From years of watching old movies I had heard the MidAtlantic accent but I had no idea what it was called. I found it oddly repulsive and attractive, all at the same time. It represented a kind of ivory tower British ideal, but because it distinctly had American tones, it was accessible.
It’s Not MidAtlantic States
First, let’s dispel the notion that it has anything to do with the MidAtlantic United States. The MidAtlantic States, according to Wikipedia, are Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., New York, Virginia, and West Virginia.
What’s the common theme here? Land. Every state represented above is, obviously, on land.
MidAtlantic Accent Is In the Ocean
By contrast, the MidAtlantic Accent, sometimes called Transatlantic Accent, is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
1,732 miles into the Atlantic, to be precise. That’s half the distance between New York, NY and London, England.
The joke is that this peculiar accent is kind of American and kind of British. It’s so “kind of” both that it’s easiest to place it right between the two nations.
It’s not a joke that I invented, either. The term MidAtlantic Accent has been around for a long time.
How It Sounds
It’s rahther, not rather, but not in a wholly British way. It’s a rahther flattened by American diction.
It’s very pronounced ever so faintly as velly, smoothing down those r’s until they begin to approach l’s. But not too far.
It’s Katherine Hepburn.
It’s not Cary Grant. While Grant does have an odd mixture of American and British accents, he also has that unique Cary Grantish hiccup. Also, I believe that Cary Grant’s accent falls more in the British direction.
It’s stilted. It’s posh.
It’s learned. No one grows up speaking MidAtlantic.
It’s the authoritative voice of a newsreel announcer.
Why The MidAtlantic Accent Disappeared
Everything runs its course. By the 1940s, the high point of the MidAtlantic Accent in the U.S., the British Empire was already in its death throes. Britain was no longer the all-powerful imperialistic empire it had once been. Hitler’s armaments had touched British soil. The Huns had invaded.
Another reason is because the authoritative voice disappeared. In the 1950s, authority was quietly being challenged; by the 1960s, openly so. No one wanted to hear stentorian pronouncements–or directions–anymore.
The Atlantic. “When Did Americans Stop Sounding This Way?”