Englishman Matthew Arnold wrote criticism about criticism in the last half of the nineteenth century. In an essay The Modern Spirit, Range of Modern Criticism, Arnold observes:

Philistinism! – we have not the expression in English. Perhaps we have not the word because we have so much of the thing…The French had adopted the term epicier (grocer), to designate the sort of being whom the Germans designate by the term Philistine; but the French term, – besides that it casts a slur upon a respectable class, composed of living and susceptible members, while the original Philistines are dead and buried long ago, – is really…in itself much less apt and expressive than the German form.

Arnold goes on to argue that the English should adopt philistinism, as the literary term he believes appropriate. The French word is not precise. In fact it conjures many meanings. Someone might be offended especially French grocers.

Arnold misspeaks. The French know epicier is the correct word because of the varied meanings it carries. The French know food; they know what to buy and where. The French themselves see no disrespect to any part of their business community. The French know there are many, many, many, many, many epicier ordinaire in France.

I stumbled across this criticism on criticism, and if Matt Arnold is the sort of person generating this sort of malarky plaguing everyone, everywhere we should be careful not to call anyone a Philistine, or an Etruscan or a Druid.


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