Why does the dirty in dirty mind refer to sexual-related thoughts instead of any type of immoral thought (including ill will or malice against another)?

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    No, all sex is dirty because it's enjoyment, and carnal, too. Utterly immoral. You should remain a virgin all your life and join a monastery. Or at the very least marry young and have sex with the same person always, with the exclusive purpose of making babies. As many as you possibly can. So teach us orthodox desert religions... Jan 28, 2014 at 17:00
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about cultural attitudes towards sex, not English language as such. Jan 28, 2014 at 17:08
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    @FumbleFingers How is it not about the English language?
    – Josh
    Jan 28, 2014 at 18:00
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    While there is a question in the title, it is not really answerable in a meaningful way. Further, there doesn't seem to be any actual question in the body, despite the attachment of question marks to rhetorical statements.
    – horatio
    Jan 28, 2014 at 18:11
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    This is an etymology question about an idiom, and it almost certainly has an answer (although the answer may not be known). It is not "off-topic" by any stretch of the imagination. I am nominating this question to be reopened.
    – phenry
    Jan 29, 2014 at 0:58

1 Answer 1


Dirty has meant, in the OED’s definition, ‘morally unclean or impure; “smutty”’ for over 400 years. It is perhaps not too hard to see a progression of meaning from unclean to morally impure to sexually implicit or explicit.

  • I wish there is a term for morally unclean and impure without the sexual part, particularly if a person is a criminal, but not a sexual criminal.
    – Double U
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:05
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    @Anonymous There are words; e.g. adjectives such as: 'crooked, devious, dishonest, fraudulent,insidious, knavish, underhanded, unfair, unscrupulous, anti-social,corrupt, unethical, vicious, wicked, wrong, bad, depraved, dissolute, unprincipled', and nouns such as : thug, villian, thief, swindler etc. None of those imply any sexual immorality.
    – WS2
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:25
  • @WS2 Yeah. I suppose you're right. It's funny how "dirty mind" implies sexually immoral mind specifically, and you have to use different terms for non-sexual immorality. Maybe it's how English developed.
    – Double U
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:33
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    @Anonymous There is an expression of 'dirty money', and an offence of 'money laundering' which implies that the money was dirty in some way. These do not necessarily mean that the money was the product of the sex industry. I think the most frequent users of money launderers are drug cartels. Equally people talk of someone being mixed up in some 'dirty business'. That does not usually mean sex. So 'dirty' is widely used for criminality and immorality outside of sexual matters. There are other uses of 'dirty' too. A footballer who fouls others is said to be a 'dirty player'.
    – WS2
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:39
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    Catholic upbringing here: Impure thoughts will lead to impure acts. Something that is impure is said to be unclean, i.e., dirty and therefore, an impure mind is equivalent to a dirty mind. In other words, if someone is white and innocent and pure, another person's lewd thoughts will distort and soil that image of innocence and chastity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 28, 2014 at 19:02

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