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Some definitions of squalor and its adjectival form squalid:

Merriam-Webster

squalor: the quality or state of being squalid
squalid: marked by filthiness and degradation from neglect or poverty

Collins

squalor: the condition or quality of being squalid; disgusting dirt and filth
squalid: dirty and repulsive, esp as a result of neglect or poverty

Wiktionary

squalor: Squalidness; foulness; filthiness; squalidity.
squalid: Extremely dirty and unpleasant

Compact Oxford Dictionary

squalor: the state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect
squalid: (of a place) extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect

(Ok, now that y’all are suffering from the same word glare/semantic satiation as I am …)

If someone is described as living in squalor, does that automatically imply that they’re doing so because they’re too poor to do otherwise? I know that context can override the usual connotation of words, so for example if I’ve established that someone is a reclusive millionaire, the fact that she’s living in squalor would not necessarily be a contradiction. But if I encounter this phrase on its own, am I wrong to assume poverty?

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College students are sometimes said to be living in squalor. Has more to do with the mountains of dirty clothes and empty liquor bottles than lack of funds. –  Roddy of the Frozen Peas Sep 27 '12 at 17:34
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General Reference. From a recent newspaper report into the death of Eva Rausing (one of Britain’s richest women) - The friend, who did not want to be named, said: "It was total squalor. Really messy. You wouldn't believe they were billionaires.. –  FumbleFingers Sep 27 '12 at 18:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, you are wrong to assume poverty, but I suspect it's what many of us might do.

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Barrie: I'm with you. I might say it's wrong to assume poverty every time, but there's nothing wrong with assuming it as the general case. Collins made that distinction rather nicely. –  J.R. Sep 28 '12 at 0:28

By the definitions that you provided above, and my own interpretation, "Living in squalor" does not directly imply poverty. It could just as easily be neglect. For example, if someone of moderate means is a hoarder, they could easily be living in squalor.

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Regardless of the above definitions, you would be right to assume that the term squalor is automatically associated with the word poverty. One can be financially rich while living in spiritual, emotional, or psychological poverty. Something is severely lacking when a person lives in squalor.

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