Today’s Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting, some diversion from the difficulties of daily life. I take my cue from Ann Burlingham, posting on Facebook on 12/4:

Last night I was watching Nick Cave being interviewed on the BBC when he used the word highfalutin. I looked it up to confirm my sense that that is a word Americans came up with, and it is, and it’s wonderful.

Now, you need to know, first of all, who this Nick Cave is and why it might be notable that he used the slang adjective highfalutin ‘pompous, pretentious’. Then on to the word and who uses it, with two wonderful bonuses, one supplied by OED3, the other by a winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.

Nick Cave. The Nick Cave Ann was talking about, from Wikipedia:

Nicholas Edward Cave … (born 22 September 1957) is an Australian singer, songwriter, poet, lyricist, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional actor. Known for his baritone voice and for fronting the rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Cave’s music is generally characterised by emotional intensity, a wide variety of influences and lyrical obsessions with death, religion, love and violence.

… Cave left Australia in 1980. After stints living in London, Berlin, and São Paulo, he moved to Brighton, England in the early 2000s.

The point is that this Nick Cave is a speaker of AuE / BrE, now resident in England — and was being interviewed by the BBC. If your sense is that highfalutin is associated with AmE, then its appearance in Nick Cave’s mouth indicates some spread of the word to new social territory, or possibly just another adoption of AmE features by British rock musicians for stylistic effect.

The other Nick Cave. On the performance artist Nick Cave (who is American, Black, and gay), see my 3/7/21 posting “Phallicity: Nick Cave’s Soundsuits”, with links to earlier postings on (this) Cave.

The OED speaks. From OED3 (Sept. 2014) on the adjective and noun highfalutin (also hifalutin, highfaluting):

of uncertain origin (with possible associations to the adjectives high, fluting, high-flying, high-flown); slang (originally and chiefly U.S.)

— A. adj.: Absurdly pompous or bombastic; pretentious, affected. [1st cite 1839 “Them high-falutin chaps”; all the cites are from American sources except a 1962 New Statesman cite] [NOAD adds the contextual information: (especially of speech, writing, or ideas)]

— B. n.:  A pompous or absurdly elevated style of speech or writing; bombast; an example of this. [1st cite 1847; all the cites are from American sources except an 1889 Times cite about the Irish]

So the word did indeed originate in the U.S . — where it has a decidedly folksy and jocular tone — and is primarily used there. Of course other speakers can pick up the usage, simply because they like the way it sounds, or because they want to imitate an Americanism.

The OED‘s bonus. A derivative noun:

derivative: the [AZ: delightfully jocular] noun highfalutination: now rare a pompous or absurdly elevated style of language or speech; the use of such a style. [American cites from 1858, 1894, 1964; the last from the Modern Language Review: “Paternal / fatherly and magnitude / greatness are not exact synonyms distinguished merely by the degree of highfalutination.”]

I celebrate this noun and recommend that it be salvaged from dusty rarity.

The Toast Winery bonus. This winery, in Rock Stream NY (in the Finger Lakes region), offers wines under the Toast label (especially the blend Celebration Red and various Rieslings) and also under the Pompous Ass and Kiss My Ass labels (red blends and white blends as table wine).

There are three Pompous Ass wines: Pure Arrogance (a white blend), Pretentious Port, and — yes — Highfalutin.

(from the company’s website:) Highfalutin: This red blend of Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc makes for an easy drinking red table wine with nice complexity. Notes of dark red fruit and a unique butterscotch nose.


3 Responses to “highfalutin”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    red and white blends as table wine

    I first read this as meaning blends that combine a red with a white, and was thinking I’d never heard of such a thing, and then realized what (I presume) it actually meant (red blends and white blends).

    I should add that my wine-buying habits are such that I would be sorely tempted to buy a wine named “Pompous Ass”, for the name alone.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On “red and white blends”: I’ll revise the text to “red blends and white blends”, for clarity.

      As for buying a wine named “Pompous Ass” for its name alone, yes, I’d be tempted too (though I no longer drink).

  2. annburlingham Says:

    The interviewer’s question about whether the Red Hand Files (in which Cave takes questions online and answers some) is a form of ministry (he’s already discussed his Christianity in the interview) starts here, with his musing, then laughing, response “that seems a little… hifalutin?”


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