A listener to the podcast “How to Do Everything” named Rachel asked: “How would a person moo in a British accent?” The listener is from Nevada, and professes to moo with an American accent.
What better way to find out than to ask someone close to the source? The kind folks at the show invited Sir Patrick Stewart to answer Rachel’s question, which has been on her mind for a couple of months. Patrick Stewart answers:
It’s not a straightforward, simple answer. Unlike, probably, many other countries, where a cow’s moo is a cow’s moo, in England, you understand, we are dominated by class, by social status, and by location. So, for example, a cow that’s in a field next to my house in West Oxfordshire would moo in one kind of way, and cow in the field in the semi-industrial town I grew up in in the north of England would moo in another kind of way.
Patrick Stewart then goes on to demonstrate how the different cows would sound at home by bellowing himself. He describes the moo’s of the cows near his home, a long protracted low, as “very conservative.” He goes on to explain why:
You must understand that I live in the constituency of David Cameron, our Prime Minister, who is a Tory (the Conservative Party). And I assume these cows voted for him. I don’t actually vote there, I vote in another place, in London.
If I’m at my home in Yorkshire, where I grew up, and not that there are many fields left where I grew up but I would find one and I would find some cows, what you hear would be something like this: mehhhhhhh. Well, this has all to do with environmental and cultural conditioning.
He emphasises that moos vary by location, and recommends that travellers talk to cows all over the country in any country, because “cows have a great deal to tell us.”
The hosts at the show offered a bit of a culture exchange and offered to show Patrick Stewart what a Nevada cow sounds like, but Stewart suprises them all by saying that his wife is also from Nevada, and he has experience with Nevada cattle, and did his best impression of a Nevada cow. His Nevada cow is high-pitched and nasal, because “that’s the way you people (the hosts) talk. The cows are influenced by how you talk, as you are influenced by the cows.”
The hosts went on to ask, “How a Cockney cow would moo?” Stewart replies:
You understand, Cockney cows are pretty rare these days. I mean, Shakespeare’s days, there were cattle in the middle of London. But nowadays, generally speaking, the city of London doesn’t feel too good about having cattle in Picadilly Circus for example. But I can you an idea of a Cockney cow — I’m old enough to remember when there were Cockney cows.
The resulting impersonation (incowation?) sounds like a mehh-aye! which Stewart describes as “more like a sheep than a cow.” The hosts points out that in Stewart’s walk-through of English cows so far, not only are there different cow accents, it seems that there are also different cow attitudes throughout the country. Stewarts extrapolates:
You are absolutely right. What you just heard just now was an urban cow. All of us who live in big cities, we have to be watchful, we have to be on our guard. We have to be prepared for fight-or-flight at any moment, and it is the same with cattle.
Breeding is of utmost important in humans, as it is in cattle. How would a well-bred cow sound like?
We had a Prime Minister many, many years ago called Alec Douglas-Home (pronounced hyoom) and one of the wonderful things about Alec Douglas-Home — including his name by the way, and you’d think that his name is probably spelled “H-double O-M-E” or “H-U-M-L” or something like that, his name was actually spelled “H-O-M-E” — home, but it was pronounced “hume,” and we do that mostly to confuse Americans, like Leicester Square and Lye-cester.
Anyway, the thing about Alec Douglas-Home was that he didn’t move his lips when he talked, (unintelligible mumble because Stewart is mimicking talking without his lips but the words sounds like: “and here’s an example, this is how he always talks. He didn’t actually move the lips.”) Because moving your lips is terribly bad taste. So, if Alec Douglas-Home had cattle, and I’m sure he did; he must have been a landowner because I think he was actually Scottish, his cows would mooed something like this: hrmmmmmm. Very refined, very sophisticated, very cultured. These cows had gone to Eton or Harrow (prestigious boarding schools), or at least the cow equivalent.
There you go, how British cows moo, and like humans, how they speak is also affected by social ecownomics.
I’ll see myself out now.
Listen to the full podcast here, if not for the knowledge, then at least to hear Sir Patrick Steward moo like a cow!