I am not a native English speaker. Somebody used this sentence when talking about me.

Unless his parents are filthy rich everybody needs some form of income.

While most dictionaries define it as "extremely rich", some define it as "very rich, possibly having become so by unfair means".

The answer at Origin of the phrase "filthy rich"? also didn't tell a clear distinction between both meanings. So, in context of the given sentence, should I consider it to have a negative connotation or not?

The full context is this discussion in the comments on a sister site. See the fourth comment.

  • This may be relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-made_man
    – mpontillo
    Nov 13, 2013 at 17:32
  • @Mike What this link has to do with me?
    – Anonymous
    Nov 13, 2013 at 18:00
  • It would be a reason to take the statement negatively, especially if this was said in the United States. That is, people may resent another's inherited wealth, preferring to respect individuals who obtain wealth through hard work and sacrifice. It's difficult to determine without more context though.
    – mpontillo
    Nov 13, 2013 at 18:08
  • 1
    This sentence is not about you. This sentence is not even about your parents. This sentence is about everybody. I see nothing offensive about filthy rich, but even if I did, why would you even consider getting offended on behalf of everybody? I am included in everybody as well, and I am offended by your getting offended on my behalf.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 13, 2013 at 18:46
  • 1
    Actually, most English speakers consider the word "rich" alone, undesirable to apply to themselves. It's one of the few common words that a person almost never uses publicly to describe themselves. Likewise, they will rarely allow anyone else to describe them with that adjective. Nov 13, 2013 at 23:35

7 Answers 7


I would not take offense at that statement. The actual comment in question was:

I do mention that it is unkind to waste anybody's time, and interviewing if you have no intention of taking the job - lying as you put it - is wasting somebody's time. Besides of course he is really available for work, unless his parents are filthy rich everybody needs some form of income.

First of all, the author of the comment is not really talking about you and is not suggesting anything about your parents. The subject here is everyone, not you. The comment simply states that everyone needs income unless they are being supported by rich parents. It is not in any way suggesting that you do or do not need income or have such parents.

That said, and contrary to @EdwinAshworth's answer, filthy rich carries no negative connotations for me other than the concept of being extremely wealthy. This may itself be considered offensive by people but as far as I am concerned, filthy rich does not imply any kind of dishonesty. At least, no more so than extremely rich or similar phrases. This is supported by the definitions listed here and here.

So, the only negative connotation of filthy rich is that one is too rich. So much so that it is considered excessive. For example, somebody who owns 3 houses and 5 cars may be considered rich. One who owns 15 houses and 100 cars would be considered filthy rich.

However, Edwin tends to know what he's talking about and you also seem to have found a definition suggesting that the term has negative connotations so I guess it must have in certain dialects or contexts. I certainly do not read it as being intended to be offensive in the comment you are asking about however.


Filthy rich means you're so wealthy, it's practically obscene. (Note: It's the wealth itself that is filthy, not the people with the wealth, or even the way in which they got it.)

But in your context, I wouldn't take it as an insult in any case, since it was expressed as a conditional ("unless his parents are filthy rich") which does NOT imply anyone actually thinks your parents ARE filthy rich.

All this statement really means is "his parents probably aren't rich to the point that he can afford to not work."

If you're really in the mood to be insulted, I suppose you could take offense at the implications for your work ethic.


This is a matter of connotation.

It's entirely possible for the term 'filthy rich' to be taken as an offense, if the person saying it intends it as such. Certainly, if there is resentment behind the words, then the 'filthy' part could be emphasized to be an insult.

However, it's equally likely to be used in a completely benign way, usually among those who are rich or who don't terribly mind a person being rich.

You certainly wouldnt' want to use it if you're trying to 'properly address' someone's wealth - it's slang, and slang is never appropriate to use when speaking formally. But in casual conversation, you could very easily get away with saying it, so long as the context you are saying it in doesn't imply an insult, or emphasize the 'filthy' part of 'filthy rich'.

  • Yes, you put it better than I did. I'd add that, as anything that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood, it's entirely possible for the term 'filthy rich' to be taken as an offense even if the person saying it doesn't intend it as such. Or at least to be troubled by the possibility (hence OP's OP). Nov 14, 2013 at 0:15
  • I've found a discussion on the complex subject of connotation, especially the objective / subjective debate, by Frank Reeves. He bashes Humpty, accusing him of championing subjective connotation at the expense of the more-reasonably-to-be-expected conventional connotation. Perhaps we ought to adopt the terms Reeves uses. Nov 14, 2013 at 16:34

It's a term where there is certainly a connotation of something-not-quite-proper. Thus, one would be ill advised to write to royalty say: 'Ma'am, As you are filthy rich, would you please consider buying Accrington Stamford a new centre forward?'

However, one can imagine Bob Hope and Bing Crosby happily accusing each other of being filthy rich (and each letting the other pay for the drinks). Connotations are nebulous (and sometimes unpredictable) things – one has to consider one's audience.

  • So, what's in my case? See fourth comment on this answer workplace.stackexchange.com/a/16641/12287
    – Anonymous
    Nov 13, 2013 at 18:01
  • 3
    Really? To me filthy rich has no more negative connotations than extremely rich or, better, offensively rich. It may carry the negative connotations associated with extreme wealth but does not, to me anyway, imply that those riches were obtained dishonestly. A case can be made that all excess of income involves dishonesty but that is a political issue not a language one.
    – terdon
    Nov 13, 2013 at 18:39
  • 1
    Since we no longer live in an age of deference, there is an awkwardness in society as to how people are supposed to relate to wealthy people. Calling them 'filthy rich' is a way of defusing this by recognising that in terms of respect, 'the filthy rich' merit no more than the dustman. It is probably a more prevalent attitude in Britain, where there exists a well organised working-class culture which celebrates disrespect for the gaffer class. IN all I believe it to be healthy for society, as well as the wealthy themselves, that they be mildly ridiculed in this way.
    – WS2
    Nov 13, 2013 at 20:15
  • 2
    The article in The Phrase Finder mentions the once strong and still discernable negative connotation: "This phrase can't be explained without looking at the word lucre. From the 14th century lucre has meant money and is referred to as such by no less writers than Chaucer and John Wyclif. These references generally included a negative connotation and gave rise to the terms "foul lucre" and "filthy lucre", which have been in use since the 16th century. Nov 13, 2013 at 23:52
  • 2
    ....As time went on the negative associations have softened somewhat. It has [come] to mean "extremely rich" rather than "dishonourably rich", although there may still be a trace of an unfavourable implication associated with it." If someone – anyone – thinks 'there may still be a trace of an unfavourable implication', there's a negative connotation. Remember also that the original question (in the title) is contextless. Though in the context OP gives later, I'd say the usage was unbarbed. Nov 14, 2013 at 0:01

I don't think the term filthy when added in front of rich means that the money was earned by dishonest or unethical means. I think it means instead that the person is very rich and they spend their money in ways that are overly excessive and not modest. For example, buying and driving around a very expensive car with unnecessary embellishments (diamond-encrusted steering wheel, etc), or being excessive with their spending in other ways. This lack of modesty stirs jealousy and contempt among those less rich, generating negative emotions and creating such terms as a result. I've also heard the words disgusting and appalling applied to these same types of wealthy people too.

So, yes, it has a negative connotation to it, but my interpretation is that the negativity is mainly due to the way that the money is spent, not how it is earned.


No you should not find this phrase offensive, unless you went to Eaton.

  • What's special with Eaton?
    – Anonymous
    Nov 14, 2013 at 16:29
  • Shouldn't that be Eton?
    – BoldBen
    Oct 17, 2016 at 14:02

1) Filthy rich refers to becoming rich thru illegal activities.

Communist Manifesto written by Carol Marx. Under communism it is believe that a rich person ‘stolen’ money from the poor. For example, if a product cost $10.00 to produce and under new method of production it now costs $5.00. Under communism, this means that the business just stolen $5.00 from the employees even though the employees are still making the same salary as before. So, if a person builds a business, hires employees and becomes wealthy he is considered a criminal because the profit is not returned to the employees.

There is also another avenue where people get rich; this is from illegal activities such as drug dealers, gun running, human trafficking, protection rackets and so on. These individuals pray off the misfortune of others.

The American way is for an individual is to work smart, build business, sell products, hire employees he and other investors will become rich and this is a good thing. But the poor believes and taught the communist ideas and the poor wants to steal the money back through ‘Redistribution of Wealth’ (communist origin). Others promote class warfare (communism origin) for personal financial gain.

2) Oil

Another possible origin, in the 1800’s many of the oil workers became rich drilling for oil. The owners of the wells would be covered in oil. It was a dirty and filthy work.

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