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Garner’s Usage Tip Of The Day: Nouveau Riche

Bryan A. Garner is an award-winning author and editor of more than 20 books, including Garner’s Modern American Usage: The Authority on Grammar, Usage, And Style 3rd edition. Below we have posted one of his daily usage tips about the phrase “nouveau riche”. To subscribe 9780195382754to his daily tips click here.

nouveau riche (1).

Today: Generally.

“Nouveau riche” (= [1] a newly rich person; or [2] newly rich people collectively) is sometimes misspelled *”nouveau rich” — e.g.: “It will be for Deng’s heirs to deal with problems such as the widening gap between China’s nouveau rich [read ‘nouveau riche’] and rural poor.” James Cox, “Deng Xiaoping: 1904-1997,” USA Today, 20 Feb. 1997, at A1.

The phrase keeps the French plural “nouveaux riches.” But some mistakenly write *”nouveau riches” or even (as a pl.) *”nouveau rich” — e.g.: “Even for those nouveau rich [read ‘nouveaux riches’] with the spare change and audacity to have their own personal guard posted at the entrance, it still takes a moment.” “Back Porch,” S.F. Examiner, 22 Dec. 1996, at E3.

Some writers seem to believe that the phrase refers not to people but to newfound wealth — e.g.: “The Victorians couldn’t blow their bucks on big-screen TVs. Instead, their nouveau riches [read ‘newfound wealth,’ or merely ‘wealth’] went toward embellishing their houses.” M.J. McAteer, “A Touch of Class,” Wash. Post, 16 Apr. 1997, at D9.

The singular and plural forms are pronounced /noo-voh REESH/.

Language-Change Index
1. *”nouveau rich” for “nouveau riche”: Stage 1.
2. *”nouveau riches” as a plural for “nouveaux riches”: Stage 1.
3. “nouveau riche” in reference to newfound wealth: Stage 1

*Invariably inferior forms.

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