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I recently stayed at a charming boarding house and had the pleasure of meeting one of the most curious people I have ever come across in my life. He was polite, and yet standoffish. He reminded me of Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers in his servility but without the bursts of uncontrolled rage (thankfully!). During my entire stay I willed myself to find a noun, an adjective or any appropriate expression to describe the landlord in question but I was stunned by his bizarre behaviour. His wife, au contraire, was kind, intelligent, witty and a true saint.

So, a brief description of the landlord's character and I hope someone will supply the word or expression that does the chap justice!

Someone who is concerned with social class; who fancies himself belonging to the upper-middle class when it is clear from his speech and mannerisms he did not enjoy those privileges as a child. A person who is fixated with appearances; always lays the table with expensive looking cutlery, cut lead crystal glasses, linen napkins and even lit candelabras but then serves pre-cooked food bought from Tescos (U.S Walmart). A person who addresses you as a "young lady", is obsequious to a fault but then drinks too much at dinner and slurs his words. Whose talk borders on vulgarity but somehow manages to never cross that line. A person who will boast of owning two cars when he cannot drive. A person who will continually ask if you slept well, if you are enjoying the food, if you are fond of this or that, and whether you are comfortable in the first ten minutes but will then proceed to ignore you for the rest of the evening by watching the television.

What do you call someone like that? During my stay I could only think of snob but it seemed so inadequate, so measly compared to the sheer magnificence of his.... what?!

EDIT 24/7/2013: I have to say, I've never seen votes fluctuate so much on several perfectly reasonable answers. I just wish the down-voters would leave comments. Their insight is just as valuable to me but done in an anonymous way, it does look petty.

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Social clamberer? –  jwpat7 Jul 16 '13 at 7:31
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Hyacinth is the character in the TV programme Keeping up appearances, who has strong pretensions of being upper class, and who despises her sister and family who are very stereo-typical working class. See this question from yesterday. –  TrevorD Jul 16 '13 at 11:33
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@Mitch: No, no, clamberer is much better, because this person is not exactly succeeding. It's a nice word. –  Cerberus Jul 17 '13 at 4:37
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@Mari-LouA: Almost everyone belonging to traditional upper classes will strongly disagree with that definition, which by the way was taken from a book about African-American culture. This is probably caused by a confusion with the definition commonly used in sociology/economics. But normally, in modern society, it's mainly about who you hang out with and your behaviour, including manners and attitudes. Money and birth help, but they're only secondary. In some past societies, like Rome, money was more important than now. In Renaissance France, titles and genealogy were more important than now. –  Cerberus Jul 17 '13 at 15:26
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I think it's important to note that this is sposta be UK speech. We don't have a class system quite like that in the US, though some would disagree. In any event, the fascination with overt social class is not generally a part of American assholism, as Geoff Nunberg calls it. We don't really have the words for it, so only UK speakers' answers are likely to be le mot juste. –  John Lawler Jul 19 '13 at 16:43
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16 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted
+250

Edit:

I would describe him as being a smug, mealy-mouthed, ostentatious, gaudy, self-serving, self-satisfied ninny or boob.

Now, if you'd rather not use the word prat in company, I suggest refining the above to :

I had such an ostentatious and smug landlord. ;-) hehehe

Smug

  1. excessively self-satisfied or complacent

Mealy-mouthed

avoiding the use of direct and plain language, as from timidity, excessive delicacy, or hypocrisy; inclined to mince words; insincere, devious, or compromising.

Ostentatious

characterized by or given to pretentious or conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others: an ostentatious dresser.

Gaudy

  1. brilliantly or excessively showy: gaudy plumage.
  2. cheaply showy in a tasteless way; flashy.
  3. ostentatiously ornamented; garish.

Self-satisfied

  1. self-satisfied - marked by excessive complacency or self-satisfaction; "a smug glow of self-congratulation"

  2. smug, complacent, proud of yourself, well-pleased, puffed up, self-congratulatory, flushed with success, pleased with yourself, like a cat that has swallowed the canary, too big for your boots or breeches You're so bloody self-satisfied.

Self-serving

  1. preoccupied with one's own interests, often disregarding the truth or the interests, well-being, etc., of others.
  2. serving to further one's own selfish interests.

Ninny

Fool, simpleton

Boob

British . a blunder; mistake.

I hope my infused humor is appreciated


A prat.
More contemptible
A pretentious prat

A person characterized by assumption of dignity or importance, especially when exaggerated or undeserved; who is an incompetent, ineffectual, arse.

I won't list all the synonyms, but suffice to say, it is a word I use frequently, particularly prefaced with pretentious; and has the dual meaning of arse.

I live in a 'well-to-do' area and the number of 'would-bes-if-they-could-bes' clambering to get their children into the local schools and putting on airs and graces to gain what they believe to be acceptance. Dealing also with the 'nouveau riche' with an underlying insecurity and self doubt. Basically these people confuse the 'money with the man' so to speak. Did you like my flood of cliches?? So imagine Basil Fawlty times 1000.. :-/

Prat

— n slang an incompetent or ineffectual person: often used as a term of abuse

noun
informal
1British an incompetent or stupid person; an idiot.
2a person’s buttocks.

British : a stupid or foolish person

NB I could not find a decent link for "confuse the money with the man" any finders??


Edit 2

I am offering this insight into my own experience so, when I comment, people will understand, I am not being mean spirited, but commenting out of my experience with these matters.

I am Australian and have always lived in the well-to-do areas (that is all I will elaborate). I have rubbed shoulders with all sorts in all directions and can hold my own in any social class.

I married an English man, who's mother (yes, my mother in law) was extremely pretentious and in the most egregious manner.

Where I live, some people pride themselves on being snobs. It is a, relatively neutral term. It sounds crass when people take pride in it. I for one, know, that I am a snob, but spend most of my life trying to hide this and not be like this. (the first is easier than the latter). I mean even making that statement is just, wrong,...

I have downvoted the answers with terms that the likes of, my mother-in-law and your landlord, in question are likely to use.

Prig, Priggish, plebian or pleb, supercilious, vainglorious, poseur and parvenu (and, yes, ostentatious).

These are the sort of words the pretentious use (trust me, I spent my life avoiding them).

When describing someone, as you require, to do so effectively, entails, not using a description that reflects the same status upon the speaker!! Makes sense?? I personally don't use snot, or snoot, but have English friends who would look at this man, wrinkle their noses and use these words, aptly. I, personally, like prat and it is socially acceptable. To me it sums up any man who puffs himself up, and man, I'm surrounded by them.

This is within the context of a culture which shuns self-promotion. An example of the Australian attitudes of the ostentatious :-)

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I liked your final edit. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 25 '13 at 13:52
    
@Mari-Lou I'm really having trouble understanding what word or words were accepted here as answering your question. Is it somewhere in the final edit? Several of the highlighted words in the original seem to touch on parts of the character attributes you described, while others (ptat, boob, ninny, gaudy) wouldn't begin to describe the man. Prig and poseur are closer to the mark. –  Jim Jul 27 '13 at 15:50
    
@Skippy, why does your dislike of "high-brow" words warrant down votes? I didn't see any especially high-brow, and even if some of them were, wouldn't it make sense to point this out individually, so we can all recognze which ones they are? –  Jim Jul 27 '13 at 15:54
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Ah @Jim leave it alone. I liked the sentiment; Skippy connected to the story and that final edit clinched it for me. I was differing until then, time was running out and I made my choice. My bounty. My decision. Visitors can make their own minds up as to which answer fits best. And Jim, one more thing, please direct any questions to me under my post and not someone else's. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 27 '13 at 16:05
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To cheer you all up look at these clips. They are both hilarious 1) youtube.com/watch?v=Cz2-ukrd2VQ 2)youtube.com/watch?v=aJ0nFQgRApY –  Mari-Lou A Jul 27 '13 at 16:23
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Prig

a person who displays or demands of others pointlessly precise conformity, fussiness about trivialities, or exaggerated propriety, especially in a self-righteous or irritating manner.

Wikipedia: a person who shows an inordinately zealous approach to matters of form and propriety – especially where the prig has the ability to show superior knowledge to those who do not know the protocol. They see little need to consider the feelings or intentions of others, relying instead on established order and rigid rules to resolve all questions.

The prig approaches social interactions with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

A perhaps even better description would be

A pretentious prig

since it gives the impression that the prigness does not stem from actual superiority

Alternative:

Hypocritical plebeian prig

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That's a good one. The landlord was fussy over details that were trivial but according to the dictionary definition you posted; a prig could be cultured, belonging to a high social class and be knowledgeable about "protocol". My landlord wanted to give this impression but it was all pretence. Very superficial. In Italian there is the saying: tutto fumo poco/niente arrosto which comes close. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 16 '13 at 8:48
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Hypocritical plebeian prig ;) –  mplungjan Jul 16 '13 at 9:28
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I would have said that prig has implications of "standoff-ish", which may not be appropriate from Mari-Lou's description. –  TrevorD Jul 16 '13 at 11:37
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And pretentious is something like Mrs Bucket from keeping up appearances –  mplungjan Jul 16 '13 at 16:12
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Amusingly, Mrs. Bucket came up in conversation tonight. I'd never heard of her before. –  Bradd Szonye Jul 21 '13 at 8:09
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Tutto fumo niente arrosto would easily translate in the United States to All hat and no cattle, which makes reference to a wannabe cowboy (or rancher) who dresses the part but lacks any real personal experience. It means full of big talk but lacking action, power, or substance; pretentious.

This link has a way of describing the expression as being rather derogatory, but has that U.S. Southern sound of politeness (in the same way that "bless your heart" is used) where one might get away with saying it to a person's face without them realizing how badly they have been stung. You can read the coarse language interpretation yourself at the link, but the oafish target might simply respond "Uh, thanks, so you like my hat?"

Country singer Trace Adkins has a song based on the expression. The lyrics might metaphorically describe your host fairly well:

See that boy standing there by the dance floor 
He's lookin' like the Marlboro Man 
Starched shirt, starched jeans, big trophy buckle 
And an empty Copenhagen can 
He's talkin' cowboy this and cowboy that 
Well I'll bet one thing's for sure 
The only stampede that he's ever seen 
Is the clearance at the western store

All hat and no cattle, that boy just ain't real 
All boots and no saddle, don't know how to make a cowgirl feel 
Think I'm gonna tell him to pack up his act 
And go back where he came from 
'Cause all hat and no cattle ain't gonna get it done

He's just a smooth-talkin', long-tall slow-walkin' 
Drugstore-made-up dude 
So honey don't you fall for that fake Texas drawl 
He ain't right for you 
What you need's a man that ain't just a hat stand 
When you get him home 
Well, I don't look like much, but I can sure saddle up 
And ride with you all night long

All hat and no cattle, that boy just ain't real 
All boots and no saddle, don't know how to make a cowgirl feel 
Think I'm gonna tell him to pack up his act 
And go back where he came from 
'Cause all hat and no cattle ain't gonna get it done

All hat and no cattle ain't gonna get it done

(You can hear the song at this link.)

From a description of cowboy culture in wikipeidia:

Actual cowboys have derisive expressions for individuals who adopt cowboy mannerisms as a fashion pose without any actual understanding of the culture. For example, a "drugstore cowboy" means someone who wears the clothing but does not actually sit upon anything but the stool of the drugstore soda fountain—or, in modern times, a bar stool. Similarly, the phrase "all hat and no cattle" is used to describe someone (usually male) who boasts about himself, far in excess of any actual accomplishments. The word "dude" (or the now-archaic term "greenhorn") indicates an individual unfamiliar with cowboy culture, especially one who is trying to pretend otherwise.

You should know that modern Texans (and Western Americans in general to a lesser degree), take the cowboy culture seriously. - I would imagine that the wealthiest oil barons, ranchers, sport team owners, and techno-wizards of the region would treat the cowboy culture just as the British Royals treat their foxhunting and equestrian sports. The phrase "all hat and no cattle" would be an often used phrase among these elite. (If you have ever acquainted yourself with the television series "Dallas", you may understand this better.)

By the way, let me point out the word wannabe that I used in the description above. (Wannabe cowboy, meaning someone who wants to be a cowboy or rancher). "Wannabe" is a derogatory noun, one who aspires, often vainly, to emulate another's success or attain eminence in some area.


Stuffed shirt (n) a pompous, self-satisfied, and inflexible person.

Pretentious (adj) characterized by assumption of dignity or importance, especially when exaggerated or undeserved; making an exaggerated outward show; ostentatious.

Pompous (adj) characterized by an ostentatious display of dignity or importance

Prideful (adj) having a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.

Supercilious (adj) displaying arrogant pride, scorn, or indifference; feeling or showing haughty disdain.

Vainglorious - characterized by or exhibiting excessive vanity; boastful.

Slurring his speech while drinking at dinner makes me think of bumptious - (adj) presumptuously, obtusely, and often noisily self-assertive; full of ones self.

Of course, adding "jerk" or, better yet, "ass" to any of these adjectives makes them more disdainful, as with pretentious jerk or pompous ass.

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Up vote, though I'd suggest "proud" instead of "prideful". Don't forget "haughty". It is gender-neutral. –  Feral Oink Jul 17 '13 at 0:40
    
Yes, at some point this list and a moderately good thesaurus points to so many related words. I had to stop. I do think prideful is more commonly understood in a negative sense, even though it is not necessarily so. :) –  Jim Jul 17 '13 at 0:47
    
After seeing this fine list I now realize why OPs rarely up-vote these type of answers. Each word describes, to a certain extent, a facet of his character but grouped together they give a distorted view of the person. The landlord was always polite, even obsequious, never aggressive or disdainful towards me, because I was "the perfect guest".(I was very conscious about my table manners while staying there!). He was anxious to impress me because I was a visitor from Italy and proclaimed to love Italian music, art, food and wine, while knowing next to nothing about them. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 17 '13 at 5:46
    
He was very right-wing, a real conservative and even expressed admiration for Berlusconi because he is a man of immense wealth and power, while personally, I abhor the politician. He did express disapproval about the number of young men and women who would fill the bars, pubs and night clubs at the week-ends and would often advise me from going out late at night, in case I should witness their vulgar, cheap drunken behaviour. This piece of advice I always ignored and often enjoyed a pint with friends myself, I had a wonderful time! :) –  Mari-Lou A Jul 17 '13 at 5:57
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My landlord spoke of his travels abroad, his cruises to islands and he waxed endlessly about how fine the women dressed on board, how they dressed differently during the day and evening and how their handbags and shoes matched their dresses. The man was, frankly speaking, quite bizarre! I've never met anyone quite like him. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 17 '13 at 6:34
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One who makes a great pretense and display of belonging to a much higher class than that to which he or she actually belongs, and of possessing much more elegance and refinement than he or she actually possesses, and who unjustifiably looks down upon those who do not attain to his or her pretended level, is a poseur.

Adding just a bit here: The Anglicized version, poser, lends the additional forcefulness sought in the original question, especially when it's spoken with the requisite level of dismissive revulsion. Although many of the suggestions made in answer here are really excellent, I think this is the only single word which truly fills the bill with reasonable precision.

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If I could upvote twice I would. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 27 '13 at 7:54
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My suggestion would be affected. This seems a good fit to me because this man tends to misrepresent himself by affecting attitudes not his own (e.g. acting as if he belongs to a different social set).

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As you said...

...so measly compared to the sheer magnificence of his grandiose vainglorious meretriciousness.

Or

...he is an egocentric aggrandizer

That about covers it...

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The word that comes to my mind is unctuous, which Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), defines as "full of unction; esp revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality." The meaning of unction that this definition refers to, I believe, is "exaggerated, assumed, or superficial earnestness of language or manner." Another meaning of unction is "something used for anointing: ointment, unguent," so you get an element of oiliness with the word, as well.

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Unctuous is a good word, but is too negative for the man and reminds me of slimy and sliminess. I could never describe him as that. Although I do agree with the "false earnestness of language or manner" bit. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 17 '13 at 6:58
    
I quite like the word and thought it didn't deserve the negative score. Thanks Sven! –  fuzzyanalysis Jul 24 '13 at 2:01
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Snot and Prig

The meaning of these words completely describe a person like your case in my culture. I'm agree with mplungjan.

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He seems to have portrayed a number of characteristics, including obsequiousness, and I don't know whether you may have considered him to be maladroit on account of his failed attempts at impressing.

A person may have a humble background, but still have an appreciation of fine things, that they seek to surround themselves with, that goes beyond a superficial concern with the status such things are ordinarily intended to afford, and to an extent, display a slightly eccentric or incongruous set of characteristics, which they nevertheless make their own, and which has a certain integrity to it, and which one might say is well performed. Your host may have been a rather harmless soul, caught in conflicting notions of self-worth predicated on the perceived value of certain ‘airs and graces’ which made for a rather inept performance by comparison.

I've just found the other word I was searching for in my mind which is: grotesque

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+1 for his behaviour is based "on the perceived value of certain 'airs and graces'" –  Mari-Lou A Jul 24 '13 at 4:46
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I'm no psychologist/psychiatrist, but sounds to me this poor soul is suffering from a bizarre mix of narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders and perhaps even a disorder all his own!

I would have to proffer the term 'mentally disordered' to satisfy your requirements.

  • Narcissistic personality disorder

Persons with this disorder present severely overly-inflated feelings of self-worth, grandiosity, and superiority over others. Persons with narcissistic personality disorder often exploit others who fail to admire them, and are overly sensitive to criticism, judgment, and defeat.

  • Histrionic personality disorder

Persons with this disorder are overly conscious of their appearance, are constantly seeking attention, and often behave dramatically in situations that do not warrant this type of reaction. The emotional expressions of persons with histrionic personality disorder are often judged as superficial and exaggerated.

From: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/mental_health/mental_health_about/personality/Pages/index.aspx

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There are lot many like as follow..

parvenu, vulgarian, snoot, haughty, perky.

Choose whatever you like..

Regards..

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If you like the meaning of the word "prig" but dislike how it sounds too similar to "prick", you could always try the adjective "priggish". Perhaps "priggish snob" or some other adjective+noun combination.

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+1 That's a valid point –  Mari-Lou A Jul 21 '13 at 16:44
    
Yes 'Prig' sounds very lower class, as does 'snob' or 'snot'. I'd avoid using them myself. –  fuzzyanalysis Jul 22 '13 at 4:24
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  • condescending
  • patronizing
  • lordly
  • lofty
  • snooty
  • disdainful
  • toffee-nosed
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The word you may be looking for is parvenu .

See wikpedia and Merriam-Webster

for an explanation. However, this word is applicable only if the person has actually moved to a higher social class from a lower one; not if they just pretend to be of a higher social class.

A less stuffy word you can use is wannabe

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I like the implications of this word and it could explain the person's behaviour. Unfortunately, although he did confess to coming into a bit of money I do not know if he actually moved to a higher class. His family might have already been wealthy to begin with. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 18 '13 at 20:51
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Not only is "wannabe" less stuffy, it is much more common in the wild, and frankly much more English. "parvenu" is a straight-up French word, as is the more common term nouveau riche. (Does it say more about English speakers or French speakers that we borrow terms of extreme social condescension straight from the French with no alteration?) –  T.E.D. Jul 25 '13 at 14:00
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To me this person sounds "unpleasant"! The detail about women on cruises wearing matching handbags and shoes is hilarious. (PS Cecil Vyse is not a member of the aristocracy, he's just upper-middle-class. Real aristocrats have titles and lands, and don't have to be as pretentious as Cecil.)

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Characters like him abound in British literature. You could call him, say, a Cecil Vyse after the character in, A Room With A View by E. M. Forster.

Description of Vyse:

Cecil is handsome and refined. He is also arrogant, unimaginative, and overbearing. He is completely unable to see the beauty in human beings, and he looks down his nose at everyone outside his circle of friends and acquaintances in the London aristocracy.

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