The standard dictionary definition is as follows:

philistine (sometimes initial capital letter) a person who is lacking in or hostile or smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, aesthetic refinement, etc., or is contentedly commonplace in ideas and tastes.


My own definition, which might be helpful in this case, goes like this:

A person whose buying power exceeds his or her cultural and spiritual needs.

Today, the word seems to have acquired an archaic ring. Folks are vaguely aware of its meaning, but it's no longer in everyday use even among Bohemians. Certainly not for lack of philistines: there are a lot more of them around today than a century ago. Is there a new word, or a number of words, that have replaced it?

  • 1
    St Philistine is the patron saint of retail.
    – TimR
    Nov 23, 2015 at 12:13
  • 3
    Yeah, "philistine" is now considered sexist. It's now "patistine".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 23, 2015 at 13:34
  • 1
    – Mitch
    Nov 23, 2015 at 14:39
  • 1
    There are a lot more people around than there were a century ago -- about a factor of 7. So there are more philistines, and the average philistine has a lot more money and many more ways (e.g., Facebook) to be obvious about it. And some of the XX variety truly believe they have a spiritual and cultural need for a handbag that costs $20,000 -- and in different colors to go with different outfits. They are beyond philistines, and they are beyond nouveau riche. A word needs to be created -- Kardashites?
    – ab2
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:34

4 Answers 4


Consider lowbrow:

adj.: Not interested in serious art, literature, ideas, etc. : relating to or intended for people who are not interested in serious art, literature, ideas, etc.


noun: A lowbrow person.

(Oxford Dictionary)

If a phrase works, something like "lowbrow materialist" could fit.


In light of your edit, consider;


: dominated or characterized by materialistic pursuits or concerns. Random House

: marked by a concern for material interests and respectability and a tendency toward mediocrity. M-W

  • Apt enough, but ... hmm ... to most people, it falls in the same category as "philistine": vaguely familiar. "Something from the past; couldn't possibly apply to anyone I know."
    – Ricky
    Nov 23, 2015 at 22:47
  • 2
    @Ricky Then, how about "rich white trash?" "I've also heard (and probably used) the term 'rich white trash', which to me implies someone who is rich (usually new money) but has no no class, taste, discipline, is ignorant and uninformed, etc." everydaysociologyblog.com/2009/04/what-is-white-trash.html
    – Elian
    Nov 23, 2015 at 22:57
  • Not quite. I've known philistines of all races and walks of life. There are plenty of them in my building, and none of them are wealthy by anyone's standards. You should see some of the "art" on their walls. Oh, and eating junk because one can't afford good food while boasting a $700 phone and $500 sneakers is certainly an indicator of full-fledged philistinism.
    – Ricky
    Nov 23, 2015 at 23:33
  • @Ricky, a Google books comparison of raw frequency data in the "English 1 Million (2009)" corpus suggests 'bourgeois' blows 'yahoo', 'philistine', 'lowbrow' and (of course) 'Babbit' nearly off the chart. Removing the unfair competition from 'bourgeois', 'yahoo' spikes compared to 'philistine' starting in about 1990, a trend that seems to be continuing today.
    – JEL
    Nov 24, 2015 at 9:26
  • @JEL: Wouldn't it needlessly offend the entire middle class, though?
    – Ricky
    Nov 24, 2015 at 9:28

Homo sap

Homo sap is short for Homo sapiens. As I am proposing it, it is a subspecies of Homo sapiens characterized by hyper-philistinism. The epitome of this subspecies can be found on TV shows of the Real Housewives, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, K up with the K genre.

Homo sapiens: "(Latin: “wise man”) human being [Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.] the species to which all modern human beings belong. Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped into the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct." (http://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-sapiens)

sap: "a foolish and gullible person." Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sap)

Sentence: "If homo sapiens goes extinct, it will be because of homo sap."

  • Decidedly not bad, Maestro!
    – Ricky
    Nov 24, 2015 at 0:14

Any good thesaurus will provide a plethora of useful terms with senses similar in various ways to the dictionary sense of 'philistine' you cited. Try WordHippo for twenty nouns and six adjectives. Your dictionary appears to be working, so you can use it to attempt to fathom the various shades of meaning of those twenty nouns and six adjectives, and perhaps even puzzle out how those shades of meaning resemble, and differ from, the meaning of 'philistine'.

Of similar terms for the dictionary sense of 'philistine', 'yahoo' may be best:

  1. A name invented by Swift in Gulliver's Travels for an imaginary race of brutes having the form of men; hence transf. and allusively, a human being of a degraded or bestial type. (Cf. houyhnhnm n.) Freq. in mod. use, a person lacking cultivation or sensibility, a philistine; a lout, a hooligan.

["yahoo, n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/231128?rskey=D6cHfM&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 24, 2015). Emphasis mine.]

A Google Ngram comparison of raw frequency data in the "English 1 Million (2009)" corpus suggests that the 'yahoos' have overrun the 'philistines' with a spike starting about 1990 that may be continuing today:

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For your idiosyncratic sense of 'philistine' ("A person whose buying power exceeds his or her cultural and spiritual needs"), to my surprise, there is a new word (just what you asked for) that approaches that sense:

Babbitt, n.2 .... Etymology: < the name of George F. Babbitt, the eponymous protagonist of Sinclair Lewis's 1922 novel.
allusive (orig. and chiefly N. Amer.).

A person likened to the character George Babbitt, esp. a materialistic, complacent businessman who conforms unthinkingly to the views and standards of his social set. Usu. in pl.

["Babbitt, n.2". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/14196 (accessed November 23, 2015). Emphasis mine.]

Along with 'Babbitt' comes 'Babbitry' ("behaviour and attitudes characteristic of or associated with" Babbitt, noun, op. cit.), while 'philistine' must struggle along as best it can with 'Philistia' ("uneducated or unenlightened people collectively, philistines; the domain of such people; the community, culture, or lifestyle of philistines; philistinism", noun, op. cit.).

You don't seem to want a phrase, but I'll offer a couple anyhow.

More money than brains

seems to express your idiosyncratic sense of 'philistine', and

he buys his books by the pound

works when a long, drawn-out version of the same thought is desired. If even longer and more drawn-out suits the occasion,

... in matching colors

can be readily tagged onto the end of the pounding.

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