English vice

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From various authors' descriptions of certain vices as particularly common or representative among the English.

Proper noun[edit]

the English vice

  1. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of gluttony, overeating.
    • 1988, Jasper Ridley, A Brief History of the Tudor Age::
      The Englishman had a reputation throughout Europe for gluttony; it was said that overeating was the English vice, just as lust was the French vice and drunkenness the German vice. Some Englishmen became very fat, and were famous for being so. Henry VIII ate enormous meals, but as a young man he was slim, perhaps because he always took a great deal of physical exercise. By the time that he was forty-five he was suffering from painful ulcers in his leg which prevented him from riding or walking without the greatest difficulty; but though he ceased to take exercise, he ate as much as ever. He then became very fat.
  2. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of hypocrisy.
    • 1965, K. J. Fielding, Charles Dickens: A Critical Introduction, Houghton Mifflin, page 96:
      If hypocrisy was the English vice, as the French critic Taine declared, then it had soon become naturalized in the United States.
    • 2011, Nicholas Freeling, Criminal Conversation, page 97:
      The national character, he thought vaguely, is a thing about which a lot of nonsense is spoken and believed. They are very proud of what they call 'sobriety'—spoken of as the national virtue daily. Looking at both-sides-of-the-penny, down-to-earth, you-can't-fool-me... If hypocrisy is the English vice, and vanity the French vice, and obedience the German vice, then surely sobriety is the Dutch vice.
  3. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of moralism, particularly vacuous, base, and tedious moralism.
    • 1886, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”, in Chapter VII, №228:
      No new thought, nothing of the nature of a finer turning or better expression of an old thought, not even a proper history of what has been previously thought on the subject: an IMPOSSIBLE literature, taking it all in all, unless one knows how to leaven it with some mischief. In effect, the old English vice called CANT, which is MORAL TARTUFFISM, has insinuated itself also into these moralists (whom one must certainly read with an eye to their motives if one MUST read them), concealed this time under the new form of the scientific spirit; moreover, there is not absent from them a secret struggle with the pangs of conscience, from which a race of former Puritans must naturally suffer, in all their scientific tinkering with morals.
  4. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of snobbishness, particularly sentimental royalism and deference to class and aristocracy.
    • 1908, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, All Things Considered, French and English (additional link: [1])
      If the Frenchman saw our aristocracy and liked it, if he saw our snobbishness and liked it, if he set himself to imitate it, we all know what we should feel. We all know that we should feel that that particular Frenchman was a repulsive little gnat. He would be imitating English aristocracy; he would be imitating the English vice. But he would not even understand the vice he plagiarised: especially he would not understand that the vice is partly a virtue.
    • 1909, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, Chapter XXVII: “Some Policemen and a Moral”, §8:
      There enters into such things a great national sin, a far greater sin than drink—the habit of respecting a gentleman. Snobbishness has, like drink, a kind of grand poetry. And snobbishness has this peculiar and devilish quality of evil, that it is rampant among very kindly people, with open hearts and houses. But it is our great English vice; to be watched more fiercely than small-pox. If a man wished to hear the worst and wickedest thing in England summed up in casual English words, he would not find it in any foul oaths or ribald quarrelling. He would find it in the fact that the best kind of working man, when he wishes to praise any one, calls him “a gentleman”. It never occurs to him that he might as well call him “a marquis”, or “a privy councillor”—that he is simply naming a rank or class, not a phrase for a good man.
  5. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of complacency, particularly casual complacency towards corruption.
    • 1908, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, “All Things Considered”, in Thoughts around Koepenick, §6:
      Everything in England is done unofficially, casually, by conversations and cliques. The one Parliament that really does rule England is a secret Parliament; the debates of which must not be published—the Cabinet. The debates of the Commons are sometimes important; but only the debates in the Lobby, never the debates in the House. Journalists do control public opinion; but it is not controlled by the arguments they publish—it is controlled by the arguments between the editor and sub-editor, which they do not publish. This casualness is our English vice. It is at once casual and secret. Our public life is conducted privately. Hence it follows that if an English swindler wished to impress us, the last thing he would think of doing would be to put on a uniform.
  6. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of sadomasochism, particularly flagellation (whipping and spanking).
    • 1978, Ian Gibson, The English Vice: Beating, Sex, and Shame in Victorian England and After, Duckworth, →ISBN, title.
    • 1995, Patricia J. Anderson, When Passion Reigned: Sex and the Victorians, BasicBooks, page header, →ISBN, page 96:
      The English Vice

      In English pornography countless scenes of flagellation metaphorically whipped devotees to a fever pitch of arousal.
    • 2002 July 1, Quana Jones, "We Have a Winner: 'The English Vice' Explained", Dr Weevil:
      The ‘English vice’ is spanking on the buttocks sometimes refered[sic] to today as 'corporal punishment... The English 'public' school system used corporal punishment for many years and it is claimed that many an English schoolboy acquired a taste for such treatment that carried on into his adult life. You may recall Swinburne's many references to Eton's block and 'birching', claiming that his own proclivity for that particular pasttime[sic] had been cultivated by such school practices.
      Of course, there is also the other opinion. That is, that the English vice is whatever the French say it is. I supposed the same could be said to be true about the "French vice".
  7. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of adultery, particularly with domestic trappings resembling a second household.
    • 1991, Frank Harris, John F. Gallagher, My Life and Loves, Grove Press, pages 815–816:
      People talked in the play of the “English vice” till at length the protagonist, Mr. Daventry, turns round and asks: “Is there such a thing, Lady Hillington, as an English vice?”
      “Oh,” retorted the clever woman, “I thought every one knew that, Mr. Daventry; the English vice is adultery with home comforts.”
  8. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of homosexuality.
    • 1990, François Crouzet, Britain Ascendant, Cambridge University Press, page 479:
      […] prostitution was openly paraded in the streets, there was shamelessness later in public parks, and there was the ‘English vice’—i.e. homosexuality (the French, a little irked at being considered immoral by their neighbours, have periodically been delighted to discover a few tears in the mantle of British virtue).
    • 1994, Lise Noël, translated by Arnold Bennett, Intolerance: A General Survey, page 95:
      Sexuality is frequently associated with foreign places in the dominant discourse, especially when the phenomenon being considered assumes an automatically negative connotation. The Romans held the Greeks responsible for homosexuality, while the latter attributed it to the Persians and the peoples of the Near East; in the Middle Ages, westerners blamed the Muslims... Depending on the period and the context, love between men would also be denounced as the "Indochinese vice" or the "Arab vice" (by the colonizers)... and the "English vice" (by the French) or the "French vice" (by the English)... when everyone did not agree that it was the "German vice".
    • 2005, Mark Caldwell, New York Night, page 133:
      Of the dozen or so surviving articles, squibs, and letters to the editor, the most remarkable appeared in the Whip and Satirist’s February 12, 1842, issue, and disclosed the existence of a cabal of gay men in New York's otherwise wholesome nightscape of brothels and riots. Moreover it identified the spider who minced so delicately along the wide-flung strands of the sodomitical web. "There is not one so degraded as this Captain Collins, the King of the Sodomites." He was a foreigner, an Englishman, in the long tradition of blaming homosexuality on the influence of aliens. Among the syndicate of perverts, the writer announced, "we find no Americans as yet—they are all Englishmen or French" (the English called homosexuality the French vice and the French the English vice; for the Whip it was the French and English vice).
  9. (derogatory, potentially offensive) Euphemistic form of oppression, particularly with regard to the poor.
    • 1991, Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, Return to Essentials, Cambridge University Press, page 111:
      Encomia on a tolerant and kindly society (remember the unarmed policemen?) has to confront believers in the special depravity of a people of hypocrites, uniquely devoted to what was then called the English vice, whether this meant sexual aberration or oppression of the poor. Only in England, said the one side, was political freedom fully established; only in England, replied the other, was economic freedom systematically suppressed.

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