Posted by cat in Canada | 7 comments
What is the meaning and origin of the expression “No better than she ought to be”?
My Grandmother (born in South Carolina in early 1900s) used to use this expression. Essentially she meant that the woman referred to (and it was ALWAYS a woman) was *not as good* (in her sexual and moral behavior) as my grandmother thought that everyone should be. I have no idea of the origin and the expression has always irritated me as being both judgmental and oblique. I just asked a colleague with family roots entirely in the north; he thought it referred to a person whose family background was not distinguished.
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It originated in England, and was in common use up to the 1960s, but it seems to have fallen out of favor now. The mostly likely origin is a reference to the person’s assumed class – “no better than she ought to be, considering her status”. The assumption being that working class people had lower moral standards than middle or upper class people. The fact that it was only used to reflect on women makes sense, because men weren’t considered immoral in having relationships outside of marriage, while women – particular working class women – were.
The orking class had very high moral and social standrds because they ere constatly in fearof ending up in he work house if someone whoconsidered them inferior should take them or their children away. My grandmother always used the phrase to point our the, alleged, moral – but usually sexual – impropriety of, as she saw it. She started life as a lady’s maid and ended up as the wife of a man who started life as a Private Soldier and ended us with a quartermaster commission so she really felt she was superior.
Thank you! I’ve been trying to make sense of this phrase (I understood what it meant from context, but couldn’t parse it) and other sites I looked at had much less clear explanations.
It’s obliquely referred to in relation to an upper-class young man in one of Saki’s short stories. Quoting from memory, I think the line is ‘The Baroness felt that Reginald did not exceed the ethical standard that circumstances required.”
This would seem to suggest that the idea is “She is only as virtuous as she is forced to be.”
No, it’s a duchess. I meant no disrespect to Her Grace.
I always thought that it meant that,based on what you have known of this person in the past, you would not expect any better behavior. This would not be based on social “class” but rather on simple
Standards of behavior.
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