• bourgeois •
Pronunciation: bUrzh-wah • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Related to the middle class. 2. According to Marxism, capitalistic, pertaining to the property-owning class: store-owners and merchants. 3. Having crude, materialistic tastes, mediocre and ignorant.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the adjective underlying the noun bourgeoisie "the middle class". The middle class Marx had in mind when he gave us this word was that of Europe in the early 19th century. While the bourgeoisie has changed dramatically since that time in Europe and the US, the taint of ignorance still haunts its French name. However, be careful not to confuse it with another Good Word, pedestrian. The latter is neutral; it simply means "ordinary, run-of-the-mill"; today's word implies crudity and materialistic tastelessness.
In Play: The bourgeoisie has traditionally been viewed as materialistic, conformist, and undereducated: "Carl Marks is so bourgeois. He has a second home in the Hamptons, a 95-foot yacht, and a $100,000 sports car, but he still thinks rigatoni is an Italian opera." As you can see the bourgeoisie is generally perceived to have more money than taste: "I love Rita Book's new house, but the gold-plated toilet seat is a bit bourgeois for me."
Word History: Today's Good Word has been borrowed back and forth between Germanic and Romance languages. Latin borrowed German burg "castle, city" as burgus "fortress", which French inherited and honed to bourg "city". French then added its adjective suffix -(e)ois to that noun to achieve today's Good Word, which all Germanic languages have now borrowed back from French. Burg is related to burglar. This word comes from Anglo-Latin burglator a reflex of Classical Latin burgator from burgare "to commit burglary". The Old Germanic word filtered directly down to Modern English as borough. (Now we thank Mimi Hale, whose taste in words is anything but bourgeois, for suggesting today's Good Word.)