October 5, 2018
‘Holibobs Cottage’ and the child-like language of English gentrification
by Tom Clayton
A crime was committed in St. Ives, Cornwall last week. Well, according to one Twitter user, anyway. It seems like a perfectly innocuous, even [whisper it] nice thing to do, right? What could be more fun than opening up a little holiday home in a cosy South-West corner of England and calling it Holibobs Cottage?
And yet, the name has struck a nerve online: the latest small indignity in a long line of perceived outrages committed by the chattering classes against the good people of Cornwall, whose land is famously invaded every Summer by Range Rover-driving London types on their holibobs. I MEAN HOLIDAYS.
These days, of course, those wealthy London types are sticking around – but not necessarily to everyone’s benefit. Cornwall is one of the poorest areas in Europe (as highlighted in Tim Wigmore’s excellent New Statesman article from 2016)–and the aforementioned holibobsters are merrily charging £10 for Cornish pasties, buying up property and leaving it empty, and annexing entire villages. All of which gave rise to some pretty troubling scenes last summer, as a self-styled Cornish Separatist Group claimed responsibility for an arson attack on one of chef Rick Stein‘s many properties in Padstow.
Online reaction to the emergence of Holibobs Cottage, however, suggests that this conflict has also spilled–rather intriguingly–into the realms of language. The responses to the OP are crammed with repeated ironic, weary uses of words and phrases that could be classed as, well, a bit holibobs. We all know people whose vocabulary is littered with this stuff: ‘famalam‘; ‘doggos*’; ‘hubster‘ (and of course ‘wifey‘); ‘Crimbo‘; the frankly unforgivable ‘drinkypoos‘.
Now, it’s important to say at this stage that you’re not a bad person if you regularly use these words, and none of this is intended to be nasty to those who do. But what is interesting about this particular lexicon are the child-like mutations of the words themselves. It’s a phenomenon alluded to in Justin Myers’ Guardian article from last year, listing the ‘totes annoying’ words that he’d like to see banned: a cute-sification of language suggesting, at the very least, that those who use it are attempting to soften their privilege; to make it more digestible to others.
This is especially necessary in Cornwall, it seems, where a beleaguered working class are rapidly beginning to tire of gentrification, regardless of how much profit it generates in an especially economically depressed part of the country. The county voted Leave in 2016’s referendum (in what was widely perceived to be a protest vote against lack of investment in the area) – an act of self-sabotage which resulted in the region requesting ‘protection’ when Britain exits the EU, after the extent of their funding was revealed. It’s a complex issue, and one not necessarily improved by the stealth invasion of moneyed entrepreneurs catering exclusively for each other.
However, a good Brexit deal is currently far from certain. So in the short term at least, a further influx of famalams, doggos, hubsters and wifeys might actually benefit Cornwall – however unpalatable a prospect that might seem to locals.
*Forgive me, sweet doggos. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re still good.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.