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I'm looking for an adjective to describe a behavior or action that is considered to be a faux pas, or is frowned upon.

Picking your nose is [word].

Wearing socks with sandals is [word].

Breaking wind in an elevator is [word].

Voting this question down is [word].

ok, maybe not the last one...

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+1 for the last example. :) – Marthaª Apr 6 '11 at 23:30
Considered harmful? ;) – Brendan Long Apr 7 '11 at 0:25
Wait...is there something wrong with wearing socks and sandals? I do it all the time... – Peter Olson Apr 7 '11 at 1:18
@Peter: depends where you are. In a lot of parts of mainstream US/UK culture it’s considered the epitome of unfashionableness — something that’s always out of style. It’s also stereotyped as being common among people from certain countries — particularly Germans, in my experience. I’ve also known people in the UK who enjoyed wearing them partly to thumb their nose at that sort of fashion consensus… and also a few who just wore them unselfconsciously because it’s sometimes comfortable. – PLL Apr 7 '11 at 4:30
@Peter: I was wondering the same thing, haha. :) – Mehrdad Apr 9 '11 at 1:01

21 Answers 21

up vote 28 down vote accepted

How about uncouth?

WordNet Search says:

S: (adj) coarse, common, rough-cut, uncouth, vulgar (lacking refinement or cultivation or taste) "he had coarse manners but a first-rate mind"; "behavior that branded him as common"; "an untutored and uncouth human being"; "an uncouth soldier--a real tough guy"; "appealing to the vulgar taste for violence"; "the vulgar display of the newly rich"

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Ah hah! that's the word I was looking for! – zzzzBov Apr 7 '11 at 3:27
Is this a common word known to most native speakers? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Apr 7 '11 at 11:34
@Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen - It is within the UK, a touch archaic but not so much that it would stop me using it in conversation. – Robb Apr 7 '11 at 12:34
You wouldn't hear it on the street, but it'd be understood. Still a weird choice. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 7 '11 at 12:37
I'm not very inclined to vote up an answer by trolldad :P – BoltClock Apr 7 '11 at 13:43

'frowned upon' sounds just right to me. It's general enough to fit all your cases. I don't think a two word locution is breaking the rules here.

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Perhaps, simply inappropriate?

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I think that “inappropriate” implies a dependency on context or at least time of execution that does not fit well with the examples. – Agos Apr 7 '11 at 12:06

Maybe taboo. Except for the socks with sandals one. I'd have to go with forbidden or illegal. (At least it should be)

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+1 lol @ illegal... I do it all the time – Mehrdad Apr 9 '11 at 1:02
Taboo is much to strong for the examples he gave. – UpTheCreek Jun 22 '11 at 14:37

Perhaps you're looking for the adjective verboten? If that's a bit too strong, you might try gauche.

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+1, "verboten"? Ist das ein englisches Wort? Das wusste ich nicht! – Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 6 '11 at 21:39
@Alain: Ja! Auch 'Schadenfreude', 'Weltshmerz', 'Wunderkind'... – Dancrumb Apr 6 '11 at 21:57
Verboten/forbidden is way too strong. Gauche does not fit the last one. – Mitch Apr 6 '11 at 22:42
I consider faux pas and frowned upon much weaker than verboten. Also whether any of these apply, and they may is still very dependent on circumsatnces for the voting item, whereas I can see that they might apply without context to the other three. – Mitch Apr 6 '11 at 22:51
I'd go with gauche myself, in all four cases. It's a bit "posh", but for a one-word solution it's the best I can think of. – user1579 Apr 6 '11 at 22:59

Not done is a good term for this. Going to a random internet reference site, YourDictionary.com defines it as socially unacceptable, improper:

Bringing along two friends without asking, that’s just not done.

It also describes it as [first half of 1900’s] — but in my experience, it’s still absolutely current in British English. It may be no longer widely used in American English.

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I also like its variant, "not the done thing", or (usually ironically "not the Done Thing".) I first saw the term in Arthur Rex, when Mordred is trying to foment a rebellion: he saw Camelot for the first time and hated it, because "It reeked of the Done Thing" (or something like that; I don't have my copy to hand.) I'd never heard the phrase, but I understood it immediately, and it seemed to capture an entire system of thought/life/society in one phrase. – MT_Head Jun 22 '11 at 17:43

What's wrong with rude? (at least for examples 1 and 3).

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I believe the word you are looking here is:


From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/improper

—Synonyms 1–3. inapplicable, unsuited, unfit. 2. indecorous. Improper, indecent, unbecoming, unseemly are applied to that which is unfitting or not in accordance with propriety. Improper has a wide range, being applied to whatever is not suitable or fitting, and often specifically to what does not conform to the standards of conventional morality: improper diet; improper behavior in church; improper language. Indecent, a strong word, is applied to what is offensively contrary to standards of propriety and especially of modesty: indecent behavior, literature. Unbecoming is applied to what is especially unfitting in the person concerned: conduct unbecoming a minister. Unseemly is applied to whatever is unfitting or improper under the circumstances: unseemly mirth.

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I don't think so, I'm young yet I use it... (your call on how you speak though) – l0Ft Apr 7 '11 at 12:48
it's possible to be young and still sound like a right old fart. In anywhere I've ever lived (and I've moved around the UK a lot), this is quite a posh way to speak. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 7 '11 at 12:49
It sounds like the correct word to use no matter what you sound like in the end. Still, having lived in England for quite some time I don't believe you @tomalak-geretkal "sound like an old fart" when using it. – l0Ft Apr 7 '11 at 13:04
I've lived in the UK all my life in various places, and would never consider using this term. It could be regional, but then again I've lived in most UK regions. And there's more to "the correct word to use" than meaning: nuance is everything. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 8 '11 at 9:44
@tomalak-geretkal ok lets not be absolute, it doesn't matter how long you lived and where, anyone can have different opinions on many things but that doesn't mean he's right or wrong. Also, some words may 'sound' differently on different people. – l0Ft Apr 8 '11 at 9:52

Uncivilized? Definitely for the downvote, and I think suits the others as well. The Russian version, 'nekulturny' is quite a bit stronger, and I've seen it a few times in English.

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This answer to your question is reprehensible!

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Picking your nose is rewarding.

Wearing socks with sandals is weird.

Breaking wind in an elevator is unavoidable.

Voting this question down is mean.

But to answer your question: horrible is another option.

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Normal people usually say "frowned upon" for this scenario, if you're describing how society is:

Picking your nose is frowned upon.
Wearing socks with sandals is frowned upon.
Breaking wind in an elevator is frowned upon.

"Discouraged" may be used in contexts where the speaker is trying harder to actually get you to not do these things.

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My personal preference would be disfavored. It means generally viewed with disfavor or disapproval. That's almost an exact match, IMO.

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My mother would always use the phrase "infra dig" for things like this. Literally, beneath one's dignity.

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My Mother would usually just give me a clip around the ear ;) – 5arx Apr 7 '11 at 10:14

Infra dig - Literally means 'beneath one's dignity', but also used to imply unacceptability.

See World Wide Words

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And who actually says this? – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 7 '11 at 12:35
@Tomalak My mum uses it frequently, however, the OP requested suggestions for suitable phrases and didn't specify the need for words in common usage – dreambusker Apr 9 '11 at 9:58

I believe many things that are "frowned upon" would generally be considered poor form.

For example, picking your nose in public is poor form. Rolling up the resultant boogers, and eating them, is even worse form.

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Discouraged is the word I want to fill that blank with. Not strictly an adjective though.

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It's as much an adjective in this context as is "gone" in "it's gone". – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 7 '11 at 12:34
Well, I'm not a linguist, and I could be completely wrong, but I thought that using "discouraged" in this context (as natural as it would sound to me) would technically be using it as a past participle, and thereby making a passive-voice sentence that would have had any of my former high school English teachers reaching for their red pen of disapproval. :-) – Adam Smith Apr 8 '11 at 1:48

How about: common? It's a word often used by the British to express disdain and disparagement. Sometimes used in unison with "muck" as in: "Look at him, picking his nose and "breaking wind" like that. He's as common as muck!"

I wouldn't use it with someone who wears socks under his/her sandals though.


definition: 6. Unrefined or coarse in manner; vulgar: behavior that branded him as common.

common as muck

"an impolite way of describing someone who is from a low social class You can tell from the way she talks she's as common as muck."

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What about despicable? It's the first word that came to my mind... Maybe it's a bit too strong but here you have the synonyms:

contemptible, loathsome, hateful, detestable, reprehensible, abhorrent, abominable, awful, heinous; odious, vile, low, mean, abject, shameful, ignominious, shabby, ignoble, disreputable, discreditable, unworthy; informal dirty, rotten, lowdown, lousy; beastly;

Also woeful and pitiable can be included.

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Despicable and its synonyms are way too strong for this. – Marthaª Apr 6 '11 at 23:31
As you can see I said it myself, but I thought I could give him a wider view. Plus, I also included woeful, which is not that strong or at least this is how I see it, also considering its translation in my language. – Alenanno Apr 6 '11 at 23:46
My point is that they're not "a bit too strong", but "way way way too strong". As in, incorrect. (I also don't think woeful and pitiable would work too well, but they're acres better than despicable and its ilk.) – Marthaª Apr 7 '11 at 0:28
@Martha: +1 for “acres better”. Best comparative I’ve seen in a while, by several bushels. – PLL Apr 7 '11 at 2:07

"tasteless" is my first guess, which upon further consideration is not a 100% hit.

"proof for bad education" is my second guess.

Third is "suboptimal", being quite an understatement, but transporting the message with a bit of humor, and leaving enough room for interpretation that the socks-in-a-sandal-wearers are not really hurt, yet reach those who hate that combination.

Fourth is the German word "abstossend" in English, which as far as I know is "abhorrent", or "repellent". The German pick is absolutely appropriate, but I am not sure about the Enlgish word.

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Downvote, but no desriptive comment. Thanks! – TheBlastOne Jun 2 '11 at 21:28

How about uncivilized or uncivil?

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