“Class” and Its Derivatives

By Mark Nichol

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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6 Responses to ““Class” and Its Derivatives”

  • Dale A. Wood

    A word that has not been mentioned, yet: multiclass.
    A multiclass society is the antonym of a classless society.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A summary of the related verbs and adjectives:
    classify, classified, declassify, declassified, misclassify, misclassified, preclassified, reclassify, reclassified, unclassified.
    Information can be classified, declassified, highly-classified, low-classified, misclassified, reclassified, or unclassified.

  • Dale A. Wood

    These could be viewed a “putting people down”, or the same for countries, states, provinces, etc.:
    underclass, subclass, “3rd class”, “4th class”, low-class, lower-class, unclassed, declassed.
    A member of the “Third World” is a 3rd class country.
    In most (large) countries, a “territory” is/was an underclass of a state. This is certainly true of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia, and there might be territories (or the equivalent) in South America, Africa, Russia, etc.
    Other countries have “autonomous territories”, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Russia, China, France, Spain, etc.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Read some about Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead:
    In logic, a “class” is a collection of sets, and also a “class” can contain other classes: “subclasses”.
    Then, there are gigantic questions concerning “the class of all classes”, especially, “Does it contain itself?”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “The classics” describes either the extant works of celebrated Greek and Roman writers… AND
    Arabian/Persian: Omar Khayyam and others,
    Babylonian/Sumerian: “Gilgamesh” and others,
    Chinese: Confucius and others,
    French: “The Song of Roland”,
    Icelandic/Norse: the Sagas of Snurri Snurlson,
    Italian: Marco Polo,
    Also, some of the ancient writings from Burma, England, Egypt, India, Japan, Pakistan, Turkey….
    Don’t argue that the writings of Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare, are not considered to be part of the Classics, even though I don’t read them myself. When it comes to English literature, I am a lot more into Churchill, Clarke, Kipling, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Welles,…

    J. Robert Oppenheimer learned to read Sanskrit so that he could read the Indian classics for himself, and not to rely on translations.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Underclass is similar in meaning.” Not true.
    For genuine underclasses, you need to delve into the following kind of novels, films, and TV programs:
    “Modern Times” (1936), by Charlie Chaplin,
    “RUR” – “Rossum’s Universal Robots”, by Karel Kapek,
    “Spartacus”, by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas as an enslaved gladiator. “A Clockwork Orange”, by Stanley Kubrick”,
    “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, by William Shirer,
    “The Gulag Archipelago”, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,
    “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, by Harriet Beecher Stowe,
    The “Robots” saga, by Isaac Asimov,
    “Citizen of the Galaxy”, by Robert A. Heinlein,
    “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, by Pierre Boulle,
    “Planet of the Apes”, by Pierre Boulle,
    Any good biography of Martin Luther King,
    Any good biography of Nelson Mandela,
    “I Was a Prisoner on a Chain Gang”,
    “Cool Hand Luke”.
    These give depictions of true underclasses.

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