I just wrote a friend of mine who has travelled the world quite a bit, having lived in at least four countries for more than a year. I told him,

Everyone who has met you is impressed by your worldliness.

Did I use this word, worldliness, correctly? I know it has at least a couple connotations: one having to do with worldly desires, the other having to do with knowledge of the world. I'm not sure which connotation comes across in my sentence, or which meaning is more common/appropriate.

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    It is a word that is used with several different connotations. – Hot Licks Oct 17 '17 at 0:48
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    I've never heard worldly or worldliness used to describe a person in a context where it wasn't a compliment. – Todd Wilcox Oct 17 '17 at 2:40
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    @ToddWilcox - Sometimes the term is used to imply promiscuous behavior. – Hot Licks Oct 17 '17 at 2:44

There are two opposing connotations here, it's true. However, it'll be very clear which one you mean depending on how you use it.

Generally speaking, if you use it referring directly to a person they would only perceive it as a compliment - meaning experienced and sophisticated.

Conversely, the negative connotation of the word is when you use it in a sentence like "obsessed with worldly gains" or "focused on their worldly possessions". When you use the adjective with a noun and imply that person in the sentence at the same time, this wouldn't look good for them.

So for example:

Positive: He is a very kind and worldly person. His worldliness impressed us all.

Negative: He couldn't part with his worldly goods. He was always obsessed with worldly gain.

See here:


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  • Ah, so it depends on whether it describes a thing or a person. – ktm5124 Oct 17 '17 at 2:14
  • @ktm5124 Exactly. Just as you used it above in your question: "worldly desires" is being used with a thing: (desires) and is typically negative in its connotation. – baelx Oct 17 '17 at 2:18
  • That makes sense, as a thing or abstract concept (desires, gains, goods) cannot travel the world and acquire knowledge of different places and customs. But things can have worldly value. Whereas people themselves don't have worldly value so much (rather, their possessions do) but they can have knowledge of different places and customs. – ktm5124 Oct 17 '17 at 2:20
  • Hmm, yeah. That's a good way to think about it. Things are bound to the world but people move about it and gain experience and knowledge. – baelx Oct 17 '17 at 2:23

If by "wordly", you mean having abundant wisdom and perspective because of their experience abroad, by all means use "worldliness" and disregard the suggestions to substitute another synonym. With all due respect to the other answers, "astuteness" and "knowledge" only tell part of the story while "wordliness" really does say it all most concisely, in my opinion. To Nigel's concern about definition #2, without an additional qualifier, I wouldn't be too worried about conveying the wrong impression.

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    Indeed, it does convey something that is hard to say with another word. A person could be astute without having travelled at all. One can be sophisticated just from reading books. But one can be worldly only by traveling the world. – ktm5124 Oct 16 '17 at 23:06

I think it’s okay. It sounds a bit off but it is grammatically correct. But it would be better if you said knowledge or maybe knowledge of the world.

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  • Right. The English language is abundant enough that I would expect there to be a single word to convey this. But I agree with you that it does sound a little off. – ktm5124 Oct 16 '17 at 22:24

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