AskDefine | Define vulgar

Dictionary Definition

vulgar adj
1 lacking refinement or cultivation or taste; "he had coarse manners but a first-rate mind"; "behavior that branded him as common"; "an untutored and uncouth human being"; "an uncouth soldier--a real tough guy"; "appealing to the vulgar taste for violence"; "the vulgar display of the newly rich" [syn: coarse, common, rough-cut, uncouth]
2 of or associated with the great masses of people; "the common people in those days suffered greatly"; "behavior that branded him as common"; "his square plebeian nose"; "a vulgar and objectionable person"; "the unwashed masses" [syn: common, plebeian, unwashed]
3 being or characteristic of or appropriate to everyday language; "common parlance"; "a vernacular term"; "vernacular speakers"; "the vulgar tongue of the masses"; "the technical and vulgar names for an animal species" [syn: common, vernacular]
4 conspicuously and tastelessly indecent; "coarse language"; "a crude joke"; "crude behavior"; "an earthy sense of humor"; "a revoltingly gross expletive"; "a vulgar gesture"; "full of language so vulgar it should have been edited" [syn: coarse, crude, earthy, gross]

User Contributed Dictionary



From vulgaris, from vulgus, ("common people") related to German volk and English folk.


  • /ˈvʌl.gə/| (RP), /ˈvʌl.gɚ/| (GA)


vulgar (more vulgar, most vulgar)
  1. (classical sense) having to do with ordinary, common people
  2. rude, uncouth, distasteful, obscene


rude (in the sense of "too common to be proper")

Derived terms



  1. vulgar

Extensive Definition

"Vulgarism" (also called scurrility) derives from Latin vulgus, the "common folk", and has carried into English its original connotations linking it with the low and coarse motivations that were supposed to be natural to the commons, who were not moved by higher motives like fame for posterity and honor among peers — motives that were alleged to move the literate classes. Thus the concept of vulgarism carries cultural freight from the outset, and from some social and religious perspectives it does not genuinely exist, or — and perhaps this amounts to the same thing – ought not to exist.
In Medieval times, "vulgar" referred to texts written in a vernacular instead of Latin, which was the standard language of literature, science, and theology at the time. During Late Antiquity "vulgar Latin" was used to refer to the vernacular dialects that sprang from Latin across the Roman Empire— the predecessors of the modern Romance languages.
The major step in the liberation of academia from Latin was the Protestant Reformation which advocated giving Mass and reading from the Bible in vulgar languages. Following in the footsteps of the Reformation, some proponents of the scientific revolution began to establish the precedent for writing in vulgar. However, as understanding of one or more the classical languages had been a commonality among the educated in the Western World, this switch to the vulgar also had the effect of limiting the accessibility of texts. Scholars who did not share the native language of the author would have had access to the work had it been produced in one of the "universal" classical languages. Texts were just too expensive to produce in more than one language (with the exception of the Bible, since it was virtually guaranteed to sell). In effect, this ironically limited the spread of knowledge among the wider world of scholars, while marginally increasing the spread of knowledge among the uneducated in the authors' home country who shared use of the vulgar but often could not read it. It was not until wide-spread literacy, mass-produced print, and easy translation came about many years later that the vernacular became instrumental in the general spread of knowledge.
Although most dictionaries offer "obscene word or language" as a definition for vulgarism, others have insisted that a vulgarism in English usage is different from either profanity or obscenity, cultural concepts which connote offenses against a deity and the community respectively. One kind of vulgarism, defined by the OED as "a colloquialism of a low or unrefined character," substitutes a coarse word where the context might lead the reader to expect a more refined expression: "the tits on Botticelli's Venus" is a vulgarism.
More broadly, as "vulgarity" generally has a social and moral component, a "vulgarism" offers a substitution for a commonplace that is not a mere euphemism; it draws attention to the speaker's high-toned moral superiority or sophistication. Some fatal flaw in the usage often reveals that the speaker's ambitions are not based in reality: vulgarisms are pretentious, in that they lay unwarranted claim to social graces and education and attempt to inflate the user's status.
Several examples will be instructive.
A case in point is objets d'art which denotes ornamental decorative objects of little practical use but considered by the user to be of some artistic merit and material value. The phrase is taken from 19th-century English auctioneers' puffery, with the assumption that if it were French it was of a higher standard of artistry. "Objects d'art" is a gaffe aiming at the French objets d'art ('artistic objects' ). It appeared in Rothschild wills published in the late 19th century, and it is an expression now in common English usage. Like most vulgarisms, it is a shibboleth, defining the status of the speaker.
The substitution of homes for brick-and-mortar houses had its origins in real estate salesman's pitch which implied that the hearth or foyer of family life could be bought in the market, ready-installed in its architectural shell. The inflation was a vulgarism for at least two generations. Today it has gained such wide acceptance that it simply distinguishes middle-class from upper-class usage; or as Nancy Mitford, an expert on the subject, would have said 'U' from 'Non U' usage.
Thomas Carlyle equated vulgarism with materialism when he wrote "The deepest depth of vulgarism is that of setting up money as the ark of the covenant". The religious image that he used is a clue that for Carlyle vulgarism had an inescapable moral component, and its specific Old Testament origin evoked the image of the Philistines in their 19th-century connotation, the embodiments of Philistinism.

See also

vulgar in German: Vulgarität
vulgar in Dutch: Vulgarisme
vulgar in Norwegian: Vulgærspråk
vulgar in Russian: Вульгарность
vulgar in Serbian: Вулгаризам

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Doric, average, barbarian, barbaric, barbarous, barnyard, base, baseborn, below the salt, blatant, blue, boorish, brazen, brazenfaced, broad, cacophonous, caddish, chintzy, clumsy, coarse, cockney, colloquial, colorful, common, commonplace, conversational, crass, crude, demeaning, dirty, disadvantaged, doggerel, dysphemistic, earthy, everyday, extravagant, filthy, flagrant, flaring, flash, flaunting, frank, garish, gauche, gaudy, general, glaring, gorgeous, graceless, gross, gutter, harsh, homely, homespun, household, humble, idiomatic, ignoble, ill-bred, improper, impure, in bad taste, in the shade, inappropriate, inconcinnate, inconcinnous, inconsiderate, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, indelicate, inelegant, infelicitous, inferior, infra dig, insensitive, junior, lascivious, less, lesser, lewd, licentious, loathsome, loud, loutish, louty, low, low-class, lowborn, lowbred, lower, lowly, lurid, lustful, mean, meretricious, minor, modest, nasty, naughty, nonclerical, obscene, obtrusive, off color, offensive, ordinary, ostentatious, outlandish, plain, plebeian, popular, pornographic, profane, rank, raunchy, raw, repulsive, revolting, ribald, risque, rough, rude, salacious, scatological, screaming, second rank, second string, secondary, sensational, servile, shabby-genteel, shameless, smutty, spectacular, spoken, sub, subaltern, subject, subordinate, subservient, tactless, tasteless, tawdry, third rank, third string, third-estate, unbecoming, unbeseeming, uncourtly, uncouth, uncultivated, uncultured, underprivileged, undignified, uneuphonious, unfelicitous, unfeminine, unfitting, ungenteel, ungentle, ungentlemanly, ungraceful, unladylike, unpolished, unrefined, unseemly, unsolicitous, unsuitable, untasteful, vernacular, vile, vulgate, wild
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