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I went looking for recent usages of the word crass. The blog Freakonomics asked the question “is it time to rename digital piracy?” to which one comment replied that theft was a crass term to call copyright infringement.
On another part of the internet a discussion about the New York Jets had one commenter respond in part that “Giants fans aren’t a bunch of crass, beer-guzzling pigs like Jets fans.”
That in itself seems to me to be a slightly crass statement.
The Oxford Dictionary of English gives definition of crass as “showing no intelligence or sensitivity.”
You might not be surprised if a greasy salesman said something crass. In fact, saying something crass would be one of the things that made you think they were a greasy salesman.
This is appropriate because both of these words, grease and crass, come from the same Latin root.
Crassus meant “solid,” “dense,” and “fat” in a literal way. English drew this word into the language in a metaphorical way about 500 years ago and applied it just as I’ve been discussing here.
Earlier the same Latin root had oozed its way into French and became graisse before crossing the English Channel with the Norman Conquest and becoming our word grease, still retaining the literal “fatty” meaning from one of the Latin senses.
Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.