The noun is derived from Philistine, influenced by philister, Philister (“(historical) in German universities: person not associated with the university; person who lacks appreciation of or is antagonistic towards art or culture”), from German Philister (“person from ancient Philistia; (figurative, dated) person not associated with a university; (figurative) person who lacks appreciation of or is antagonistic towards art or culture”), from Late Latin Philistaeus, Philisteus (compare Philistinus and see further at Philistine) + German -er (suffix forming nouns indicating an inhabitant of a place, or a person originating from a place). The figurative senses of the German word are often said to have derived from a 1693 sermon by the ecclesiastical superintendent Georg Heinrich Götze (1667–1728) on the passage “Philister über dir, Simson!” (“The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”; Judges 16:9, 12, 14, and 20) at the funeral of a student from the University of Jena in Jena, Thuringia, Germany, who had died as the result of a town and gown dispute (that is, one between the townspeople and university students), but the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word was already used in Jena in these senses in 1687.
The adjective is derived from the noun.
The words philister and philistine were introduced into English by the British author Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) and greatly popularized by the English poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), particularly in essays first published in The Cornhill Magazine between 1867 and 1868 which were collected into a book entitled Culture and Anarchy (1869).
- (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈfɪlɪstaɪn/
Audio (RP) (file)
- (General American) IPA(key): /ˈfɪlɪˌstaɪn/, /-lə-/, /-stin/, /fɪˈlɪstin/
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- Hyphenation: phi‧list‧ine
philistine (plural philistines)
- (derogatory) A person who is ignorant or uneducated; specifically, a person who lacks appreciation of or is antagonistic towards art or culture, and who has pedestrian tastes.
- Synonym: heathen
- 1824, Thomas Carlyle, “Goethe”, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, edited by H[enry] D[uff] Traill, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Travels: Translated from the German of Goethe […] (The Works of Thomas Carlyle; XXIII), centenary edition, volume I, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, →OCLC, footnote 1, page 22:
- [W]hen he [Christoph Friedrich Nicolai] wrote against [Immanuel] Kant's philosophy, without comprehending it; and judged of poetry as he judged of Brunswick mum, by its utility, many people thought him wrong. A man of such spiritual habilitudes is now by the Germans called a Philister, Philistine: Nicolai earned for himself the painful pre-eminence of being Erz-Philister, Arch-Philistine. [...] At present the literary Philistine seldom shows, never parades, himself in Germany; and when he does appear, he is in the last stage of emaciation.
- 1865, Matthew Arnold, “Heinrich Heine”, in Essays in Criticism, London: Macmillan and Co. […], →OCLC, pages 184–185:
- 1867 July, Matthew Arnold, “Culture and Its Enemies”, in The Cornhill Magazine, volume XVI, number 91, London: Smith, Elder & Co., […], →OCLC, page 42:
- If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines.
- 1868 July 18, “Nicknames”, in Every Saturday: A Journal of Choice Reading, Selected from Foreign Current Literature, volume VI, number 133, Boston, Mass.: Fields, Osgood, & Co., successors to Ticknor and Fields, →OCLC, page 92, column 1:
- Even the most pig-headed vestry-man feels that something unpleasant has been said about him when he has been called a Philistine, though he may have the vaguest possible conception of its precise meaning. [...] It is used so vaguely by people who are themselves Philistines of the deepest dye, that it is in danger of losing its meaning.
- 1880, “MATTHEW ARNOLD”, in Robert Chambers, Robert Carruthers, editors, Chambers’s Cyclopædia of English Literature […], 3rd edition, volume VII, New York, N.Y.: American Book Exchange, […], →OCLC, page 155:
- Mr. [Matthew] Arnold has no patience with the middle-class ‘Philistines’ the dullards and haters of light, who care only for what is material and practical.
- 1923 May, “Pornolagny and Realism”, in The Urologic and Cutaneous Review, volume XXVII, number 5, St. Louis, Mo.: Urologic and Cutaneous Press, →OCLC, page 322, column 2:
- In politics this type of philistine has more than once denounced the "golden rule" as an "iridescent dream" of a lunatic. Such philistinism pleases the misoneism of the mediocre, whence the enthusiasm over platitudes and the reign of the philistine in newspaper art, literature and science.
- 1957 spring, Herbert Read, “The Unity of the Arts”, in Dimension, volume 3, number 1, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Students of the College of Architecture and Design of the University of Michigan, →OCLC, page 4:
- The object of such an aesthetic education is not the creation of a society of aesthetes. Aesthetes, in that pejorative sense, are as unbalanced as philistines.
- 1988 October 7, Anthony Adler, “Some Men Need Help”, in Chicago Reader, Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Reader, Inc., →ISSN, →OCLC:
- [A]s if to say, "Relax, folks, we're all philistines here; we're not gonna throw you anything that's over your head"—the Victory Gardens [Theater] invites a more sophisticated response.
- 2002, Dave Beech, John Roberts, “Spectres of the Aesthetic”, in Dave Beech, John Roberts, The Philistine Controversy, London, New York, N.Y.: Verso, →ISBN, part 1 (The New Left Review Debate), page 43:
- [Fredric] Jameson points out that for [Theodor Wiesengrund] Adorno philistines are not 'those who do not "understand" art or, better still, who do not "understand" modern art; rather, they understand it only too well.' [...] Jameson argues that what the philistine finds incomprehensible is modern art's deferral of happiness. The modern art-lover, on the other hand, defends art's deferral of happiness as the only guarantee of preserving universal happiness at the moment of recognizing its present absence.
- (derogatory) Ignorant or uneducated; specifically, lacking appreciation for or antagonistic towards art or culture, and having pedestrian tastes.
- 1956 December 12, Vladimir Nabokov, “On a Book Entitled Lolita”, in Lolita, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: G[eorge] P[almer] Putnam’s Sons, published August 1958, →OCLC, page 317:
- Nothing is more exhilarating than philistine vulgarity. But in regard to philistine vulgarity there is no intrinsic difference between Palearctic manners and Nearctic manners.
- 1963, Hugh McLean, “Introduction”, in Mikhail Zoshchenko, translated by Maria Gordon and Hugh McLean, Nervous People and Other Satires (A Midland Book; MB-192), Bloomington, Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana University Press, published 1975, →ISBN, page xiv:
- There is a satisfying, down-to-earth humanness about him, a kind of philistine vigor which helps us to see things in their proper proportions. He is the voice of the philistine in all of us.
- 1991, Nick Doll, Canoeist’s Guide to the North East […], Milnthorpe, Cumbria: Cicerone Press, →ISBN, page 25:
- Visitors to the area are strongly recommended to have a look around the castle, for even the most Philistine of wild water canoeists cannot fail to be impressed by the enormous armoury, fine paintings and wonderful furnishings that seem to outclass all other museums and castles in the North East.
- ^ Compare “Philistine, n. and adj.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2006; “philistine1, n. and adj.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
- ^ “philister, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2006; “philister, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.