Sunday, 11 March 2018

Frightfully vulgar

It's rare these days to hear someone being called "vulgar". But it was a frequent comment when I was young, and I remember my parents finding any number of odd things "vulgar". Glaring vulgarity had to be avoided at all costs.

Nowadays nobody seems to care very much if their behaviour could be labelled "vulgar". They carry on doing their own thing regardless, and if anyone disapproves, too bad. Seeing something as vulgar has itself become vulgar.

But my parents had a long list of things they deemed vulgar - not wearing smart enough clothes, not mowing the lawn often enough, not using a tablecloth, not washing up straight after a meal, to name a few - and they policed this code of vulgarity strictly.

Of course what "vulgar" really meant was lower-class or under-educated. It meant what they did on council estates or in factories. It meant the behaviour of people with no sense of decorum or etiquette. It meant those too dim to have any sophistication or good taste.

But that's all changed. Now the very suggestion that someone is being vulgar is seen as pretentious, snobbish, superior. It's seen as a mean attempt to spoil someone else's pleasure. It's seen as blinkered, old-fashioned prejudice.

I suppose my parents' strictures had some positive effect, however absurd some of them were. I may have lived my whole adult life without using a tablecloth, but nevertheless I've picked up a sense of "doing things properly" rather than doing them any-old-how, which is probably an advantage.

I guess the idea of vulgarity still lives on in other guises. Today, instead of saying something is vulgar, you say it's embarrassing or cringey. Or you say the person is attention-seeking. Or you complain that everything is being dumbed down.

And dumbing things down is surely the height of vulgarity.


  1. I like "vulgar" and shall adopt it forthwith!

  2. vul·gar
    lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.
    "the vulgar trappings of wealth"
    synonyms: tasteless, crass, tawdry, ostentatious, flamboyant, overdone, showy, gaudy, garish, brassy, kitsch, kitschy, tinselly, loud; More
    making explicit and offensive reference to sex or bodily functions; coarse and rude.
    "a vulgar joke"
    synonyms: rude, indecent, indelicate, offensive, distasteful, coarse, crude, ribald, risqué, naughty, suggestive, racy, earthy, off-color, bawdy, obscene, profane, lewd, salacious, smutty, dirty, filthy, pornographic, X-rated; More
    characteristic of or belonging to the masses.

    My interpretation has always been indecent and referring to bodily functions and I see this all over facebook from friends old enough to know better referring to everything emitting from the body be it noise or movements or sexual fluids. I have to say I hate it. And I am no prude.

    In your interpretation my parents and grandparents would have put it down to lack of "rearing". i.e. "He has no rearing in him," which I found deflected the blame where it belonged. Especially when it came to table manners and courtesy and respect.


  3. and of course there are always the Kardashians.
    brave Bruce Jenner aside. I don't count him in that display of whatever it is that they do.
    what exactly DO they do? oh well.
    they just immediately came to my mind when I read your post. in so many different ways they personify it.
    the pendulum of change in sociology always swings farther than necessary. until it finds it's balanced center. hopefully we have a center somewhere sometime. and it will be interesting. wonder if like the Roman Empire we will eventually accept all types of vulgarities as a norm?
    some people still blame rock and roll! lol. ya gotta love it.
    and wow. I can't believe I never even mentioned our own esteemed leader in Washington even once. we all know that vulgarity all too well anyway.

  4. Joanne: I look forward to that. I'm sure you'll find plenty of things qualifying as vulgar!

    www: Very true about Facebook pals airing every little physical detail, however icky or gruesome. In general I don't think there's such a thing as over-sharing, but you can take it a bit too far....

    I've never heard that expression "he has no rearing in him". But as you say it points to the guilty party! I know you're very hot on table manners, though I take a more laid-back approach.

  5. Tammy: Personally I think Bruce aka Caitlyn has taken everyone for a giant ride. The fact is that you can't change sex, whatever Bruce may imagine, and I thought awarding him the title of Woman of the Year was both absurd and misogynistic.

    I know little about the Kardashians except that they seem to be famous for being famous and have contributed nothing of any value to society.

    Indeed, the pendulum of change generally swings too far and then swings back again. Probably in a decade's time we'll be obsessed with vulgarity all over again.

  6. I think vulgar is a particularly British way of saying it. I think here we are more specific in our judgements and insults so rather than the cover all vulgar we might say something is disgusting or attention seeking or shitty but it's all a lot less classist. The two classist things that have cropped up in more recent times are povvo (about poverty) and houso (lives in public housing)

  7. Kylie: Perhaps that's what's happening here - insults are becoming less classist and more individual. Like it's common to call something offensive or inappropriate or unattractive rather than vulgar. But there's still a strong underlying sense of class-position, from the ruling elites to the office workers to the rough sleepers.

  8. The bar is so low now, that nothing is vulgar. Women call each other 'bitch' as a compliment these days. What more can you say?

  9. well... I have to give some more thought to Jenner.
    true... given his money and his notoriety it's a little much.
    and yet he seemed to me to be the first well known person in modern times to publicly admit to his own gender quandary.
    and whether it's a ruse or not... I thought if he saves just one little teenager's life who is going through confusion and the 'cruelty of youth' and remarks from others... by talking of it publicly it left it less inflammatory!
    that's where I was coming from about it all. it's so many faceted I suppose. but you usually have thought things through very well. I admit I often just tend to skim the surface. I do!
    I will definitely need to think more deeply on it perhaps.
    don't want to support a misogynist! great scot!

  10. Bijoux: They do, don't they? You could say that relentless swearing is vulgar, but then again, it's so commonplace nowadays that probably even the Queen joins in.

  11. Tammy: You're welcome to your opinion. There's no party line on this blog! As you probably know, there's a fierce debate going on around transgender, with strong views on both sides. I think the key to saving teenagers' lives is good-quality, intensive psychotherapy when they start to feel their gender/sex is a problem. There's a lot of criticism of the drugs-and-surgery option that's so commonly touted as the only solution. I wouldn't know if Bruce/Caitlyn has actually saved any lives.

    But it looks like this debate will run and run!

  12. Oh I love that, frightfully vulgar, like Joanne I'm going to adopt it, but I'm going to add dahhling to it. 'How frightfully vulgar dahhling'
    it has a nice ring to it :-)

  13. Polly: I like it. I'm sure "frightfully vulgar" was a commmon phrase at one time.

    I'm suddenly reminded of Hyacinth Bucket. She's the classic example of someone who's obsessed with all things vulgar. (note to Americans - a British TV sitcom character who was a crashing snob)

  14. I can see where you come from as I do from the same place. I have not used the term in decades except to call ostentatious display of wealth in any form. In India, you see that all the time. The great Bollywood influence on the nouveau rich.

  15. Ramana: I also recoil at the ostentatious display of wealth. "Vulgar" would be the right word for it, I think. It strikes me that relentless name-dropping is also pretty vulgar.

  16. I haven't heard that term for years. Some members of Andy's family are very image and status conscious --- they are part of the elite and have good taste. Andy's statement whenever the subject came up was, "Hey, I stomped the manure off my boots before I came in. What more do you want?"

    It reminds me of when Andy and I would occasionally stop at the store on the way home, wearing our four-buckle overshoes from working up on the land in winter. When we would say hi to some people we knew they would look disapprovingly at our boots. Too funny.

  17. Jean: People are so censorious about other people's appearance. The wrong sort of footwear, clothes that are too revealing, overdone make-up, untamed hair - the list is endless.

  18. Needless to say, we think it's all funny and enjoy our lifestyle.

  19. Jean: Me too. I couldn't care less if my appearance (or lifestyle) meets the required standard, whatever that may be. And I find the slavish attention to the latest fashions ridiculous.

  20. Although I'm certainly not averse to cursing, I don't appreciate vulgarity otherwise. As Bijoux's commented, women are now calling each other "bitch" as if that's a good thing. It isn't. I could do without so much of the crudeness which now passes for humor or entertainment.

  21. I don't like the word 'vulgar' it sounds like what it is describing!
    Obviously I am never vulgar.... I am just lazy... hence the stack of washing up....

  22. Agent: I hate crude language generally (and how often it's misogynistic). There's no need for it, there are words less crude but equally meaningful.

  23. Scarlet: You vulgar? Perish the thought. You're a woman of immense sophistication and good taste. And obviously leaving the washing-up till tomorrow is the very essence of sophistication.