Standard American.

Examples from English characters:

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  • Punishment Park: Darkly parodied. The story is primarily populated by Americans, who range from left-wing intellectuals to Corrupt Hicks. However, the film (presumably a documentary) itself is narrated in its entirety by an upper-class English male voice, in an ironic juxtaposition to the brutalities taking places on-screen.
  • X-Men Film Series: The elderly Professor Charles Xavier is played by Patrick Stewart while the younger version is portrayed by James McAvoy, who are both Brits. The character is half-British through his mother's side, and his posh accent was further refined after living for several years in Oxford, England, where he had earned his doctorate in genetics.

  • 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.
  • In the Romance Novel Whisper To Me Of Love, the hero realizes that the heroine and her brothers are smarter than they let on when he overhears them speaking the King's English perfectly rather than the cockney accents they initially used when they first met him. She later tells him that their mother insisted on them learning to speak and act properly so that they could infiltrate high society as necessary.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jemma Simmons in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. speaks RP, or at least attempts to. Simmons, a biochemical scientist, is described as a genius, along with her partner Leopold Fitz (who, like Iain De Caestecker, is Scottish). As Elizabeth Henstridge is Yorkshire-born (i.e. from Oop North) she makes a commendable effort with Simmons's RP accent and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, although it occasionally slips.
  • Conversed and Subverted in Arrested Development. Michael's fiancée Rita is English, and he's smitten by her fun-loving personality and accent. In actuality, she's intellectually disabled. The reason he and his family don't seem to pick up on this is because they're listening to her accent, not her words. Indeed, her uncle suggest that most Americans have trouble noticing.
  • 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.
  • Legion:
    • David Haller's rational mind speaks with a posh English accent, which confuses David because he's an American. His rational mind's reply is essentially, "Of course I'm British, I'm the brains of this operation."
      David's Rational Mind: I'm you, your rational mind.
      David: And you're British?
      David's Rational Mind: Like I said, I'm your rational mind.
    • Charles Xavier has an upper-class English accent (he's a full-blooded Englishman in the show); Farouk recognizes him as a scientist, and there's a scene where Charles is building Cerebro, a Telepathy-enhancing mutant-detection device, from scratch in his basement.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Julian Bashir is a medical doctor who speaks with a Received Pronunciation accent. It's 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.note 

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted and parodied in an episode of American Dad!. Steve befriends an English boy who turns out to be a complete idiot whose ideas end up with Steve getting hurt. Steve still ends up following all his stupid advice because his accent makes him sound so smart.
  • In a singalong host segment of The Beatles cartoon, Ringo makes a joke about it:
    Paul: Don't you know the King's English?
    Ringo: I know the Queen is!
  • Averted with Kevin from "C STUDENTS." He is probably the least intelligent character in the setting.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Temporal Edict", the schoolteacher in the far future speaks with an English accent.
  • T.N. Honey from Strawberry Shortcake basically speaks only in stereotypical English phrases.

Examples from non-English (or unspecified nationality) characters

    Anime & Manga 
  • The DiC dub version of Sailor Mercury from Sailor Moon is given an accent that is at least slightly English. (Her original voice actor, before she was recast, was actually English, and later voice actors had to imitate her accent — to varying degrees of success, of course.) Luna, an intelligent Mentor Mascot who does a lot of strategy planning for the Scouts and is generally portrayed as more intelligent than Artemis, also has a British accent.
  • In the English dubbed version of the episode "Mystery at the Lighthouse" in the Pokémon anime, the Pokemon researcher Bill is given an RP British accent, probably as a way of emphasizing his intellect. Ironically, in the Pokémon Adventures manga, he has an American Southern accent, as a way of translating the Osakan accent he has in the Japanese version of that manga (as well as the games and anime), making him also an example of an accent Stereotype Flip as a Southern-Fried Genius (in the English manga translation) and The Idiot from Osaka (in Japanese).
  • The 4Kids Entertainment dub of Yu-Gi-Oh! gives Bakura a posh English accent primarily as an Accent Adaptation of his polite speech patterns in Japanese, but he's also apparently fairly smart, given that he spends most of the Duelist Kingdom arc as the apparently most clued-in Combat Commentator for most of the duels, at least in the dub, and explains whatever is going on to the other non-duelists like he's usually the first to have figured it out.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Sandman (1989) (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.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Woody (played by Brit Gavin Free) in Lazer Team. Though he starts off as a country hick, once his intelligence dramatically increases post putting on a mental-strengthening helmet, he slowly develops a British accent.
    Zach: Why the hell does he sound British now?!
    Disheveled Scientist: Woody's a stupid person, and that's what stupid people think smart people sound like. So it's basically dumb Woody's version of smart Woody.
  • The Brain Gremlin in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

  • 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.
  • 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 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".
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Roose Bolton 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.)
    • Ramsay Bolton's way of speaking — he uses a lot of "big words" and sophisticated speech, although the cadence is weird and the words are oddly knocked together. It's not the actor's normal accent, either. This all gives the impression that he's trying to sound smarter and more educated than he really is so as to disguise his lowborn roots.
  • Dr Mohinder Suresh on Heroes speaks with a posh English accent (he's Indian, though), presumably because he likely had a fairly prestigious education since childhood. It makes his Technobabble and Fauxlosophic Narration sound almost intelligent... or, at least, very soothing.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): Dr. Fareed Bhansali is a medical doctor who talks with a Received Pronunciation accent.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The cultured high-men of Numenor speak with the RP accent, in contrast to the rustic low men of the Southlands, who speak with Northern English accents.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Mr. Longface Caterpillar, T.N. Honey, and Honey Pie Pony from different versions of Strawberry Shortcake.
  • Actual Factual from The Berenstain Bears.
  • Mr. Chips the computer from Schoolhouse Rock!.
  • In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, when Grounder gets a genius chip, his usual Simpleton Voice changes to Received Pronunciation.
  • Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, in the cartoons where he has a voice.
  • Doctor Doom in the second season of Fantastic Four: The Animated Series; in the first series, he was vaguely Eastern European.
  • Stewie from Family Guy. While some have speculated that his accent is actually supposed to be Bostonian Brahmin (e.g., Charles Emerson Winchester III from M*A*S*H, Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island), Seth MacFarlane has said he based his voice on Rex Harrison, and one episode has him explicitly stating that he has a British accent.
    • Deliberately inverted in an episode showing what it would be like if the Griffins were British. All members of the family have British accents, except for Stewie... who sounds like an American hillbilly.
  • Puzzlemint from My Little Pony (the G3 series).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Rarity, who isn't the most academically-minded member of the main cast but is a pretty close second when it comes to book smarts, has a sort of Mid-Atlantic accent that's supposed to sound sophisticated and upper-class. This is more or less explicitly stated to be an affectation on her part; her younger sister has the same "generic American" accent as her peers, and their parents apparently hail from Equestria's equivalent of Joisey.
  • Mr. Hal Gibson from Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!.
  • Ben 10: Alien Force sees Ben's voice and mannerisms change slightly with each of his transformations. To the surprise of no one, when he becomes the huge-brained Brainstorm, he spontaneously develops a thick, English accent.
  • In The Grossery Gang webseries arc "A Gooey-ful Mind", Egghead gains this accent when he becomes super-smart after an electric shock, and loses it when he's brought back to normal.
  • Parodied in The Boondocks, where a middle-aged white male declares it to be preposterous that black television is harmful to African Americans. He then states as credentials:
    Professor: I should know, I'm an expert. Can't you tell by my accent?
  • Dragon Booster: Parmon Sean is The Smart Guy of Penn Racing and speaks with a British accent.
  • The 4Kids Entertainment version of Winx Club gives Tecna an English accent.