So I’m editing my latest novel, and one of my characters is British. He’s an upper-class academic-type mage but not at all “posh” or old-fashioned. Mid-thirties. At one point I have him referring to someone as a “Nice chap” to someone else. I’m wondering if real Brits still use “chap,” though, and a little Googling leads me to believe that they really don’t unless they’re quite a bit older than my character. It’s pretty clear that nobody uses it to refer to people directly (“I say, old chap!”) but less clear about third-person usage.
I’m thinking a good synonym would be “bloke” but that sounds kind of lower-class for my mage. Is “bloke” more of an age thing (he’d use it because he’s young, even though he went to boarding schools and grew up relatively wealthy) or more of a social class thing?
Or am I overthinking this? I just don’t want him to use language that you only find on British sitcoms. I usually have a pretty good ear for British English but this one’s stumping me.
‘Bloke’ is lower-class unless used ironically, or carelessly in a flippant way. ‘Chap’ is slightly old-fashioned, but can be used without thought easily. ‘Nice chap’ is just fine, provided it flows with the speech — eg: not said heavily or markedly.
Oddly, although chap was an upperclass affectation from the 19th century on, it was also used extensively by the lower classes in the North of England as a matter of course.
‘Fellow’, and ‘lad’ ( or ‘lass’ ) are uncommon. Misfortunately, loads of people have adapted ‘mate’ as an endearment. Which is weird coming from one woman to another.
I think someone of that age would say “nice guy”, not “chap”. “Chap” is old-fashioned. It did go through a brief, and hopefully over, ironic revival phase. I think it is now back to being simply old-fashioned.
Brit here. I can imagine your character using “nice chap” but it would be somewhat ironic “nice chap but…” A mid-thirties academic referring to someone as a nice chap is probably damning with faint praise if that is the best you can say of them.
What’s the context? We might come up with a better choice if you give us some background and what your mage is trying to express.
ETA Backing up Claverhouse and Ximenean, a lot depends on inflection as to how sincere it is as a compliment and, yes, “nice guy” would be more usual for a many Brits under the age of 70!
Here’s the line from the context I’m referring to (I realized when I found the actual quote it’s ‘smart’ not ‘nice,’ but that shouldn’t matter.
“Remember I told you Daphne met someone else and we broke it off? He was the someone else. I suppose it was inevitable, really, with them working so closely together and me still based in England at that point. I met him once. Smart chap. Boring, but smart.”
I searched the whole manuscript and he uses the word four times–the other three are referring specifically to somebody (“that chap <name>”, or “chap named <name>.”) It’s always in passing and he never makes a big affectation out of it.
He also uses “bloke” once, in the context of “you don’t want an old bloke like me tagging along” with a couple of younger friends. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that–I might just go with “old guy” or “old fart.”
Agree with my fellow Brits that “bright chap” seems to fit the bill perfectly here. “Bloke” is not classy enough and “guy” has slightly American overtones (to my ear, anyway). But I disagree on the use of “old fart” and would think that fits better into the context than “old bloke” - I would say it’s perfectly reasonable for a guy in his 30s to refer to himself as an “old fart” compared with people in their twenties (or younger). Hell, I’m 27 and I feel like an old fart compared with the 22- and 23-year-olds I work with!
Exactly. The Brit in question is 36, and his friends are 25 and 18. He’s also a professional (professor of Occult Studies at Stanford in addition to being a fully trained mage) while his two friends are still trying to figure out what they want to do with themselves, so he definitely feels older than them and not just chronologically. If he used “old fart” it would be somewhat sarcastically, but with a kernel of truth. They tire him out sometimes.
Yeah, but… Maybe I’m making an inaccurate distinction, but “clever” to me implies something different than “bright.” The guy that my mage is referring to is not what you’d call a quick thinker–he’s very intelligent, but kind of a wonk. That’s the mage’s point: he’s saying that the guy is smart but boring. So I think I’m gonna stick with “bright” rather than “clever” in this particular context.
Thanks again for all the comments and suggestions!