Filthy Rich

The other day, while we were driving to a football tournament, my dad asked my sister and I why Macklemore refers to our city as “filthy”. (In The Town he says “My city’s filthy”). I told him that it was used as a way of saying “awesome”, and my sister said that it was sort of like calling something “sick”, where it sounds gross but it is meant as “cool”. (Just as I was writing that I realized how much that doesn’t make sense).

That’s not really what I’m writing about though. Talking about the word filthy, we of course made the connection to the phrase “filthy rich”, which made us wonder, why do we sometimes call extremely wealthy people filthy? How did that start? So here’s the random fact for today:

It turns out, it started with the word lucre, which has been used since the fourteenth century and means money. However, lucre is usually regarded as money made in a dishonest way. In 1526 William Tindale used the phrase “filthy lucre” in his printed works. Then money was referred to as “the filthy” and soon after the jump was made to call people who became wealthy by dishonorable means the “filthy rich”. The phrase was first used in the US in the 1920s. Today, however, most of the negative association with the phrase is gone.


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