Author Topic: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?  (Read 11245 times)

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Nurvingiel

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The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« on: April 29, 2011, 03:14:26 PM »
I was watching the news last night and Peter Mansbridge was interviewing someone about the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge).

He (the guy being interviewed, not Peter Mansbridge) was talking about how recently (paraphrase), "Canadians have generally become less attached to the Royal Family, but maybe the marriage will rekindle our interest. After all, they are a young, attractive couple and their story is romantic. It's about how a prince married a commoner..."

Then I had to change the channel, because the word "common" in reference to a human being offends me. Now, the person being interviewed did not say "Kate Middleton is a commoner". His use of the word was a similie, saying that William and Kate are like that fairytale story in which a prince marries a commoner.

But isn't this a rude term anyway? I can't think of a single appropriate use of the word outside old books. It sounds totally classist to me, and not at all relevant to 2011.

Because come on! They met at university. They are normal people with jobs. Yes, William is a prince but that doesn't imbue someone with more worthiness as a person (and he doesn't seem to think so either).

Implying (for the similie did imply) that Catherine is a commoner implies that she wasn't as good as him until she married him and became a Duchess.

This word is very loaded to me.

So Ehellions, is "that person is common" and/or "he/she is a commoner" a rude phrase in your country? I am especially interested in its use in Britain and Canada.

For my own Canadian perspective, I have never heard a real live Canadian say it until Peter Mansbridge's interview. But I can see my totally anti-classist father doing his nut over the word. We have, happily, very little classism here which explains the phrase's absence (generally).

Edit: Views from other countries are interesting too and, of course, welcome.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2011, 03:18:58 PM by Nurvingiel »
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Yvaine

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2011, 03:17:30 PM »
Disclaimer: I'm from the US.

I see "commoner" as a neutral term that just denotes that you're not above a certain level of the peerage (though the existence of the peerage in the first place is a whole other can of worms). "He/she is common" is insulting, though.

Bibliophile

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2011, 03:20:13 PM »
I'm from the US too and I don't find it to be rude.  Some people have royal titles.  Some don't.  I see it as a statement of title not one of superiority of one group over another.

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Ms_Shell

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2011, 03:22:07 PM »
US here - The thing that confuses me is that I thought Kate was from a noble family with titles, etc., just like Lady Di was.  So...that means by definition, she wouldn't be a commoner, right?  Am I misunderstanding that? 
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rashea

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2011, 03:23:16 PM »
It's not that she is common, it's that before this she wasn't titled, which makes you a commoner. The issue is that a factual word has been used as a negative by a lot of people who were classist. So a descriptive word becomes something of an insult.

She is was a commoner. A fact that she isn't ashamed of. NPR actually did a special the other day about her having to go get a coat of arms since her family didn't have one. I really love that her family chose acorns to reflect the place she was brought up.

Ms Shell, no, her family didn't have any titles or anything. Which added to the magic for many people.
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Yarnie

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2011, 03:26:46 PM »
I don't think many americans find the phrase "commoner" insulting because it just seems so totally archaic.  The US doesn't have the same hereditary class distinctions, so it doesn't touch a nerve.

I could see it being more of an issue in a society that has, or recently had, those sorts of class distinctions.

Kate isn't from a titled family - I'm not even sure she has any titled ancestors. Here's a video from the BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13120510

that goes over her family background.

Edited to add - I had a british coworker who was befuddled by many American's passion for genealogy, and knowing whose great great grandfather was and how he was related to some noble family back in the day.  He said people in Britain aren't that into it.   
« Last Edit: April 29, 2011, 03:30:04 PM by Yarnie »

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2011, 03:27:18 PM »
You find the term "classist". Well, England has classes. They have nobility, and they have commoners. Catherine is not nobility, or she wasn't until today.

Nurvingiel

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2011, 03:30:26 PM »
Ah, so "commoner" is "99.99999999999% of the planet's population" and not loaded with classism.

The second usage is the only one I had in my head. I thought that it had negative connotations. However, the interviewee's tone was not concescending at all when he said the word so he was probably using the word the way you described Yvaine.

So it seems, not rude unless you're using the word to snobbily put someone down.

But... still seems irrelevant to me. Who cares? It's not like we (Canadians) don't know that William is a prince. It seems pointless to indicate someone is not royalty/a peer/married to royalty or a peer. That is the default for humans.

US here - The thing that confuses me is that I thought Kate was from a noble family with titles, etc., just like Lady Di was.  So...that means by definition, she wouldn't be a commoner, right?  Am I misunderstanding that?  
Her parents are wealthy business owners, but not descendants of royalty/peers.

Wrote this as you posted Rashea. I think my offence stemmed from only knowing the negative connotation of the term because the neutral term has no practical application in Canadian society. In fact, you can't even be a peer and a Canadian. So by definition we're all commoners and don't need to tell each other that. ;D

You find the term "classist". Well, England has classes. They have nobility, and they have commoners. Catherine is not nobility, or she wasn't until today.
Emphasis mine. You are right, and I think that this exactly why the term bothers me. Since I'm not British, I don't "get" this system, but since I'm Canadian we are still connected to the British class system (via having the head of Britain's top-most class as our Head of State).

So I'm not connected enough to understand it, but not distanced enough (as Americans are for example) to not care.

Thanks for all the quick replies. Very interesting! :)
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Yvaine

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2011, 03:35:47 PM »
Ah, so "commoner" is "99.99999999999% of the planet's population" and not loaded with classism.

The second usage is the only one I had in my head. I thought that it had negative connotations. However, the interviewee's tone was not concescending at all when he said the word so he was probably using the word the way you described Yvaine.

So it seems, not rude unless you're using the word to snobbily put someone down.

But... still seems irrelevant to me. Who cares? It's not like we (Canadians) don't know that William is a prince. It seems pointless to indicate someone is not royalty/a peer/married to royalty or a peer. That is the default for humans.

I think it's because of the "old days" when royals almost always married other royals, so that a commoner marrying a prince was either something from a story (like Cinderella) or something scandalous (like Anne Boleyn). Personally, I think marrying commoners is good for the royal families--let's widen that gene pool!  >:D

jilly

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2011, 03:50:40 PM »
I believe that untill today William although royal was also a commoner as you have to be a pier of the relm basically have a tital such as Duke, Barron or Marquess (sorry about spellings) or be the reigning monarch to not be a commoner. Prince doesn't count - i guess tradintionally a reigning monarch or titled person holds lands (castles, manors) in their own right whereas a Prince doesn't. just something that was on the evening news the other day.

P-p-p-penguin

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2011, 03:54:07 PM »
No it isn't rude because it simply refers to the fact that Kate didn't have a title (i.e. Lady, Duchess, etc.) prior to getting married. 

In other words, what rashea said!

Deetee

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2011, 03:56:31 PM »
But... still seems irrelevant to me. Who cares? It's not like we (Canadians) don't know that William is a prince. It seems pointless to indicate someone is not royalty/a peer/married to royalty or a peer. That is the default for humans.

But it is quite interesting because this is the first time a direct heir to the British throne has married a commoner. All previous marriages that I'm aware of*  have been to members of the nobility. So this interesting in an end to classism kind of way.



*I'm not sure about Mrs Simpson, but he lost the throne by marrying her, so it's not the same.

camlan

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2011, 03:59:15 PM »
I think Diana was a commoner. Her family is of the aristocracy, but not royal. I remember it being mentioned at her wedding to Charles that she was a commoner.
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P-p-p-penguin

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2011, 04:01:56 PM »
She was Lady Diana Spencer before marrying Charles.

violinp

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Re: The phrase "a commoner"... isn't this rude?
« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2011, 04:09:17 PM »
She was Lady Diana Spencer before marrying Charles.

Exactly. To me, Diana was born into the peerage and therefore not a commoner.

I don't see the word commoner in a bad light - it simply means she's not of the peerage to me - but it would be quite another thing if the Middletons were called chavs (or poor white trash in US).
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