Printable Version
Pronunciation: fi-lis-teen Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. One of a non-Semitic people living on the coast of Palestine in the 12-11 centuries BCE who were frequently at odds with the Israelites. 2. A crude, ignorant, uneducated person with no understanding of the finer things in life, an oaf, a clod, a yokel, a boor.

Notes: Ignorance or apathy toward culture and intelligence is philistinism and those possessed of it are philistinian or philistinic (the adjectives). Remember to capitalize this word when referring to the original Biblical people. Of course, we would not dignify contemporary philistines with capitalization. Harrumph!

In Play: Save today's Good Word to describe those who are your enemies for their lack of cultural sophistication: "Mom says that philistines are constantly trying to move funds for art and music to the athletic program at school." Modern day philistines are with us all the time and bear watching: "Izzy Badenov is such a philistine he thinks absolute pitch is a perfect strike thrown in baseball and a falsetto is an Italian con artist."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Late Latin Philistinus, borrowed from Late Greek Philistinoi, and ultimately from Hebrew P'lishtim, "people of P'lesheth (Philistia)". The Hebrew word is based on palash "he invaded", since the people of P'lesheth constantly harassed the coast of Biblical Israel. The association of this name with crudeness and barbarity arose in Jena, Germany in 1689 when a minister chastised the townspeople as Philistines (German Philister) after an angry mob had killed a troublesome student. In his 1869 book, Culture and Anarchy, British author Matthew Arnold adopted the word in this line: "The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, are just the very people whom we call Philistines." It was Arnold's reference that set the term for English. (Today we thank Chris Berry for helping us deliver this blow against philistinism by suggesting we investigate the word itself.)

Dr. Goodword,

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