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Pronunciation: bur-zhwah Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. The middle class or a person belonging to it. 2. A person of crude, materialistic tastes, characterized by mediocrity. 3. According to Marxism, the property-owing class or a member thereof.

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 both words. However, be careful not to confuse it with another recent Good Word, pedestrian. The latter 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 45-foot yacht, and a $100,000 sports car but he still thinks rigatoni is an Italian opera." As you can see the bourgeoisie are 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. The same Germanic root turns up in the word for "ice fortresses", iceberg, and also in burglar. 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.)

Dr. Goodword,

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