Bourgeois Fair

“So, are burghers bourgeois?” C.J. asked before popping a sauce-drenched French fry into his mouth. Another jet thundered overhead. I could almost make out the tread in the tires.

“I wouldn’t be a snob about what I’m eating. Oh, right: burghers with an H. In French the Burghers of Calais are Les Bourgeois de Calais. You’re right.”

“What are burghers, anyway, and what do they have to do with unsophisticated, conventional values?”

He was doing it again: stalling, still not wanting to explain why we were meeting. Oh, well. Food and etymology: what else does a gal need? I showed him the OED Online entry for bourgeois:

orig. A (French) citizen or freeman of a city or burgh, as distinguished from a peasant on the one hand, and a gentleman on the other; now often taken as the type of the mercantile or shopkeeping middle class of any country.

It was used that way in English since the early 18th century. In the late 19th century socialists and communists started using bourgeois as adisparaging label for capitalists, but even in the mid-18th century the word was already used as an adjective to belittle middle class attitudes, considered to be, as you said, conventionally respectable and unimaginative. But if you’re going to use the word you’d better heed the advice of Zadie Smith.”

“What’s that?”

[R]emember that it is completely bourgeois to say of something or someone, “How bourgeois.” If you do not mind this inference, then the word is at your disposal.

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