“Class” and Its Derivatives
The Latin noun classis, meaning “category” or “fleet” or referring to a group of citizens called up for military duty, is the source of the word class and others derived from it, which are listed and defined in this post.
In educational contexts, class pertains to a group of students (whether those enrolled in a particular course or in the same grade level), a course of instruction, or a meeting of such a course. In a socioeconomic sense, it refers to a stratum of social standing, in science it denotes a level of organization of living things, and in general it refers to a category. The verb class, meaning “categorize,” is used in the scientific and general senses, and the word serves as an adjective, including in the idiom “class act,” which offers an additional meaning equivalent to the adjective classy, meaning “elegant,” “refined,” “skillful,” or “well mannered.”
The adjectives first-class and second-class literally pertain to a high and a moderate quality of accommodations during travel, respectively, and figuratively denote superiority and inferiority, respectively. (High-class and low-class are equivalent to the latter meanings.) The nouns “upper class” (pertaining to the affluent), “middle class” (those living a moderate lifestyle), and “lower class” (those with low incomes or none at all) also serve as adjectives.
“Leisure class” refers to people wealthy enough that they are not required to work for a living. “Working class” describes people employed in jobs that do not necessarily require higher education as an employment qualification. (Underclass is similar in meaning.) The pejorative, condescending expression “chattering classes” alludes to political opponents who utter what are considered meaningless opinions.
Terms related to education with the root class include classmate, referring to one enrolled in the same course or grade level, and classroom, denoting a room used for instruction. An upperclassman is a student in one of the two higher grade levels in secondary or postsecondary education (often identified as a junior or senior), and an underclassman has a standing in one of the two lower levels (a freshman or a sophomore.) (The female equivalents upperclasswoman and underclasswoman are rare.)
Several terms based on class allude to a high quality of artistic achievement. Classic, as a noun or an adjective, alludes to something authoritative or typical, or long considered an exemplar of great achievement or high quality, though by extension it now describes anything memorable, even if merely because it is highly amusing or ironic. (“Did you see her trip and fall into her wedding cake? That was classic!”) “The classics” describes either the extant works of celebrated Greek and Roman writers or a nebulous body of more recent literature that those who claim to be erudite should be acquainted with.
A style of architecture or art, including literature, that calls to mind the characteristics of corollary Greek or Roman achievements is referred to as classicism. Neoclassicism is an esthetic form influenced by classicism, and postclassicism denotes one that follows a period understood to be one of classicism. (The adjectival forms are classical, neoclassical, and postclassical.) Classical music is a form of sophisticated musical expression as distinct from simpler music such as folk or jazz.
In terms of quality or social strata, other words derived from class include classism, meaning “discrimination based on class,” as well as classless, which can refer either to a lack of sophistication thought to be the result of being raised in an inferior class (déclassé is a synonym for this sense adopted directly from French) or to someone who lives outside of class-based strictures or to freedom from class distinctions.
Words pertaining to categorization include the verb classify and the adjective classified, which simply means “arrange into classes” but is also part of the standing phrase “classified ads” (sometimes truncated to “classifieds), which refers to advertisements divided into categories; the adjective also describes something categorized as being of restricted to a certain audience, such as a government document. Something that can be classified is classifiable, and classificatory describes something pertaining to classification.
To outclass is to outperform someone considered to be in the same class, and a subclass is a further division of a category.
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