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Rudeness (also called impudence or effrontery) is a display of disrespectfulness by not complying with the social "laws" or etiquette of a group or culture. These laws have been established as the essential boundaries of normally accepted behavior. To be unable or unwilling to align one's behavior with these laws known to the general population of what is socially acceptable is to be rude.

Rudeness "constituted by deviation from whatever counts as politic in a given social context, is inherently confrontational and disruptive to social equilibrium" (Kasper, 1990, p. 208). Rudeness, particularly with respect to speech, is necessarily confrontational at its core.

Similar terms include: impoliteness, making a faux pas, insensitivity, offensiveness, obscenity, profanity, violating taboos, and deviancy. In some cases, criminal behavior can also be an act of rudeness.

Relationship to morality

Both manners and morality deal with whether a thing is morally good or bad, but at different levels. Unlike morality, which, for example, condemns murder as a violation of the human person, manners primarily concerns itself with violations of human dignity, rather than the person's health or property (Martin, 1996, p. 123). Rude behavior is a violation of human dignity or of the respect due to others.

Cultural differences

The specific actions that are considered polite or rude vary dramatically by place, time, and context. Differences in social role, gender, social class, religion, and cultural identity may all affect the appropriateness of a given behavior. Consequently, a behavior that is considered perfectly acceptable by one group of people may be considered clearly rude by another. For example, in medieval and Renaissance Europe, it was rude to indicate that a man wearing a mask in public could be recognized (Palleschi 2005). Instead, polite behavior demanded that the masked person be treated as a completely unknown person and that no one ever attribute the masked person's actions to the individual who performed them. By contrast, in the modern era, greeting a friend by name while he is wearing a mask, or talking to him later about his costume or activities, is not generally regarded as rude.


Sometimes, people deliberately employ rude behaviors to achieve a goal. Early works in linguistic pragmatism interpreted rudeness as a defective mode of communication. However, most rudeness serves functional or instrumental purposes in communication, and skillfully choosing when and how to be rude may indicate a person's pragmatic competence.

Robin Lakoff (1989) addressed what she named 'strategic rudeness,' a style of communication used by prosecutors and therapists to force their interlocutors (a courtroom defendant or patient) to talk or react in a certain way. Rudeness in everyday speech "is frequently instrumental, and is not merely pragmatic failure" (Beebe, 1995, p. 154). Most rude speakers are attempting to accomplish one of two important instrumental functions: to vent negative feelings, and/or to get power (Beebe, 1995, p. 159).


In every culture, it is possible to act rudely, although what constitutes rude behavior varies. The following are examples of behaviour that many Western societies would consider rude or a breach of etiquette, though views may vary by culture, setting, or individual circumstances:


What constitutes rude speech depends on the culture, the setting, and the speaker's social position in the culture. In every culture, some words or statements are considered hate speech or inappropriate ethnic slurs. In most modern cultures, insulting a person or group of people, especially for any reason outside his or her immediate control, such as having a medical condition, following a particular religion, or being poor, is considered rude. Rude speech also includes derogatory terms describing an individual person and asking inappropriate questions or pressing for an answers to a question.

However, there is no universal rule about which terms are considered derogatory and which questions are inappropriate under what circumstances. A question or comment that is acceptable between family members might be resented from strangers, just like a question that is acceptable among young people in one culture might be unacceptable to older people or to young people in a different culture.

Rude ways of speaking include inappropriately discouraging a person's participation in a conversation with rude phrases, such as "shut up" or using a tone of voice that indicates disrespect for the other person. An impolite tone may amplify obviously rude remarks or contradict nominally polite words. A rude person may interrupt a speaker to indicate that the first speaker is unimportant.

Failing to speak can also be rude: a rude person might pointedly ignore a legitimate and polite greeting or question to communicate disregard for the other person, or might fail to express appropriate thanks for favors or gifts by way of communicating either a sense of selfish entitlement or a disregard for the efforts of the giver. However, which acts and communications require a response from which persons, under which circumstances, and what kind of response is required, depends on the culture and the social situation of the people concerned.

Antisocial behaviours

  • Failure to dress appropriately for an occasion, whether by dressing too informally, too formally, immodestly, or otherwise inappropriately (e.g., a young woman in public without a veil in Iran; a young woman in public with a veil in France). CS Lewis writes that "A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally 'modest,' proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies"—but that in each culture, the idea of immodest, improper, and indecent dress existed, and that violating the culture's standard was rude (Lewis, p. 94).
  • Cutting in line
  • Bullying or intimidating people with the threat of violence or social exclusion
  • Engaging in intimate acts of hygiene in public, such as picking one's nose, ear, or belly button, cutting or biting finger or toe nails, scratching private parts, combing hair, or applying cosmetics
  • Yawning, coughing, or sneezing without covering one's mouth
  • Poor table manners
  • Disturbing others with noise, arguments, loud music or television
  • Using a mobile phone in an environment where a reasonable degree of quiet is expected (such as a library)
  • Aggressive driving or Tailgating
  • Refusing to acknowledge when another person has spoken
  • Fresh Talking
  • Sassing
  • Arguing

See also


  • Arent, R. (1998). The pragmatics of cross-cultural bargaining in an ammani suq: An exploration of language choice, discourse structure and pragmatic failure in discourse involving Arab and non-Arab participants. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
  • Beebe, L. M. (1993a). The pragmatics of rudeness. Paper presented at AAAL Convention, Atlanta, GA.
  • Beebe, L. M. (1993b). Rudeness: The undervalued skill in communicative competence. Paper presented at TESOL Convention, Atlanta, GA.
  • Beebe, L. M. (1994). Court-related rudeness and trumped-up language to boot. Paper presented at AAAL Convention, Baltimore, MD.
  • Beebe, L. M. (1995). Polite fictions: Instrumental rudeness as pragmatic competence. In J. E. Alatis, C. A. Straehle, B. Gallenberger, & M. Ronkin (Eds.), Georgetown University round table on language teachers: Ethnolinguistic, psycholinguistic, and sociolinguistic aspects (pp. 154-168). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language use. Cambridge University Press.
  • Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics: Speech acts (Vol. 3, pp. 41-53). New York: Academic Press.
  • Kasper, G. (1990). Linguistic politeness: Current research issues. Journal of Pragmatics, 14, 193-218.
  • Labov, W. (1972). Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black English vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Lakoff, R. (1973). The logic of politeness; or, minding your p’s and q’s. In Paper from the ninth regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (pp. 292-305). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lakoff, R. (1989). The limits of politeness: Therapeutic and courtroom discourse. Multilingua, 8(2/3), 101-129.
  • Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity: a revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behaviour, and Beyond personality. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-065292-6.
  • Martin, Judith (1996). Miss Manners rescues civilization: from sexual harassment, frivolous lawsuits, dissing, and other lapses in civility. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-70164-2.
  • Marino Palleschi (5 December 2005). "The Commedia dell'Arte: Its Origins, Development & Influence on the Ballet (translated from the original Italian)". Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  • Senter, L. (2004). Things Rude People Do. Columbus, OH.
  • Senter, L. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Rudeness (Big Book of Rude). Columbus, OH.
  • Tannen, D. (1984). Conversational style: Analyzing talk among friends. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
  • Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Men and women in conversation. New York: Ballantine.
  • Thomas, J. A. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4, 91-112.

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