Insults have changed and evolved. Gone are the days when people would call someone a nerd, geek, or loser. Some of these terms used as an insult are now openly embraced by people because they are no longer scared or shy about being different.
However, this does not mean that other people have stopped coming up with insults to put others down – such as calling someone a “Peasant”.
Calling someone a peasant is very impolite, as it is an allusion to the low status of peasants in the Middle Ages, which was associated with hard work and poor education. Instead, use the much more appreciative term farmer.
We asked over 100 people if they would generally call someone a “Peasant”. Just 12% of the respondents would do so, while the vast majority are aware of the potential pitfalls associated with this term.
88% of people thought of the word as rude. “Peasant” could have several pejorative meanings, and people usually associate negativity with the word.
The Meaning of the Word Peasant
Some people like to use words without fully knowing their meaning. For some, a peasant could just equate to a farmer or poor person, but the history of the word is somewhat more complicated than that.
To be exact, a peasant was a farmer that worked under a Lord. These laborers did not have much independence and did not have ownership over the land on which they worked.
Most of the earnings from their harvest still went to the Lord, who was considered the rightful owner of the land.
In the medieval period, peasants belonged to the lowest level of society and were bound to the land they served. They didn’t have many rights, and more often than not, the owners of the land abused their handwork.
This is why most people find the word “Peasant” patronizing and condescending.
Negative Interpretations of the “Peasant”
When you call someone a peasant, they can interpret it in different ways. You can be assured that none of the interpretations will be positive.
Here are some underlying meanings that could be related to calling someone a peasant:
They are Poor
As previously mentioned, peasants were considered to be part of the lowest class in the Middle Ages when the feudal system was still ongoing. Peasants didn’t own land and only had very little money. They lived very simply and were often mistreated by the feudal lords who owned most of the lands.
When someone is called a peasant today, they could easily associate it with the idea that peasants were poor farmers back in the Middle Ages.
They would feel as if you are calling them poor or that you see them as someone who is part of the lower class.
Basically, you are relating them to people who could not afford things for themselves and who struggle financially because most of the money from their handwork did not go to them but to the people they served.
They are Beneath You
When you refer to someone as a peasant, you are referring to them as people from the lower class. It is interpreted as you feeling superior. By calling someone a peasant, you are saying they are not equal to you.
Furthermore, this could imply that you even see them as someone inferior to you. Lords were the ones who referred to these farmers as their peasants.
If you are using this term, then you are acting like the feudal lords who felt themselves to be better than the peasants.
However, this is considered rude in today’s society because everyone should be treated as our equals. No one’s social status or financial capabilities should make them feel inferior to others.
By using the word peasant, you are not respecting the person you are talking to.
They are Unsophisticated
When someone is referred to as a peasant, they could also feel as if you are calling them unsophisticated. Why? Because peasants did not receive education or learn about etiquette. All they were focused on was their work. As such, most people saw them as ignorant or even brutish.
When you refer to someone else as a peasant, it is like saying you see them as someone who does not have any social graces.
This means that you see them as someone who does not act acceptably when they are with other people. You see them as brutish, wild, or even rude as well. However, calling them peasant does not exactly show sophistication, either.
People should not be referred to as peasants. While some may use this in a joking manner, they probably do not know the full extent or meaning of the word. Peasants were the lowest of the low in the medieval social hierarchy.
They were not only poor, but they also had extremely difficult lives. They worked hard to get little in return, but they did it to survive. They had zero rights, and they weren’t even allowed to marry if the Lord they worked under did not allow it.
Therefore, calling someone a peasant is extremely insulting. You are not just calling them poor, ignorant, or unsophisticated. You may unwittingly be mocking the hardships that they have gone through as well.
Moreover, “peasant” should not be used as a derogatory or insulting term because peasants did honest, hard work to keep themselves and their families alive. If anything, they deserve our respect.
As such, it is always important to be aware of what we are saying to people. Our use of words we do not fully understand could have some unwanted or negative effects. Moreover, it is always better to say kind words to people and give them compliments instead of thinking up words that could be insulting, demeaning, or rude to people.
Now that you know the real meaning behind the word peasant, it is best to avoid using it, even in a joking manner. You never know how someone could interpret it or how they could feel afterward.
Matt Vargas is an author and public speaking coach with a degree in sociology and more than ten years of practical experience. Matt is responsible for the empirical surveys at everyday-courtesy.com, is a passionate recreational musician, and blogs here about his experiences in the field of interpersonal communication.