Printable Version
Pronunciation: vêl-gêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Of the unwashed masses, plebian, related to common people, the riff-raff, the hoi-polloi. 2. Common, base, ordinary. 3. Bawdy, foul, immodest, immoral, impure, indecent, indelicate, lascivious, lecherous, lewd, licentious, lubricous, lurid, obscene, offensive, profane, profligate, prurient, ribald, salacious, shameful, shameless, vile, wanton.

Notes: All the words we have for the third sense of today's Good Word make us wonder why we had to corrupt a perfectly good word to create another. But so it goes. Over the centuries this word's good meaning has slowly tumbled into a pejorative one. The noun for this word is vulgarity and a vulgar word is a vulgarism.

In Play: I hear today's bad Good Word used most often as a synonym of profane: "I was shocked to hear Ben de Hellenbaque use vulgar language around such proper ladies." However, the sense of commonplace remains: "Maud Lynn Dresser is a woman of vulgar tastes, especially in clothes."

Word History: Today's word comes from Latin vulgaris "related to common people", from vulgus "people, the masses, a crowd". That is why 'vulgar Latin' is another expression for 'street (spoken, people) Latin', the language from which all Romance languages descended. Latin inherited its word from Proto-Indo-European wel-/wol- "(to) crowd, throng". Wel-./wol- turned up in Sanskrit as vargah "division, group", Greek eilein "to roll up, pack", Russian velikii "large, great", Polish wielki "big, great", Serbian velik "big", Dutch volk "people, nation", German Volk "people", as in Volkswagen "peoples' car", and English, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish folk "people". (Today's rather tawdry Good Word was suggested by Ella Minnow Pea of Smoketown, Pennsylvania.)

Dr. Goodword,

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