In the study of language and literary style, a vulgarism is an expression or usage considered non-standard or characteristic of uneducated speech or writing. In colloquial or lexical English, "vulgarism" or "vulgarity" may be synonymous with profanity or obscenity, but a linguistic or literary vulgarism encompasses a broader category of perceived fault not confined to scatological or sexual offensiveness. These faults may include errors of pronunciation, misspellings, word malformations, and malapropisms. "Vulgarity" is generally used in the more restricted sense.
The English word "vulgarism" derives ultimately from Latin vulgus, "the common people", often as a pejorative meaning "the [unwashed] masses, undifferentiated herd, a mob". In classical studies, Vulgar Latin as the Latin of everyday life is conventionally contrasted to Classical Latin, the literary language exemplified by the "Golden Age" canon (Cicero, Caesar, Vergil, Ovid, among others). This distinction was always an untenable mode of literary criticism, unduly problematizing, for instance, the so-called "Silver Age" novelist Petronius, whose complex and sophisticated prose style in the Satyricon is replete with conversational vulgarisms.
a peculiarity which intrudes itself into Standard English, and is of such a nature as to be associated with the speech of vulgar or uneducated speakers. The origin of pure vulgarisms is usually that they are importations, not from a regional but from a class dialect—in this case from a dialect which is not that of a province, but of a low or uneducated social class. ... [A vulgarism] is usually a variety of Standard English, but a bad variety.
The moral and aesthetic values explicit in such a definition depends on class hierarchy viewed as authoritative. For instance, the "misuse" of aspiration (H-dropping, such as pronouncing "have" as "'ave") has been considered a mark of the lower classes in England at least since the late 18th century, as dramatized in My Fair Lady. Because linguistic vulgarism betrayed social class, its avoidance became an aspect of etiquette. In 19th-century England, books such as The Vulgarisms and Improprieties of the English Language (1833) by W. H. Savage, reflected upper-middle-class anxieties about "correctness and good breeding".
- Barbarism (linguistics)
- Disputes in English grammar
- Grotesque body
- Linguistic purism
- Johannes Tromp, The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition with Commentary, Studia in Veteris Testamenti Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 1993), pp. 27, 39–40, 243.
- J. N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language, pp. 300–301, 765, et passim
- Social Variation and the Latin Language (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 3–5.
- Andrew Laird, Powers of Expression, Expressions of Power: Speech Presentation and Latin Literature (Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 250.
- Tony Crowley, Language in History: Theories and Texts (Routledge, 1996), pp. 168–169.
- Henry Wyld, as quoted by Crowley (1996) p. 169.
- Manfred Görlach, English in Nineteenth-Century England: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 57
- Ossi Ihalainen, "The Dialects of English since 1776", in The Cambridge History of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 1994), vol. 5, pp. 216–217.