This question specifically covers how these terms are used to describe language, it is a followup to What's the difference between "informal", "colloquial", "slang", and "vulgar"?

In the former question it arose that vulgar has at least two senses, and perhaps three:

  • "of the people" as in Vulgar Latin (not considered to be a productive sense anymore)
  • an antonym to "refined" as used to label words in various dictionaries
  • a synonym for "obscene" or "offensive" - I take this sense to be newer and perhaps regional to America - but it does seem to be replacing sense 2

So my question is how do these other words overlap in meaning with the 2nd and 3rd senses above: "coarse", "crass", "crude", "rough", "rude", "unrefined"?


I looked up each and everyone of their meanings, and they all had meanings of "crude, unrefined", and when I looked up "unrefined" it had the meaning of "crude".

So I looked up "crude", and came up with:

Lacking tact or taste/Lacking concealing elements.

Basically, they all mean the same thing, and that is, just not being tactful, and putting things in an unpleasant way.

In their relation to the third and second senses above, they are all as I said, an antonym of refined, but it does not necessarily mean these words denote "obscenity". They may be offensive, yes, or unpleasant, but "obscenity" includes much worse things like blasphemy, or cursing, or highly derogatory terms, whereas your list of words lean more to being dysphemistic.

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  • Oops I actually meant to include "crude" in my list! – hippietrail Jun 15 '11 at 1:14

These words simply mean - what they normally mean!!

vulgar -- common, non-elite

coarse -- not detailed (think of a coarse, versus fine, handsaw, for example)

crass -- impolite, unrestrained

crude -- simplistic, uneducated (think of a crudely built object)

rough -- aggressive, overly direct, hurtful to the listener

rude -- using swear words; impolite to the listener

unrefined -- so, not refined! not polished, not edited, not educated; in a more raw state.

When you are using words like these to describe something abstract such as language: think of how the word applies to a physical object. With for example "crude" think of a crudely built say table, rather than a finely-made artisanal table.

By bringing your abstract use of a word, back to the physical use, you can greatly strengthen your language usage.

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  • 1
    It seems that dictionaries use vulgar the way you define to label words but that many people use it differently to mean obscene/profane: english.stackexchange.com/questions/29720/… – hippietrail Jun 15 '11 at 23:42
  • @hippe - Hi hippie! Yes, it's a shame when people use words incorrectly ;-) Look, that's what happens with language. Vulgar has an extremely simple precise clear meaning and origin - but (for whatever reason) it is now often used to mean "obscene." Such is life. – Fattie Jun 16 '11 at 9:29
  • By the way, something similar happened in Italian language: "volgare (a.)", from Latin "vulgus (n.), common people", nowadays means "rude". – Hemme Feb 18 '12 at 23:00

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