Saturday, 19 November 2011

On being ignorant

A correspondent from the UK writes to say he has encountered a use of ignorant in an active sense. In this use, to say that X 'is ignorant' is to mean 'X goes around ignoring people'. He has the impression that this is a working-class usage, and wonders what I think about it.

Well, this is a new one on me, for any class level. I know that there was an overlap of meaning between the adjective/noun (14th century) and the verb, when this finally arrived (early 17th century). The present-day active sense of ignore ('intentionally disregard') is much later (18th century) and, interestingly, was dismissed as erroneous by Johnson and others. The OED has a lovely quotation from 1854 when the Earl of Carlyle apologises for using the word in this way: 'Mr. Finlay says that the modern Greeks wholly ignore (I beg pardon for the use of the word) the whole period from Alexander the Great to Lord Palmerston.'

I've not come across a correspondingly active sense for 'ignorant'. The OED makes no mention of it, nor does the Urban Dictionary. I've never heard anyone say such things as 'X is a very ignorant man' meaning 'X ignores people'. But my correspondent has friends who use it in this way. It would be good to get a sense of whether this is at all common anywhere and to find examples in writing. Are there any out there? If you've come across it, remember to give details of where and when.

47 comments:

Alex_linguist said...

i personally have never heard anyone using the word "ignorant" in this sense.

I did some research and I found a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-hate-it-when-people-think-being-ignorant-is-ignoring-someone/214287287881

I also saw a very strange expression online, "arrogant ignorant/nce", not sure if it's relevant, though.

jamie said...

I have frequently heard "ignorant" used to mean "lacking manners" in London/Essex. This would include ignoring somebody; if someone was snubbed by someone else, they might say "she's so ignorant". I think of this as a fairly "working class" usage.

Amy Stoller said...

I've never come across this usage. I grew up with "ignorant" meaning "unknowledgeable," but I've since become aware of ignorant meaning "rude" (that is, "discourteous"). Since that could be "ignorant of good manners" as distinct from "ignorant of facts," I suppose the difference isn't very great. And weren't Shakespeare's "rude mechanicals" ignorant in "my" sense of the word?

I've often wondered about the relationship of "ignorant" to "rude" in various nuances. Now I have a chance to expose my ignorance to the world!

Vilges Suola said...

In my childhood (Huddersfield working class) to call someone 'ignorant' meant that he was rude - 'he's proper ignorant, is that one' (or 'yond' for 'that one' if you were elderly) - meant that someone failed to observe conventions of greeting, thanks, requesting permission, etc. It was frequently applied to me when I was a boy.

Jude Gibbons said...

I remember hearing a work colleague use the word in that sense in the early 1990s. She was in her early 20s, working class and from Coventry. I assumed at the time that she had mistaken the meaning of the word, but I have heard it used occasionally in the same context since.

Sarah said...

In Nottingham, UK, ignorant means rude, bad mannered. The local dialect is I think only spoken by working class people nowadays, so whether it is primarily a local expression or a working class one, I'm not sure.

Jonathan said...

My parents (Hampshire, UK) used this word to describe a neighbour in the late 1960s, when they were both in their late 50s.
As a child, I asked what this meant and was told that the neighbour was ignorant because she ignored people. With adult hindsight, I can see that this was because she had come down in the world and was unwilling to acknowledge those she thought of as her social inferiors.
I never heard my parents refer to anyone who was simply rude as "ignorant".

DC said...

Some good examples here. The important point is to establish that the word isn't just being used in the sense of 'rude', but that the rudeness contains the element of 'ignoring' in an active sense.

Jude Gibbons said...

As far as I can remember (and it was 20 years ago!) when my colleague used the word it was definitely about someone who ignored her in a social setting; I remember asking her to clarify exactly what she meant.

Sarah said...

Yes, I was certainly told I was ignorant when I didn't speak to people and they assumed I was ignoring them deliberately.

DC said...

Last couple of comments are not much use without some biographical detail. Please note the request, on matters of usage, to avoid anonymity, otherwise comments simply can't be interpreted.

DC CPA said...

This thing made me think... are we just "ignorant" about the real meaning of the word or are we just "ignoring" the what might have been true meaning of the word?

Who approves the meaning of the "words" we are using anyway?

Now, I'm being ignorant! lol

Jude Gibbons said...

Sorry if it wasn't clear; my last comment was an addition to my previous comment which did have some detail in it.

Sarah said...

My apologies. Still Nottingham, UK as in my post above. I've observed this usage in Nottingham from the 1950s to the present day.

Robert said...

I live in Newcastle, and my wife works as a teacher in a school with a very broad intake. She finds the usage of 'ignorant' to mean 'rude' very common among pupils and staff from working class backgrounds. I've noticed it as well, but not to the extent that she has.

In the cases I encounter, it seems to be simply a synonym for 'rude', not necessarily meant to convey the active sense of ignoring people. For example, if Alice insults Becky, Becky might well describe Alice to others as 'ignorant'.

Presumably this fits an earlier commenter's theory of 'ignorant of manners'.

DC said...

Ah, thanks. Didn't think to look back up the trail.

David Crosbie said...

Like Sarah, I grew up in Nottingham. But I'm in my late sixties, and I suspect Sarah is a fair bit younger.

I'm pretty sure that when I lived there You're being ignorant was used exclusively to mean 'You're acting offensively' — by middle class and working class speakers alike. I never heard the 'ignoring people' meaning there and then, and I've never heard it since or anywhere else.

The other meaning was expressed not so much by the adjective as by the noun as in Don't show your ignorance. I associate the wording ignorant of ... with written prose or relatively formal speech.

X is a very ignorant man is ambiguous — deliberately so in many cases:
i.e. X is to a high degree both boorish and uninformed.

Anonymous said...

A school friend, female from Oxfordshire and in her teenage years (mid 1980's) used the word ignorant to describe someone that ignored others (her, in one example) and it was a comment on rudeness.

Anonymous said...

I lived and worked in Nottingham, and in the late 70s took a job as a barman in a working class pub. On my first night I started off working in the ‘Lounge’, which was slightly posher than the bar; however, later that evening the landlord asked me to swap places with the barmaid (a university student) as the customers (mostly raucous drunken men) complained that she’d been ‘ignorant’ to them. ‘Ignorant’ unequivocally including her ignoring their more impolitic comments.

Claudia said...

I'm Italian, 45 years old, from Como. If it may be of any interest, "ignorante" is an adjective that can be used disparagingly not only against someone who speaks when he/she has no real knowledge of a topic but also for someone who seems to ignore the basic social rules. So it can be a synonym of "rude" for us too, and a very "rewarding" one to use too, because of the satisfaction that comes from pronouncing the Italian [ɲ] sound :-)
Of course "ignorante" can be applied to oneself when admitting one doesn't know much about something. I have never heard it used for someone who actively ignores other people.
I can add that in Italian the present participle has long lost its function as a substitute for a relative clause that the -ing form still retains in English, so the words that originate from one are usually fixed in their function (and meaning) as nouns or adjectives.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Tomas, I was born in Czech Republic, the word ‘ignorant’ is from Latin verb (ignorare), and means for us somebody naive or silly. We have learnt that it is similar to other foreign languages.

David Crosbie said...

Anonymous

I lived and worked in Nottingham, and in the late 70s took a job as a barman in a working class pub.

That was a decade after I was spending most of my time in Nottingham. Not conclusive, but it does suggest perhaps that the meaning was rare there up to the sixties and became more widespread in the seventies.

suze said...

Hi It is common in Stoke on Trent to use ignorant to mean rude. We're not so very far from Notts, I guess. When I was teaching in Stoke in the 90s I regularly heard teenagers using it this way.

nick said...

I was born in, and still live in, the East Midlands, where 'ignorant'='rude' is indeed quite a common working-class usage.

My impression is that it's used more frequently in contexts where the rudeness involved is a pointed 'blanking' of someone - and one particularly hears it used by parents admonishing children for not responding when spoken to ("Answer the lady! Don't be ignorant!")

Anonymous said...

Yes, I seem to remember it being used that way up in Lancashire when I was a boy (1950s and 60s). Also "stop being ignorant" meaning "don't ignore me".

Marion said...

I am familiar with 'ignorant' meaning 'badly behaved, bad mannered' - my mother (born 1917, Warwickshire) used it. My feeling is that it derives from 'one who doesn't know things', hence 'one who doesn't know how to behave properly', but is also used loosely to refer to the 'lower orders'.

Anonymous said...

I'm in my early fifties and have spent most of my life in New Zealand. This is a completely new one for me, too.

potatoes and english said...

Here in Australia I have only ever heard 'ignorant' being used in the sense of somebody not having full knowledge of a topic. Usually it goes something like 'people choose to be gay'
'what and ignorant thing to say'
Never heard it used in the active sense mentioned in the post.

scepticalexpat said...

I am 36 and grew up in Preston, Lancashire, where school friends would use the word in the way other commenters have described - both to mean, narrowly, 'ignoring people' and, more broadly, being rude. My parents used to tell me this was an incorrect usage!

Alex_linguist said...

I found an interesting example in the OED:

2b. (In quot. 1755, taking no notice of, ignoring.)

1755 Man No. 38. ⁋5 To be ignorant of calumny more effectually stops its progress than vindication.

Gingerburn said...

In German the sense of 'ignorant' (same spelling) is, if used as an adjective, of someone who actively ignores something. Might there be some crossover there?

shaz said...

I'm getting the feeling this is a colloquial word used in the Midlands. I m from Leicester and as many of your other readers mentioned, my mother/teachers often referred to a person as being 'ignorant', usually referring to a person who didn't want to accept the status quo or rules of the school and so on. In other words, if you were 'ignorant' you were a rebel!
Interesting subject!

The Ridger, FCD said...

FWIW, "ignorant" meaning "rude" - not just ignoring someone, but also behaving crudely or insultingly, as well as "stupid", is fairly common in parts of the US as well. I'm 57, grew up in Tennessee, and it's a very familiar usage to me. I now live in Maryland and don't hear it, but any time I go back home I do.

James said...

While working in a bar in a very working class part of Sydney, Australia about 7 or 8 years ago a colleague referred to a new manager as being ignorant. When I asked in what way the manager was ignorant my colleague told me that the manager frequently ignored certain staff members when they spoke directly to him.

Anne B Perls said...

I grew up (SE Ireland) with the term "ignorant" being used in the active sense, but surely someone who could be classed as ignorant in this sense could also de facto be classed as rude and, therefore, ignorant in terms of "lacking manners"?

Anonymous said...

In Evesham, Worcestershire, most of my friends use the term ignorant to describe a person who is ignoring someone else and will never believe me when I tell them otherwise.

conspirisi said...

Hi David,

I've come across this. A Brummie school friend of mine would often use it in in this way back in the late eighties. He would say so and so is 'really ignorant' with respect to him not giving you any attention. Not as in he's a dumbass. Ironically I thought he was a ignorant for using the term in this way. Such a snob I know.

Faruq

Mark said...

Hello,

I grew up in Warrington in the NW in the 1990s and I certainly heard people being described as 'ignorant' for ignoring people or being rude. In fact, I sometimes use the word in that way too. Very often it would be used as part of the expression 'pig ignorant'.

Alison said...

I'm 50 years old, live near Nottingham (for over 30 years), father from Coatbridge (near Glasgow) and mother from near Solihull (but no accent to speak of)...
I can remember both my mother and father using it when we were growing up.
My father would use it if you didn't use "good manners" ("please" and "thank you") - he would say "don't be so ignorant" or "people will think you're ignorant", the latter implying some lack of knowledge.
Mother would say things like "don't be ignorant, Mrs Smith is talking to you". I think mainly if we were not taking any notice. That is certainly in the sense of ignoring people.
Mother-in-law (would be nearly 90 if alive) used to say "She's proper ignorant - passes you on the street and doesn't even look at you."

DC said...

Nice examples.

vp said...

I'm reminded of the word "impertinent". This usually means "rude", even though one might think that its meaning ought logically be something more like "irrelevant".

I wonder whether there is any connection between these senses of "impertinent" and "ignorant".

DC said...

This was one of its earliest senses, in fact. The 'rude' sense came later.

Anonymous said...

My father, who grew up in Suffolk, would say, "Don't be ignorant" to me when I forgot my manners as a child in the '70s and '80s. I'm not sure if this was a "local" usage he experienced as a kid, or something that he picked up during his many moves to Gloucestershire and various parts of the U.S.A.

Kate M said...

I definitely heard this usage when I was a teenager in Leicester in the late 70s/early 80s.

John Cowan said...

Ignorant 'rude' is found throughout the American South, and in AAVE as well. It often takes contrastive stress: What an IGnorant thing to say.

I think Amy is right in thinking that ignorant people (in this sense) are ignorant of good manners, and further I think that the implication is that they are that way because their mothers failed to teach them better.

Peadar said...

Polish "inteligentny" underwent similar development -- in lower class colloquial speech it can stand for "kulturalny" ('well-mannered'), apparently on the notion that well-bred people are also well-educated. (The same, I guess, holds for Russian "интеллигентный"). And double-checking the pronunciation of 'ignorant', one may come across another example of this ilk, 'uncouth'.

Branka Daceski said...

Hello Mr Crystal,
Maybe this is not much relevant to the topic, but it might be interesting. I am an English teacher, from Serbia, and, I remember, when I started teaching, I came across this word in a sentence (sth like "He was ignorant."); students asked me what it meant, and I said "It means that he ignored them." I wasn't sure about my translation, because in Serbian language, we have the verb "ignorisati", which means "to ignore sb, not pay attention to sb or sth", so I guess it was "false friends" situation that influenced my translation. I came home, and looked the word up in a dictionary,where I found the explanation (ig‧no‧rant
1 not knowing facts or information that you ought to know:
an ignorant and uneducated man
ignorant of
Political historians are often rather ignorant of economics.
ignorant about
Many people remain blissfully ignorant about the dangers of too much sun (=happy because they do not know about the dangers).
➔ see usage note ignore
2 caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding:
an ignorant remark
ignorant opinions
3 British English spoken rude or impolite:
ignorant behaviour) then went to school the following day, apologized to my students, told them what the real meaning of the word was.
And now,it seems that the word can be used, or, mean what I thought it meant in the first place :)
Best regards