Well, I say posh, but that’s only because I’m from the north west of England, where the ‘a’ sound in words like grass and bath is flat. That’s how English was originally pronounced, by all accounts – but in the 17th century, speakers in the south east started lengthening the ‘a’: grah-ss, bah-th.
At first this ‘grahss’ habit was considered an ill-bred cockneyism. Gradually though it became the norm, to the point where it’s now the main distinguishing feature of Received Pronunciation / RP /speaking posh.
So what are the perils?
The first befalls the hapless northerner wishing to, in the words of Peter Sarstedt, shake off their lowly born tags (and speak RP). Years ago, when a family member went to a southern college and lived in a student house, her complaints about the ‘gahss’ bill caused hilarity on both sides of the north/south divide.
But southerners have no cause for complacency, because this ‘a’/’ah’ business can just as easily trip up the natural RP speaker. Recently a younger member of the family decided against a course of action on the grounds that she ‘couldn’t be asked’. The assembled adults looked on in bemusement. ‘That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?’
Generation stared unto generation across a chasm of misunderstanding.
Confusion was about to give way to tantrum on both sides, until the innocent mistake was realised. Our young person had misheard the salty idiom ‘can’t be arsed’ as ‘can’t be asked’ – a phrase she’d taken to mean ‘oh, just don’t ask me’. She used this mild expression of protest, as she thought it, all the time at school. The poor girl’s hand flew to her mouth as she realised exactly why her teachers kept taking her aside to request that she moderated her language.
I was reminded of this incident when I saw ‘can’t be asked’ written in a forum posting. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before this becomes the accepted usage; and the vivid original phrase – indicating such a lack of interest in something that you’re not going to get off your backside for it – fades into history.