Philistine

noun Phi·lis·tine \ ˈfi-lə-ˌstēn ; fə-ˈli-stən , -ˌstēn ; ˈfi-lə-stən \

Definition of Philistine

1 :a native or inhabitant of ancient Philistia
2 often not capitalized
a :a person who is guided by materialism and is usually disdainful of intellectual or artistic values
b :one uninformed in a special area of knowledge

philistine

adjective, often capitalized

philistinism

play \ˈfi-lə-ˌstē-ˌni-zəm; fə-ˈli-stə-, -ˌstē-, ˈfi-lə-stə-\ noun, often capitalized

Philistines, Ancient and Modern

The original Philistines were a people who occupied the southern coast of Palestine more than 3,000 years ago. Enemies of the ancient Israelites, they were portrayed in the Bible as a crude and warlike race. This led to the use of Philistine in English to refer, humorously, to an enemy into whose hands one had fallen or might fall. Several centuries later, an extended sense of philistine denoting “a materialistic person who is disdainful of intellectual or artistic values” came into being as a result of the following: a violent town-gown conflict in the German university town of Jena in the 17th century prompted a local clergyman to address the events in a sermon in which he alluded to the Biblical Philistines. This caused the university students to apply the German word Philister (equivalent to English Philistine) to the townspeople, whom they perceived as unenlightened and hostile to education. English speakers familiar with the story began using philistine in this way by the early 1800s, soon extending its reference to any enemy of culture. The “anti-intellectual” sense of philistine was popularized by the writer Matthew Arnold, who famously applied it to members of the English middle class in his book Culture and Anarchy (1869).

First Known Use of philistine

14th century



Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up Philistine? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

WORD OF THE DAY

to suppress quietly or indirectly

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one-green-toy-robot-amidst-many-red-toy-robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!