I'm working on a translation of The catcher in the Rye and Holden seems to prefer the word crumby to other adjectives to describe, well, dirty stuff:

That isn’t too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me practically every week end.

"I don’t feel like walking on your crumby nails in my bare feet tonight."

"He started shaving himself all over again. He always shaved himself twice, to look gorgeous. With his crumby old razor."

He also uses dirty quite often:

His teeth were always mossy-looking, and his ears were always dirty as hell, but he was always cleaning his fingernails.

He got up off me, and I got up, too. My chest hurt like hell from his dirty knees. “You’re a dirty stupid sonuvabitch of a moron,” I told him.

As a non-native English speaker, looking at dictionaries and context seems to indicate they are very close in meaning. But well, there are never really synonyms, are there? How do they differ?

  • 4
    Crumby (crummy) can also mean “low quality or cheap”
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 2:19
  • "Crumby" is different from "crummy". "Crumby" can mean "like crumbs" or "covered with crumbs" or "flaking crumbs". "Crummy" just means "crummy".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 3:58
  • @HotLicks - At least one dictionary says: crumby : variant spelling of crummy...
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 5:46

1 Answer 1


Crumby - along with lousy, phony, and so on - are examples of Holden Caulfield's distinctive vernacular (sometimes referred to as Holdenese).

Crumby as a synonym for inferior or shoddy goes back to the 19th century, and this is the sense in which Salinger uses it in Holden's narrative, which is casual in tone and peppered with such slang terms.

Dirty in the first two examples you give has its primary meaning as an adjective: unclean. The last, however, ("dirty stupid sonuvabitch of a moron") is similar in tone to the adverb usage seen in British English, and usually followed by great, as in You dirty great idiot!

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