Eyebrow Note:
Bougie
3 April 2019

¶ The other day, in a brief book review in The New Yorker, I read the following: “Ethan ponders Greek ethics in his bougie apartment.” This time, the second sighting, I remembered the source. When I encountered the term for the first time, last week, I must have been preoccupied, because I let the sighting go with a brief mental nod. 

I have no idea how long this usage has been going on, but I don’t need to be told that “bougie” is short/familiar for “bourgeois.” That’s clear from the contexts. It was also my nickname at boarding school.

All I remember is that I was wearing a vest — a plaid vest, if I’m not mistaken, something red and Scottish, not the vest from a suit. We were in the middle of choir practice, and I must have said something foolish, because Jack Kennard, a senior, turned pointedly at me, looked me up and down (doubtless noticing that the vest’s bottom button was undone), and intoned, “You, Keefe, are a bourgeois buffoon.”

Which is to say that, if I was any kind of buffoon — an arguable point — it was incontrovertibly the bourgeois kind. The name stuck instantly, although almost as quickly it decayed into the handier “Bougie.” Fossil Darling continued to call me “Bouge” (one syllable) for years. I think he gave it up only because it meant nothing to Kathleen — or to anyone else in New York — and because it always had to be explained. By 1985, it was altogether out of use.

Now I feel something like a godfather. “Bougie” means exactly what it meant back then: being bourgeois may be somehow regrettable, but there’s no denying that lots of people simply are, without giving it much thought, and in a way that has nothing to do with Marxist theory. In fact, it signifies the comfortable but ordered domestic style to which Marx himself aspired all his life, and could afford thanks only to handouts from Engels.

The important thing about being bourgeois is not to be hypocritical: don’t deny it. I’m grateful  to Jack Kennard for making it impossible for me to do so, at least during those last years of high school when hypocrisy is so very tempting. 

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