HIGHFALUTIN [hahy-fuh-LOOT-n]: grandiose, pompous, pretentious

Highfalutin is one of those words that I didn’t think was a real word.  I thought it was just a nonsense term, but it turns out that it’s legitimate.   Bryan Garner lists the word as an Americanism which dates from the mid-19th century.  That’s about as much about the origin of the word that I can find.  Some dictionaries indicate that it may have its origin in the word fluting, which, I suppose is meant to indicate a refined sound.  My new friend, The Urban Dictionary, says the word highfalutin is more country than urban, but I tend to think that’s a very limiting comment.  I have heard the word used in a variety of settings, including some very sophisticated groups.

The main point of the word is that it is a pretense.  To be highfalutin is to be faux, pretending to be sophisticated and urbane.   It is an act.  Truly refined people are not highfalutin; they are refined.   But the person who puts on airs and acts as if (he) is more educated, intelligent, sophisticated, privileged, or cultured than others can truly be said to be highfalutin.  It is not a compliment; it is a derogatory term.

I heard the word in a news broadcast the other day when the commentator was making the point that some politicians will probably take on a highfalutin attitude about their position on the Fiscal Cliff, but, in reality it was an act that required everyone to hold their noses while voting.  It wasn’t a very pretty series of events that led to the approval of the urgent measure; it was a matter of timing.

For Republicans it meant going against everything they say they believe about raising taxes.  No matter how you cut it, there was a tax increase for wealthy Americans.   As distasteful as that may have been, the need to prevent an across-the-board increase for everyone was necessary, and this was the best the Congress could do with the clock ticking. (In reality the alarm was ringing; the deadline had passed.)  And the measure didn’t include the kind of budget cuts they had “demanded.”  That is to come next when the debt ceiling is debated.

For Democrats, their hope had been for a greater increase in revenue by setting the line in the sand at $250,000 annual income.  But, to get to an agreement, they had moved the line to $450-$455,000 dollars, greatly reducing that income.

So there was no way anyone in Congress could applaud the measure with any kind of authenticity.   That is where the commentator was right in saying that such a response would be a highfalutin, inauthentic gesture.

I usually think of the use of the word as being more related to cultural issues.   Someone who pretends to know more about classical music, the arts, or literature, but really is ignorant of the topics, is highfalutin. The ironic thing is that most people around this person know well that this is not a legitimate position.   The only person being fooled is the highfalutin person, himself.


Photo Credit: Donny Miller

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