• urbane •
êr-bayn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Suave, polite, sophisticated, refined in manner and manners.
Notes: This is a straight-forward word with no pitfalls to look out for, so long as you do not confuse it with urban, an adjective meaning "related to the city or cities". These two are historically related (see the Word History); however, all that is urban is not urbane. (Even though much of what is suburban is sub-urbane.) This word has a strong family: urbanely is the adverb and urbaneness, the noun; however, a more urbane noun for this adjective is urbanity.
In Play: This once was a word used to distinguish the educated city folk from the uneducated hicks and hayseeds in the country. Today it is a good word for distinguishing the manners and tastes that come with education, travel, and subscribing to the right daily word service: "Strom Bowley's travels have made him an urbane commentator on Italian cuisine." Of course, urbanity has its limits: "Portia Radclyffe avoids fast-food restaurants, where her urbane mannerisms impress no one."
Word History: Today's word came to us from Latin urbanus "pertaining to the city". Already in Latin it was associated with wealth and education and also meant "refined, polished, elegant". The Latin adjective comes from urbs "city", about which we know precious little. However, as you can see, the idea behind the English slang words, citified and city-slicker, has an ancient history. The association of cities with sophistication is not unrelated to the association of farmers, who live in the country, with the lack of sophistication.
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