Social Question

josie's avatar

Why are the rich called "filthy"?

Asked by josie (30931points) June 23rd, 2011
34 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

A jelly recently made a comment about “the filthy rich”. The filthy rich?

It is obviously designed to be a prejudicial adjective.

In fact, most of the really filthy people I have ever seen were poor.

Somehow I don’t think it would be nice to call them the” filthy poor”

But it is regarded as perfectly OK to insult and show disdain for the rich. Especially on this site. People call the US the richest country on earth (as if a country is a thing that can be rich). But if that is the case, is the US thus the filthiest country on earth?

Why not call them the beautiful rich, or the glittering rich. The industrious rich? The influential rich. Even the lonely rich if you want. But filthy?
Why this need to show disdain for the people who have accumulated wealth?

It clearly encourages destructive emotions like envy and jealousy. How can any social structure benefit by deliberately pandering to the lesser angels of our nature? And yet, even our president does it.

Just seems sort of petty to me.

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ucme's avatar

I think it was originally coined to describe those who became rich by foul means, gangster types & such like. A slang phrase which became more widespread I guess.

meiosis's avatar

The pejorative nature of the phrase is lessening all the time, and it’s increasingly used just to denote very rich. The origins of the phrase come from term filthy lucre, which was first used in print in the 16th Century, and was then used to denote money that had come from foul means. This led to filthy being a slang word for money.


FutureMemory's avatar

And here I thought you’d actually written a question that didn’t mention Obama/democrats. Nice injection at the end there ;)

meiosis's avatar

As a side issue, what exactly is wrong with the politics of envy? I though aspiring to greater things (also known as being envious of those with more than you) was the cornerstone of free-market ideology.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Because of their disgustingly large carbon footprint? Although admittedly the term predates carbon footprint concerns by decades.

“I think I’ll add another wing to the mansion to house my butterfly collection. We’ll use Italian marble and old growth trees for the flooring. It is such a rustic look. I’ll heat it by burning small animals collected by my staff, and air condition it with hummingbirds fluttering the air into the duct work.”

jeremyh's avatar

It is generally used to describe rich people which have well more money than others. Some earned it by hard work and some by well you know illegally.

Blondesjon's avatar

Have you every taken a black light to paper currency?

Lick a twenty and you’ll know just exactly what filthy means.

the only rich folks who “suck” are the ones that aren’t happy with just money. you know, the rich that use their money to broker power and influence national power structures for their own personal gain and to further their own personal agenda.

zenvelo's avatar

I think it may have to do with the phrase “filthy lucre” from the Bible: 1 Timothy 3:3. People have been called “filthy rich” for as long as I can remember.

JLeslie's avatar

Original use was ill gotten gain as some mentioned above. I never think of it that way when used today, but, probably some people still do, as we have seen many many people in the collective respond to questions about the rich as being dishonest, stepping on others, and other negative associations. In fact for those people just beng rich is negative period. But, they don’t even define rich the same as I would.

Honestly, I almost never hear “filthy rich” used anymore.

Even if we used the glamorous rich, or the influential rich, the powerful rich, that would have a negative connotation in my opinion. Filthy rich is not negative to me present day, it just makes me think extremely rich.

tom_g's avatar

Unhelpful suggestion #54: If you leave the agenda out of your question, it might spark some more level discussion. “And yet, even our president does it.” ?? So, in addition to discussing the etymology of the term “filthy rich”, we now have to explain why a rich politician used a term that you feel is derogatory to himself and the people he serves?

Regarding the question: A quick google search appears to point to William Tyndale’s writings from the 16th century, or a translation he did of the new testament.

Also, like @JLeslie, I never hear that term.

Cruiser's avatar

They are always sweaty from playing tennis, handball or golf….they should be called sweaty, scummy filty rich!

bob_'s avatar

Well, there’s also “dirt poor”, so what do you say we call it even?

FutureMemory's avatar

Well, there’s also “dirt poor”, so what do you say we call it even?

Best answer ever.

JLeslie's avatar

Yeah, dirt poor, best answer ever!

Coloma's avatar

Reverse discrimination. I also agree with the idea of ‘ill gotten gain”, however, having been on both sides of the rich man / poor man ( woman) fence, as well as being a relatively non-materialistic person, I have seen my share of the sour grapes attitude as well.

Often those that put down those of more comfortable means have a need to bash those that have/achieve what they cannot seem to.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Or @Coloma those that do that have been taken advantage of by the “filthy rich”...In my area, a lot of the uber rich are slumlord property owners. Taking advantage of the low income is about as filthy as I can think of.

Many of the others are old “oil” money…they’re pretty filthy too

Coloma's avatar


Yeah, nothing worse than a slumlord. Ugh! I could never be a landlord, I’m too nice. :-)

josie's avatar

Is “dirt poor” a derisive or a sympathetic label?
It seems to me that dirt poor is used in a sympathetic context.
Filthy rich, on the other hand is a pejorative description.
Sort of like saint and sinner. Not equal at all.

bob_'s avatar

Sympathetic? Are you serious?

Coloma's avatar


I always thought ‘dirt poor’ was a phrase that originated during the depression era or dust bowl zone, like dirt farmers, meaning they had nothing but dirt, no crops. Dunno?

JLeslie's avatar

Leave it to the ESL guy to come up with the clever English saying. Lol.

@josie In my mind it is said with someone looking down at the person. Living in very bad dirty conditions. Kind of like how so many look down at the poor now as lazy. But, different, because I think it is from the depression as @coloma pointed out, so maybe people had a little more empathy for the poor then? Not sure? I would guess the upper classes still were not happy to be around them, and they also looked down on people on the dole, that’s for sure.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Gadzooks, aside of what popular pundits would have you believe, as much as it is the goal of most Americans, and just about every immigrant I met that came here, being wealthy and rich is the goal. People who can’t get there, are not smart enough to get there, or who’s parents didn’t help them get there can not stand not being there, and being beat out getting there by those who have. As pointed out, whenever someone comes up with cash, even if they done it themselves with a lot of help from all of us or just dumb luck, as in Mark Zuckerberg, people want to think or inject that something shady was done. Many people don’t want to admit they bought into the ”slave wage” mentality. After all, that is what has been spoon fed to the masses for so long they do not know what anything else taste like. The ”honest” model is to work hard, get good grades, go to a good college, find a job (Just Over Broke), work like a dog to advance and retire with just enough to keep you out of the poor house and eating Alpo just 3 times a month between soup kitchens. To do it any way different than that is shady and repugnant. Everyone has in them the capacity to be rich or at least wealthier than they are. But society has bamboozled many as to believing it is not possible so many never try.

One of the things I have learned from most immigrants that I have ran across, is that they believe. They believed that if they could just get here, on American soil, they could make it. They might hardly know the language and only come with $250 in their pocket but they believe they can make a go here. What I have learned from a lot of my fellow Yanks is that someone should give them something. They are not given what they deserve.

People want to use derogatory terms of the rich because they are not rich; like a woman who can’t pull off wearing a mini will call women who can hoochie and slut. Instead of ingratiating themselves to those who are rich to get free advice or a person on the inside to help them become rich too, they want to whine about it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I like your answer. Reminded me of two conversations I have had. The general Themes were as follows:

1. Many people find talking about money uncooth, mostly I find this among people who don’t have much money. People with money seemingly boast about how much they made on a stock or real estate, but the people in the conversation are actually sharing stock tips and advising each other about tax shelters, etc. They know about money, and how to make money because they learn from those who are making the money.

2. A woman once said to me the Jews all own everything and have a lot of money. She said it with disgust and criticism. My response was, what do you think they held a gun to someone’s head and robbed a bank? They worked hard, got educations, took risks, anyone can do it, and many people do, not just Jews, and of course there are poor Jews also. They, the supposed rich Jews and other wealthy people, are not keeping some sort of secret, if you ask a succesful person how they did it, they will tell you and help mentor you, if are receptive, you just have to be willing to do the work, and let go of what ever judgements you came in with.

When someone has the life you think you want, you have to be willing to accept their way of thinking most likely to acheive their success. It’s kind of like what you are saying, if people follow the formula being told to them, but the people advising them are not in the place you want to be in the end, why are you listening to them? Although, I will disagree about onenthing. You can make a lot of money in corporate America in the right positions.

If your family and community makes fun and criticizes the wealthy as dishonest, snobby, filthy, stingy, etc, then how can their children grow up to be wealthy? It would be becoming “them.” It would take a strong psychological willingness to go against ones upbringing to be successful in that situation.

flo's avatar

I have always understood it to mean “richer than rich” as opposed to average rich. The same as in she has “more money than God”. So, it is not all rich people it is referring to. I think it is meant to be funny.

flo (13313points)“Great Answer” (2points)
Coloma's avatar

You can’t take it with you…dirt or money. ;-)

Coloma's avatar

Thinking of”‘Dust in the wind’..great old tune.

ucme's avatar

In my little corner of the world “filthy rich” are known as toffs or new money. The “dirt poor” go by the name of the scots…..only kidding ;¬}

ddude1116's avatar

How do we know where that money came from? Literally, I mean. How many hands it went through, and many of which were probably sick or maybe they didn’t wash their hands after using the services. Money isn’t clean, you know, in fact, I’d say it’s rather filthy; therefore the rich are filthy.

I hope this logic makes sense to somebody out there..

Blondesjon's avatar

@ucme . . . i thought they went by skouse . . .

ucme's avatar

@Blondesjon Scousers are more likely pickpockets or burglars, so the urban legend says.
Hey, calm down calm down, dey do doh don’t dey doh!

Blondesjon's avatar

@Blondesjon . . . i thought those were them gypsies i did

ucme's avatar

@ucme I shall talk to myself too. The pikeys are a menace, but fine bare knuckle fighters.

Pandora's avatar

I think filthy rich is just a slang way of saying that the person has an obscene amount of money. Not all rich people are attached to the word filthy when rich is used.
Same for dirt poor. Some people say they are poor or dirt poor. When someone says they are poor you envision, someone who is just barely making things work and every cent is accounted for. When they say they are dirt poor you envision that they have not one cent in their pockets. It also gives you the idea that dirt may be their home so they are so poor that they are homeless.
Like someone who hits the lotto and wins a million dollars. I may say he is rich but not filthy rich. I know in a few short years that will be spent. They can only live the high life for a short while unless they are lucky in investments.
At least that is what I think.

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