Thursday, April 25, 2013


What is a vulgarism and how does it relate to grammar?

According to
A vulgarism is "... a word or expression originated or used chiefly by illiterate persons."



Strunk & White think vulgarisms include wrong word choices:
Wrong: small, home-type hotels
Right: small, homelike hotels

Punctuation can also be used in error and result in a vulgarism:
"Question marks . . . have their own vulgarism, an attempt to attribute sarcasm to a word by putting a query in brackets after it: 'We attended a really cultured (?) dinner-party last night, at which the other guests could talk of nothing but film stars and football pools.' This habit should be strangled at birth. . . .

"There is, however, one other misuse of the question mark that deserves more serious comment, namely its intrusion in indirect questions, such as:
He asked me why I was so silent?
This is definitely wrong. The original question mark of 'Why are you so silent?' must give way to a full-stop [period] when the question is converted by 'He asked me' into its indirect form, for the sentence as a whole has now become a statement."
(C.V. Carey, Mind the Stop. Pelican Books, 1971)


So, really, any grammar error would be like fingernails on a chalkboard to an astute person of grammatical expertise (not me, by the way).

A vulgarism.

But if you type "Bill Maher Sarah Palin vulgarism" into Google, you'll discover that the internet agrees he used a vulgarism when describing Palin. So according to the definition above, does that make Maher an illiterate person?

Does making an word choice error, punctuation error, or grammar error designate you as an illiterate person?


  1. The one vulgarism I can't stand with question marks is:

    When will you be submitting your timesheet???

    Do we really need the extra question marks???

    BTW, if you Google Bill Maher Sarah Palin Boycotting, I'm still number one! ;)

  2. Some great tips Margo!

    Does making an word choice error, punctuation error, or grammar error designate you as an illiterate person? To answer your question: I Hope not! Quite frankly, it's all beyond me a times!

    Diane's comment - When will you be submitting your timesheet???
    It makes it sound very urgent.

    I can see I have some homework here to do. I shall book mark many of your post to read up on later. Have a nice weekend!

    1. Haha, Jacqueline! :D

      Whenever I see more than one question mark, I usually multiply the time I take to answer by the number of question marks present.

  3. Pretty sure this is the first time I've heard the word 'vulgarism'...and it kind of seems like a nasty word when I think about it, considering what it means. ;)

  4. For me, sometimes I use something that isn't necessarily proper on purpose to create a feel. Like using "ain't". And sometimes an actual vulgar word and convey the message more clearly than a less vulgar in the old song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree." If the last line had said the whole blame buss is cheering instead of damn bus, it wouldn't have had the same punch.