Learn English – Derogatory term for a nobleman


I'm looking for a term or expression that would fit in an 1800's context. It's a derogatory term I once heard used by a person of middle or lower class to describe a person who is a nobleman by birth but who lacks the common sense that comes with real experience.

For example, a sailor might talk behind the back of a captain who only got the job because of highborn status.

The term highborn itself could work if used right, but there's another term that's more inherently demeaning.

Best Answer

When in the 1800s? Toff would be the perfect choice here, but it isn't found any earlier than 1851, and I would be shy of putting it into the speech of anyone until at least 1855 (maybe a bit braver if they were in the Midlands, East or South East of England).

After that though, it would be a common word that matches your description perfectly.

(It's still in use, but not as much as before, having peaked in the first half of the 20th century).

Edit: Comment says this is set in the very beginning of the 19th century. That rules out toff and even haw-haw (around 1825), and beerage is right-out (1880s).

His nibs is an interesting example, but just too late (first attested 1821).

You could take a punt on haw-haw and his nibs on the basis that the first spoken use is likely slightly earlier than the first printed, but it would be a stretch.

Nob is an interesting one and might be apt. It's often understood as a contraction of noble, but while that's probably an influence, white-knob also spelled white-nob is found in the late 18th century until early 19th meaning an upper- or upper-middle class person in reference to the white wigs they would wear and it got contracted to nob. Hob-nob was likely also a further interest.

In any case, nob hits your meaning and was in use in your time, and white-knob also hits it, was in use, and has firmly died-out since, so it might be favoured as giving more temporal flavour.