What elevated antonyms did Van Wyck
Brooks coin to distinguish those interested in the life of the mind from those
Etymology, Etymology, and more Etymology
as well as grammar, usage, euphemism, slang, jargon, semantics, linguistics, neologism, idiom, cant, and argot.
The critically-acclaimed board game
consists of tough questions about the nuances of the English language.
highbrow and lowbrow
What side of American life is not touched
by this antithesis? What explanation of American life is more central or more
In everything one finds
this frank acceptance of twin values which are not expected to have anything in
common: on the one hand, a quite unclouded, quite unhypothetical assumption of
aesthetic theory ("high ideals"), on the other a simultaneous acceptance of
catchpenny realities. Between university ethics and business ethics, between
American culture and American humour, between Good Government and Tammany,
between academic pedantry and pavement slang, there is no community, no genial
The very accent of the
words "Highbrow" and "Lowbrow" implies an instinctive perception that this is a
very unsatisfactory state of affairs. For both are used in a derogatory sense.
The "Highbrow" is the superior person whose virtue is admitted but felt to be
an inept unpalatable virtue; while the "Lowbrow" is a good fellow one readily
takes to, but with a certain scorn for him and all his works.
Source: Van Wyck Brooks (1886-1963), U.S. literary
critic. (First published 1915). America's Coming of Age,
Three Essays on America, E.P. Dutton (1934).
According to John Seabrook in
A Place in the Buzz at http://www.mediachannel.org/views/oped/seabrook.shtml
"For more than a century, the elite in
the United States had distinguished themselves from consumers of commercial
culture, or mass culture. The pivot on which distinctions of taste became
distinctions of caste. The words highbrow and lowbrow are American inventions,
devised for a specifically American purpose: to render culture into class. H.
L. Mencken discussed the brow system in "The American Language," and the critic
and scholar Van Wyck Brooks was among the first to apply the terms to cultural
attitudes and practices. "Human nature itself in America exists on two
irreconcilable planes," he wrote in "America's Coming-of-Age," "the plane of
stark intellectuality and the plane of stark business," planes which Brooks
referred to as highbrow and lowbrow respectively."
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