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I've come across the phrase, used in the sentence below, while I was reading a novel written by Raymond Chandler.

"I'm Miss Vermilea, Mr. Umney's secretary," She said in a rather chintzy voice.

I looked up the word "chintzy", and still can't understand what it tries to describe.

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I don't think the American sense of cheap or tacky is meant here. Chandler was educated at Dulwich College and didn't return to America until he was in his twenties. So there were strains of British culture in his background, and I think his use of the word chintzy is more in line with that. People who favoured chintz, with its bright floral patterns, were people who might be working class in origin, but were also people with social aspirations. Their front rooms were likely to be over-decorated, stuffed with knick-knacks, and with aspidistras in the window (like the Comstock's home in Keep the Aspidistra Flying). George Orwell's word for that class of people was "shabby-genteel". What I think Chandler was trying to portray was someone from that kind of background, rather prim and proper, someone who puts on airs and graces and is desperate to be seen as "respectable". I haven't read the book (or, if I have, I don't recognize the quotation), so I could be wrong. But that's the way I read it.

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    From what I've read of Chandler, this is a extremely likely. The character would be putting on a false front of class. She wants to seem as important as her employer, but it's all affected and for show. The "chintz" is cheaply applied luxury. A flashy fabric on the outside of a poorly made cushion. – David M Mar 22 '14 at 13:39
  • chintz is a fabric, a material. I don't think it is associated with tacky at all. chintz fabrics are also used in the states, even back then....chintz is a way to avoid: flowery voice – Lambie Jul 2 '20 at 13:25
  • @Lambie: The OED attests to the meaning "suburban, unfashionable, petit-bourgeois," well before Chandler wrote this. Why would anybody reading Chandler's prose back then think chintzy meant "flowery" when this meaning was already well-established? – Peter Shor Jul 2 '20 at 14:13
  • Yes, and Chandler was a very clever man: suburban voice, unfashionable voice, petit-bourgeois voice. Hmm. A gaudy or cheap voice. Also, hmm. He took the fabric,known to be flowery, and qualified her voice: a flowery voice. Typical of characters playing secretaries in 1930's movies. Think of fall those female voices.I know this was a book but still. The rule is: good writers try their best to avoid clichés. And this is a clever way to do that.... – Lambie Jul 2 '20 at 14:40
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The word 'chintz' refers to a multicoloured cotton fabric, with a glazed finish. The word is Hindi in origin and dates from the early 17th century. The Hindi word 'chint' means a 'spattering' or 'stain'.

When it comes to 'chintzy', British and American English diverge. In Britain it is still connected to fabric. 'A pretty chintzy pattern'.

In North America it connotes cheapness and poor quality.

Having read @Terpsichore's answer I have significantly edited this one, having earlier taken Raymond Chandler to have been an American. However he would appear to have spent his young life in Britain, having been educated at Dulwich college. And this fact suggests his usage here was more a British one. So I accept Terpsichore's view and have upvoted that answer.

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    +1 because of the usual connotation in AmE. But, I think Terpsichore has it right. It's chintzy in the sense of false luxury. The secretary is putting on airs. – David M Mar 22 '14 at 13:40
  • @DavidM Is that how 'chintzy' would be understood in America? Oxford Dictionaries says 'cheap and of poor quality', but of course that is a potentially movable description. In Britain where the way you speak tends to define you, if anyone puts on a false air they are said to be 'cracking their jaw'. I have just realised that last is a bit dated, so may not be recognised by many. – WS2 Mar 22 '14 at 14:07
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    It's a dated reference. But, that is the original context. It's just dropped the false elegance bit and become a synonym for cheap. – David M Mar 22 '14 at 14:28
  • Except not here. It means a flowery voice as cheap or gaudy voice would not work. Chintz fabric is flowery par excellence. – Lambie Jul 2 '20 at 13:54
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    @Lambie: it doesn't mean cheap or gaudy or flowery. The OED has as one definition "suburban, unfashionable, petit-bourgeois,", and "suburban, petit-bourgeois," could easily describe a voice. – Peter Shor Jul 2 '20 at 14:39

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