English vice

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



(This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.)

Proper noun[edit]

the English vice

  1. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) 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.
  2. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) Vacuous, base, and tedious moralism.
    • 1886, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 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.
  3. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) Snobbishness; sentimental royalism; idealistic love of 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.
  4. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) A pathologically casual manner and complacency in the face of corruption.
    • 1908, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, All Things Considered, 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.
  5. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) Sadomasochistic sexual practices.
    • 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.
  6. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) The practice of indulging in an extramarital affair that resembles a second household.
    • 1991, Frank Harris and 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.”
  7. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) 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).60
  8. (may be offensive and/or derogatory) Oppression of a country’s 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.