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When somebody speaks bad English it is called Butler English in India. The phrase Butler English seems to have originated in Madras presidency in the British Rule. The butlers or the maid servants used to talk to their British masters in a certain way which later turned into Butler English. Now the word lost its professional connotation and is used when somebody speaks imperfect English in India.

This post is not a duplicate of Kitchen language but it may supplement it.

I would like to know whether bad English is called Butler English, Bearer English or Kitchen English anywhere in native English speaking countries or anywhere in the world.

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    I had never heard it, so it isn't common in the UK, we have pidgeon english
    – WendyG
    Nov 19, 2019 at 14:56
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    @WendyG Do you mean pidgin English?
    – Robusto
    Nov 19, 2019 at 15:34
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    never heard of it (USA) Nov 19, 2019 at 15:42
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    @Robusto very likely, I never advise people on spelling
    – WendyG
    Nov 19, 2019 at 15:53
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    @Englishmonger - The implications of using even wrt Wikipedia are questionable.
    – Jim
    Nov 19, 2019 at 17:13

2 Answers 2

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The expression Butler English is confined to Indian English. I searched through many of the corpora at english-corpora.org including COCA, BNC, NOW, and GloWbE. The American English (COCA) and British English (BNC) corpora returned no results. Among the other corpora, I only found about 10 results, all of which were from India, such as this news article from New Indian Express:

Rao even heckled Naidu, saying that with his ‘butler English’ and little knowledge of Hindi, he couldn’t do anything in national politics.

The book Far East from 1943 gives a very striking impression of the environment in which the expression originated:

[D]ue to the caste-system, different communities are allotted various categories of work, and that it is impossible and irregular for a man to substitute for another; thus six servants are needed to do the work undertaken in England to-day by one heroic aged peeress. Any Englishman, living however quietly and simply in India, will have at least six servants: a cook, a butler, a laundryman, a sweeper, a groom, a gardener and perhaps one other.

This means that in India (at least at the time) a native (British) English speaker would likely have employed an Indian butler (who would not have been a native English speaker). Contrast this with English-majority countries: the average native English speaker there would not have been able to afford a butler and those who could afford it could easily find a native speaker to employ. In fact, 1943 also brought us Batman's Alfred, who is a pretty good example of a butler stereotype found in American (and perhaps also British) culture: British, intelligent, and "refined and well-spoken".

Due to this stereotype, you are very unlikely to be understood if you use the expression Butler English in American or British English. The most common way to refer to bad English would just be broken English.

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  • @ Laurel. I have upvoted and accepted your answer as it is very informative and interesting. Nov 20, 2019 at 4:51
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In American English, it is likely to be interpreted as the opposite, as butlers are associated with the British, and the British are thought of as speaking more formerly. I would expect it to also have this meaning in British English, although not as strongly. In Britain, butlers, while servants and of lower status than their employers, are still high status, and are expected to act with the upmost propriety.

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