Her indoors

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Sat Nov 7 11:44:04 UTC 2009

Date:    Fri, 6 Nov 2009 21:03:21 -0500
From:    "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
Subject: Re: Her indoors

Lynne Murphy wrote:
Thus Lynne:

> 'Her indoors' is a common expression in British English, I've seen it a
> lot since moving here. There were a pair of columns in the Independent
> when I first moved here, I think (that's 2000), that played on it: Her
> Outdoors/Him Indoors. One also sees 'him indoors' for
> househusbands/stay-at-home dads.

And Doug (yesterday):

> I guess the dichotomy is expressed in Chinese too: Google <<neizi
> waizi>>: "nei" = "inside" = wife, "wai" = "outside" = husband. Since the
> sex is not explicitly marked in Chinese, I guess the
> 'paradoxical'/jocular "him indoors" or "her outdoors" wouldn't have a
> ready analogue.

As a Londoner (and living back in the UK now too), I must admit that I was
originally suspicious of the possible East Asian origin of 'her indoors',
but my suspicion is based on gut-feelings and knowledge of British / London
society, not on findable evidence, so I refrained from answering to see
what others might say. However, FWIW, this is what I think:

- I'd say 'Her indoors' was popularised by _Minder_, as Lynne said; so
clearly it was around before 1979 (the beginning of the show).
Incidentally, it's very frequently spelt <'Er indoors>, representing the
characteristic h-dropping pronunciation of many parts of the UK (especially
urban), but especially London.

- As Lynne also said, _Minder_ was set in London's 'criminal underworld',
specifically in the East End (and South London too, I think). Personally, I
don't associate 'her indoors' with East Asians but really with the white
population of those areas. Also, those areas don't have a particular
predominance of East Asians in the population; the non-white population is
predominantly South Asian in East London and Afro-Caribbean in South
London, though obviously there are smaller amounts of other populations

- Also, who knows whether or not the London-taxi-driver origin of the
phrase is true, but, if it is, to me that's another strike against the
East-Asian-origin theory. The drivers of the famous London black cabs are
predominantly white British, it seems to me. This may well be correlated
with the fact that in order to drive a black cab you have to do The
Knowledge, a professional qualification where I understand you are
basically required to do an exam with questions like "What's the name of
the fourth two-way street on the left after you come off Blackfriars Bridge
going South?" and "What's the quickest way to get from Ealing Broadway to
Waterloo Station in the evening rush-hour, avoiding the traffic?". It takes
years to study for it. It would be considerably easier to do this if you
had grown up around the streets of London, and this wouldn't have been true
about non-white taxi-drivers in London in the 'Seventies or before (the
main Asian immigration into London happened from the 'Sixties).

London does have non-black cabs, and these are considerably more likely to
have immigrant drivers (especially before the mid-90's, when these
non-black cabs were required to be licensed, not the case before). Still,
it remains true that, if the drivers of these cabs are not white, in London
they are most likely to be South Asian or Middle Eastern, not East Asian.

None of this helps us to know where 'Her indoors' actually did come from!
But, if the East London thing is true, then the traditional immigrant
language of there, before the non-white immigration, was Yiddish. Does
anyone know whether it could have come from there?

Also, this whole post reminds me again of something I'm sure has been
discussed here before: the fact that 'Asian' means different things in the
UK and the US. In the UK it's South Asians, and in the US East Asians. I
suppose this is simply because the majority / a plurality of UK immigrants
from Asia are South Asian, and the majority / a plurality of US immigrants
from Asia are East Asian.


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673



The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list