I need a new word, something like ‘richness’

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 25, 2013

I’ve written a paper on the conceptualisation of the phenomenon that is the opposite of poverty. You know, the state in which people who are rich find themselves. Let’s call it ‘richness’. My problem is that ‘richness’ is, to the best of my knowledge, not a word in English. So I need a new word, one that is acceptable to the English language police but that captures what the Germans call Reichtum, the Dutch/Flemish rijkdom, and so on and so forth.

In my paper I’ve called this ‘affluence’. Yet native speakers have on several occasions told me that ‘affluence’ is misleading to denote the upper tail of the material-possessions-distribution, since apparently those who have English as a mother tongue would regard many affluent as non-rich. The two notions (‘affluence’ and ‘richness’) do not coincide, as ‘affluence’ includes a larger group of people.

Similarly, I’ve been advised by an English philosopher to drop the word ‘wealth’ (which I used in an earlier version), since we all have some wealth. Even if you only own a two-pound coin, that is your wealth. Still, wealth seems like a serious contender for the word I’m looking for since one definition has it as ‘a large amount of income and valuable possessions that someone has’. But unfortunately I’m not interested in that posession, but rather in that state of affairs in which that person finds herself. ‘Wealthness’, so to say – but that word is as nonexisting as ‘richness’.

So I played around with the term ‘opulence’. While that is an official word in English, apparently it denotes a situation in which someone has a luxurous and expensive lifestyle. According to this online dictionary, ‘opulent’ refers to “rich in appearance, showing great wealth”. Since I’m interested in conceptualising the state of affairs of those who are (very) rich, whether they show off their wealth or not, ‘opulence’ is not the word that I am looking for either. There will be rich people who are not ‘opulent’ and I want to capture the state in which all rich people find themselves.

Who helps me out of this?



alkali 02.25.13 at 11:16 pm

[N]ative speakers have on several occasions told me that ‘affluence’ is misleading to denote the upper tail of the material-possessions-distribution, since apparently those who have English as a mother tongue would regard many affluent as non-rich.

This is surprising to me. It seems to me that affluence is exactly the word you want.


Sarang 02.25.13 at 11:17 pm

I suppose “a state of plenty” comes close to having the sense you want? But it doesn’t really have the same grammar as the word “poverty” so prob. isn’t more useful than discarded alternatives


David Moles 02.25.13 at 11:17 pm

“Richness” is a perfectly valid English word. The OED defines it as “the fact or condition of being wealthy”, which seems as close to what you’re looking for as anything is likely to be. There may not be any single word that has exactly the connotation you want.


Philip 02.25.13 at 11:17 pm

Quibble: Richness is a word, just not with the meaning you’re looking for. If “wealthness” was in the running, why not “wealthiness”?


soru 02.25.13 at 11:18 pm



David Moles 02.25.13 at 11:19 pm

The OED also offers “superaffluence”: “(a) an abundant flow, a great profusion (now rare); (b) extreme wealth”. Examples: “The young man was suddenly elevated to superaffluence by inheriting a large fortune”; “In an age of superaffluence, many newly minted millionaires can’t help worrying that their children won’t inherit their work ethic.”


Ingrid Robeyns 02.25.13 at 11:25 pm

David, thanks a lot, that may simply solve my problem. I don’t have access to the OED where I am right now (I’m travelling) and what I found on the web suggested that it was either very old English. But clearly I’ve looked into the wrong space – ‘richness’ even has a wiktionary page: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/richness

Interestingly, though, at several seminars where I’ve presented this paper and asked whether ‘richness’ would capture better the opposite of poverty, it was not recognised as a word that’s frequently use. So I wonder how it would come across for native speakers? (Admittedly, for a political philosophy paper it doesn’t really matter that much since one can make up any word as a ‘technical’ word, but since I’m interested in a real phenomenon it would be nice to be properly understood).


Medrawt 02.25.13 at 11:27 pm

The problem is that our vocabulary, despite being full of words that denote something in this area, is not agreed upon. I have always used “rich” to describe the scenario of a person making one or several million dollars per year, and “wealthy” to describe someone whose funds are so substantial that it’s guaranteed your grandchildren will never need to work if they don’t want to. But I have encountered those who use those terms in precisely the inverse fashion. And for what it’s worth, I vote that “affluence” does indeed connote basically any family for whom, presuming they’ve made sane choices in their lives, money is not a pressing daily concern. So, say, over $100K per year, maybe with adjustments for number of children. That’s certainly a kind of state of being – the one I was raised in – worth distinguishing from everyday middle class life, but doesn’t seem to be the one you want to describe.

It’s an arch term to use, but I don’t think anyone deploys “moneyed” to mean “affluent” rather than “loaded close to if not all the way up to the gills.”


rea 02.25.13 at 11:29 pm

“Richness” is a perfectly cromulent word in English . . .


rootlesscosmo 02.25.13 at 11:29 pm

“My country is very poor. All the richness is gone out of it.” –The Boss (Akim Tamiroff) in Preston Sturges’ “The Great McGinty” (1940)–a movie I think every political theorist should watch at least twice.


Chris 02.25.13 at 11:30 pm



Ingrid Robeyns 02.25.13 at 11:30 pm

Alkali: yes, it surprised me too, and on the first occasions that I got this comment I ignored it, but that comment came back in different settings.

David: Superaffluence — great word! Yet if ‘superaffluence’ is similar to ‘superrich’, one would have expected that ‘rich’ and ‘affluent’ are synonymous (which seems contested).

I should admit that for stylistic/esthetic reasons I still prefer the term ‘affluence’. But I can’t use it if for many people ‘affluence’ includes people who are non-poor, who are doing all right, but who are not rich.


Lindsay 02.25.13 at 11:32 pm

“Wealthiest” seems to be the best way to apply to a limited amount of people.

Or you could give them an acronym. E.g. NINJA (No Income, No Jobs or Assets).


between4walls 02.25.13 at 11:51 pm

Richness is definitely a word in English, though to me it implies more a quality (the richness of food or fabrics, for example) rather than the state of being rich. But that may be just me.

Affluence or wealth are both better than opulence. I think wealth is the word you’re looking for.


Scott Supak 02.25.13 at 11:55 pm

I think “superaffluence” is great. “Avaricious” suggests greed in the person with the money. There’s “moneyed” which is kind of clunky and suffers from the same problem as wealth, as everyone has a little, sometimes, if they’re lucky duckies.


Omega Centauri 02.26.13 at 12:02 am

If you go to the less refined common usage, we have rich versus filty-rich. The former often just means a lot more money than I, while the later menas, couldn’t possibly spend it all in several lifetimes. Dollar-income wise it might be $100K or $200K versus >$5M. Obviously the “rich” category may be well off, but still has to think about their day to day spending decisions, the filthy-rich don’t.


SusanC 02.26.13 at 12:05 am

“Rich” or “wealthy” as an adjective, or “the wealthy” (for the group of people who are rich) will work in English.

As a native English speaker, I would never use “richness” for the state of having a lot of money. “Richness” would be OK when talking about the ingredients of a cake recipe (see “rich fruit cake”), but would refer to the taste of it, not necessarily how much it cost to make.

“Affluence” has possibly the wrong associations (and could probably be used to refer to almost everyone in a Western consumer culture, except for the very poor).

I can’t think of an English word that will do what you want; changing the grammar of the sentence so you can use an adjective (“rich”) or a collective noun (“the rich”) is the best I can think of.


Martin 02.26.13 at 12:11 am

I would go for “wealth.” It is widely used for what you want. Sentences such as: “With wealth often comes not merely material comfort but a greater level of political influence and social respect” make sense to most people. It has the advantage of being short and not artificial sounding. “Wealth” is used to refer to small amounts of capital mainly in economic contexts (or related contexts such as discussion of tax law) where it is necessary to distinguish between income (a flow) and wealth (a stock). So you need to think about whether you have a high risk of confusion with this specific usage. But maybe this is a feature, not a bug, if you are trying to connote people who have capital, not just high incomes.

You may have a problem if you are trying to limit your category to people who are very wealthy–say only people with an income over $5 million per year as opposed to people with an income of $500,000. But so far I don’t think your commenters have come up with a single word that specfically idenfies the former.

So whatever you do, you will probably need a defining sentence or footnote early in your piece. (“By “wealth” I mean, generally speaking, ….)

Whatever you


Kiwanda 02.26.13 at 12:16 am

On-line Mirriam-Webster gives “affluence, opulence, richness, wealth, wealthiness” as antonyms for “poverty”. I vote for “wealth”; only philosophers and economists (and the fourth definition in MW) would call a personal stock comprising a two-pound coin “wealth”.


Jacob T. Levy 02.26.13 at 12:22 am

Either “affluence” or “wealth,” if accompanied by a brief stipulation of what you mean by them, would carry the connotations you’re looking for– even though, yes, the words bear other meanings too. “Richness,” however, has a different primary meaning, and would strike me as odd even with a stipulated definition.

Agreed with others that “opulence” means something about how wealth is used or displayed– Scrooge couldn’t be characterized by opulence (and a good many negative-net-worth Americans could be.


Dero 02.26.13 at 12:23 am

“…the state in which people who are rich find themselves.”

After playing around with it I agree with the earlier comment that affluent/affluence is probably the best word. Of course it can be used in a relative or ironic context, but outside of that I think most (US speakers anyway) would associate affluence with a state of having a considerable amount of money. Helping adverbs can send it home… “I suddenly found myself to be quite affluent”, “It was a town of extraordinary affluence…”


pedant 02.26.13 at 12:25 am

Ease. The people you are interested in are living a life of ease.

Poverty brings hard times, and everything is difficult.

But the kind of wealth you are studying puts people on Easy Street.


marek 02.26.13 at 12:43 am

A £2 coin might, at a stretch, be said to represent your wealth, but it cannot possibly make you wealthy. I am affluent, in that I live very comfortably, I am not wealthy, in that my affluence would rapidly disappear if I were to lose my job.

So I think the people you want to talk about are wealthy, and that would be a good word to use. The problem, of course, it’s that it is an adjective, while poverty is an abstract noun – but it’s not impossible to draft around that.

And as another reference point, all this reminds me of the classifications in Mayhew’s poverty map of London:

BLACK: Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.
DARK BLUE: Very poor, casual. Chronic want.
LIGHT BLUE: Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family
PURPLE: Mixed. Some comfortable others poor
PINK: Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings.
RED: Middle class. Well-to-do.
YELLOW: Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy.


Andrew Smith 02.26.13 at 12:57 am

I feel like “richness” usually refers to food. “Richdom” isn’t terrible.


Billikin 02.26.13 at 1:24 am

To the best of my knowledge, “richness” is an English word, as is “wealthiness.” :)


marek 02.26.13 at 1:29 am

Richness is an English word. It just doesn’t mean the state of being rich, and is therefore not an antonym to poverty.


Sandwichman 02.26.13 at 1:29 am

wealthy or obscenely wealthy


BT 02.26.13 at 1:41 am

The closest we come to the opposite of ‘poverty’ is the word ‘abundance’


Colin 02.26.13 at 1:51 am

If I had to draw a distinction, I’d say an ‘affluent’ person has access to an abundance of useful (non-positional) goods, so any reasonable material desires they may have are more than satisfied, whereas a ‘rich’ person has a lot of money. It’s more a difference in connotation than in what they mean in practice, but of course there are many people who like the connotations of calling themselves ‘affluent’ but dislike the connotations of calling themselves ‘rich’, hence the perception that there are more ‘affluent’ people than ‘rich’ people.

I’ve only seen ‘richness’ when ‘rich’ refers to the intensity or complexity of something, e.g. ‘rich colour’, ‘rich flavour’, ‘rich metaphor’.


BT 02.26.13 at 1:51 am

Perhaps instead of using terms like ‘super-wealthy’ for individuals at the extreme top of the income scale, perhaps these individuals could be considered as members of the ‘unbounded class’ – I think this describes the, for all intents and purposes, unlimited resources available to these individuals.


Tom L 02.26.13 at 1:52 am

My vote goes to “superaffluence”.

I don’t think you can use “opulence”. People are not opulent, their possessions are.


Sancho 02.26.13 at 1:53 am

For fun, distribute the paper with all instances of “richness” auto-replaced with “parasitically engorged on the blood and toil of honest workers”.


L.D. Burnett 02.26.13 at 2:03 am

“Plenitude.” I think it gives the sense of full-to-overflowingness that you want, and you get the bonus alliteration as well. Ah, the richness of it!


Chaz 02.26.13 at 2:15 am

Asking whether ‘richness’ is a word or not isn’t quite the right question. There aren’t rules for this sort of thing. If you decide it’s a word and start using it, then it’s a word. People say it is in the OED, and every online dictionary I have checked accepts it (but just sends me to the page for ‘rich’, which then lists it as a variant). But it is certainly not in common use. It does not sound good to my (Californian) ear.

In English there are no agreed-upon definitions of ‘slightly wealthy’, ‘wealthy’, and ‘very wealthy’. There are no generally accepted words which refer to one rather than the other. To me, ‘rich’, ‘wealthy’, and ‘affluent’ all mean exactly the same thing. Some people seem to be pushing affluent as meaning ‘slightly wealthy’ and rich as ‘very wealthy’ but that is not universally agreed upon by any means.

I would advise you to stick with ‘affluent’. If you only mean people who are very very affluent, then go ahead and say ‘very affluent’. For a noun, use ‘great affluence’.


engels 02.26.13 at 2:16 am

Stick with ‘richness’, I reckon. As others have said, it is a word, which Chambers defines as ‘the state of being rich’.

‘Wealthness’ is not a word, ‘affluence’ is weaker and ‘opulence’ means something different.


engels 02.26.13 at 2:20 am

(Or ‘wealth’, which also means the state of being rich and is far more common.)


engels 02.26.13 at 2:29 am

I’ve been advised by an English philosopher to drop the word ‘wealth’ [for the state of being rich] since we all have some wealth.

I’m not sure I follow this inference. Would the same philosopher advise not using the word ‘fat’ for the state of being overweight since we all have some fat?


Top 1% on the Verbal GRE 02.26.13 at 2:30 am

Wealthy is the word you are looking for, opulent is wealth in display. Superaffluent is too cumbersome.


JRoth 02.26.13 at 2:31 am

I agree with those who say that ‘affluence’ has a connotation closer to mere comfort than the exact opposite of poverty.

Honestly, the issue I think is that American English, at least, doesn’t really admit of the state of being you’re trying to describe except in slangy terms like superrich or ultrawealth. The gatekeepers won’t admit of that sort of thing since, unlike you benighted Old Europeans, we don’t have class divisions.

Seriously, though, you’re in the realm of coinage – pick a term and make the usage stick through the strength of your argument, because the concept is desperately needed. It’s a bit like ‘the 1%’ vs. ‘the 99%’ – those didn’t exist before Occupy, but they will resonate at least as long as the current generation persists.


The Raven 02.26.13 at 2:49 am

The idiomatic usage is probably “wealth;” the usual pair of opposites is wealthy/poor. If you talk about “the wealthy;” native speakers know that is what you mean. “Richness” is acceptable, I think, but less common.

Yes, we all have some wealth, but no, we are not all wealthy.


Donald A. Coffin 02.26.13 at 3:10 am

I think part of the problem is that “poverty” bundles together two conditions at once, low income and no (very few) assets. So one can be non-poor without being wealthy (as, for example) someone earning a comfortable upper-middle class income–say, $80,000 per year–but with little in the way of inherited or accumulated wealth). What we’re looking for here is, I think, a single term that bundles together the two conditions of having a high income *and* having a lot of assets. While generally people with a lot of assets will have a lot of income as well, it’s possible to have quite high incomes *without* a lot of assets. “Wealthy” comes as close as anything, I think. But I’m not sure it carries those the two connotations I think you’re looking for as well as “poverty” does at the other end of the spectrum.


Clay Shirky 02.26.13 at 3:17 am

I’ll add a vote for wealthy, and another vote for avoiding richness. Teh google reports that, of the top 5 non-dictionary entries for richness, the top four are references to biology or culture, while the first to relate to finance is fifth out of five.

I’ll also add that, because we Americans have no class structure, but we do aspire to financial stratification (neat trick, that), ‘affluent’ was snuck into national discourse at the end of last century to apply to the, uh, upper-upper-middle class and those aspiring to join their august-and-not-at-all-class-like company, which makes the term something of a weasel word, even when it seems to have a plain English meaning.


D. Eppstein 02.26.13 at 3:44 am

It’s a bit archaic, but I’m kind of fond of “richesse” as a word. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the meaning you want: it refers to the stuff the possession of which makes you rich, rather than to the quality of being rich. “Wealth” could be either of those two meanings, and “richness” has moved too much towards alternative meanings of color and flavor, but “affluence” is purely the quality of being rich, so that’s the one I’d go with.


Alan 02.26.13 at 3:45 am

Wealthy, wealthier, wealthiest. The positive for the opposite of poverty, the comparative, and the superlative thereof.


harry b 02.26.13 at 4:04 am

Richness seems fine — so does wealth. Engels’ query at #37 seems exactly right. But affluence is good too. But… I admit, I am not very sensitive to the desire to match up with regular english usage.


js. 02.26.13 at 4:11 am

Let me add to the mostly contradictory advice: I would definitely go with “richness”. Two points on this:

1. Whatever the the dictionary may say about “affluence”, the Galbraithian associations of the term (still somewhat unavoidable I think) make it pretty unsuitable for what you seem to want.

2. So yeah, some people are going to think of some stupid fruitcake or something for a passing second on the first mention of “richness”. But so what? The word expresses what you want to express, I think, and an academic audience should get used to it quickly enough.

One more reason: Orwell would surely approve of “richness”. And surely that’s reason enough.

(“Wealthy” is perfectly serviceable as an adjective, but the noun-formation sounds to me misleading in this context.)


blavag 02.26.13 at 4:19 am

Vampirism? Theres a reason its such a popular trope in pop culture.

With reservations see also Peter Gran’s Rise of the Modern Rich



js. 02.26.13 at 4:26 am

On the other hand, and even given that my German is somewhat rusty these days, I’m pretty sure I’d generally go with “wealth” as a translation of Reichtum. (Just checked my Oxford/Duden, and it agrees.)


PJW 02.26.13 at 4:41 am

I like wealthy. And not that anyone has violated it, the conversation brought to mind Bernstein’s Second Law from The Careful Writer: http://books.google.com/books?id=qYd35MUlSm4C&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=bernstein's+second+law&source=bl&ots=rW72yf752q&sig=GsF8H41bX4KBvdBSBtEXofu5zLE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=mjssUZ7SGcXBqAGGg4GIAw&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAQ


P.D. 02.26.13 at 4:42 am

The problem with “wealthy” is that it makes perfect sense to describe someone as “modestly wealthy”; this would, I think, describe someone who is doing OK but is not the opposite of poor. So I vote for “superaffluent”. It means rich, with no room for the merely OK.


Jake 02.26.13 at 5:00 am

“Poor” admits degrees in somewhat the same way as “wealthy” though. House-poor, crushingly poor, although “moderately” poor sounds odd.

“Wealth” sounds increasingly like the word you are looking for. If you say “wealth as opposed to poverty, not wealth as in all of one’s assets” then it’s hard to imagine anyone being confused.


Andthenyoufall 02.26.13 at 5:18 am

Ingrid, can you use the word you are looking for in a sentence, with richness or affluence standing in as a place-holder? I think it could be quite accurate to describe them as patrician (or members of the patriciate), moneyed, privileged (members of the privileged class), owners, etc., but of course the exact felicitous word depends on what you want to say about them. It sounds like maybe the difficulty is that you want a word that can be used to described what they have and what they are in one breath?


Aulus Gellius 02.26.13 at 5:31 am

It sounds like I’m in the minority among native English speakers here (I am one), but for what it’s worth:

1. “Affluence” sounds exactly right to me for what you’re talking about, and it’s what I would use.

2. “Richness” is a little odd, as my first instinct, like other people’s is to think of the food-related meaning; but if you’re going to use it repeatedly, in unambiguous contexts, I think it wouldn’t be too much trouble.

3. “Wealth” is troublesome. The problem isn’t how wealthy you have to be to have it, but what it refers to. Wealth is usually the stuff you have, not the state of having lots of it. I suppose it can be used the other way, but it sounds very odd to me (honestly, I just keep thinking, “oh, you mean affluence”).

4. “Superaffluence” sounds wrong to me; if I read it, I would assume you were specifying some particular (very high) level of affluence, for which you needed to coin or dig up a word. Used to refer to the state of being rich more generally, I think it would lead to confusion.

So, overall, my intuitive vote is for “affluence”; but based on other people’s reactions, I’d probably go for “richness”


OhPlease 02.26.13 at 6:11 am

“High-net-worth individual” and “ultra-high-net-worth individual” are useful phrases to know.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-net-worth_individual


David 02.26.13 at 6:24 am

I’ve been speaking and writing in English for the last 35+ years, have often been praised as a wordsmith of sorts, if being loquacious qualifies one as being a craftsman of language (said with a self-deprecating grin). Here is my opinion, for what it’s worth…

The strength of English is that it flexible and inclusive. Anytime we want to express an idea for which we currently do not have a word, we choose one of a few strategies: co-opt and existing word and used bold typeface to show ours is the only possible way to use or understand the term (shouting is also used for dramatic effect). For technical applications, we may construct a new word from old parts (nee etymology), stitched together with nuance and reason.

Failing either of these strategies, we have often resorted to borrowing words from other languages, thereby introducing a novel cultural construct into the English lexicon from a source where the concept is more familiar and vocabulary has already been defined. This has brought us Gurus, Ninjas, Czar (Latin Caesar morphed into Slavic Czar or Tsar), and many other wonderful verbs and nouns such as vis-a-vís and coup d’état.

So in summary, while I tend to agree with several others that “affluent” has sufficient nuance and cultural heritage, if you are looking to express a concept that another language has provided a more musical or aesthetic term for, I vote that you use that word. This also has the additional benefit of being a foreign word to English tongues, giving you the opportunity to explain the concept to your satisfaction for your readers or audience; a _tabula rasa_, if you will.


t e whalen 02.26.13 at 6:29 am

I liked “plenitude”, but I’m thinking now that maybe what you’re trying to capture is not necessarily “having a lot of stuff” but instead the “power to have a lot of stuff”. One could be rich and yet live simply. To be rich is to have “purchasing power”, not to have “purchases”.

So I’m back with wealth. That “everyone has a little wealth” is true, but I don’t think it’s a real objection. After all, “everyone has some unfulfilled needs and desires” but that doesn’t mean we who don’t know who is poor.


Meredith 02.26.13 at 6:43 am

Richness is about food. Agreed. (I hear the word and think a chocolate cake or a cream and mushroom sauce.)

Affluence not only includes but refers chiefly to the upper middle class. (The truly rich are far more than “affluent.” The merely affluent have to ask how much the yacht costs.)

Anyway, wealth-words and the way different people here may use them aside, I find the unexamined term here to be “poverty.” This comes up in my teaching all the time. Latin “pauperitas” (or poetic “pauperies”) is not “poverty” as most of us probably use the word, but something more like “living paycheck to paycheck and worried about slipping into poverty, real destitution.” Despite the English derivative “pauper.”

The point I am raising: words (in use and usage) assume meaning in their relation to one another. Without examining “poverty,” you can’t productively choose among (or create a neologism for) the various words associated with wealth of some kind or degree.


Nils 02.26.13 at 6:56 am

I say go with “richness.” It is a real world, albeit not usually used in the sense you propose. But that anomaly is what will make it a useful piece of jargon for you: a familiar, easy to pronounce term tat you can directly fill with precisely the meaning you wish.

Plus, politically, Americans need to get way more used to using the word “rich” to describe people with a lot of money. It would be healthily anti-euphemistic.


x.trapnel 02.26.13 at 7:07 am

I also like plenitude.


mclaren 02.26.13 at 7:38 am

`Affluent’ and `plenitude’ are terrible because in America and much of Europe, affluent merely means upper-middle class. `Plenitude’ is worse because it denotes having enough of the basics, and everyone who has a job has that. If you work part-time at Burger King and living in a two-bedroom apartment with 3 other people, you still have a plenitude of food and water and access to media, internet, etc., etc.

`Wealth’ has been so abused by the propagandists for the top 1% that it’s now typically used to denote a family’s biggest assets, as in “A house represents most of the average person’s wealth.” But that isn’t really wealth. Still, it’s been so abused and the meaning so twisted, we’re now stuck with it.


marek 02.26.13 at 7:40 am

As a late additional candidate, how about ‘riches’?

‘She went from rags to riches’ is structurally similar to ‘He fell into poverty’, albeit more colourful. You can create usages which don’t jar too much, such as areas of poverty/gated communities of riches. It is slightly archaic, but it’s pretty clear that there is no perfect answer, and it does clearly contain ‘rich’ without the distracting connotations of ‘richness’.


ennui 02.26.13 at 8:01 am

For progress, I offer a new word:


It has the bite of the suffix -ic with the French connotations of richly boredom.


bad Jim 02.26.13 at 8:07 am

Why does it have to be one word? “Being rich” seems reasonably descriptive.

It may be that the problem is that the condition is not well defined. It’s possible to have considerable income but modest assets or vice versa, and while either condition is preferable to having neither, both are somewhat insecure.

If it’s simply a matter of being on the higher side of the wealth or income distribution, “affluence” is adequate. If it’s a matter of denoting a condition of being beyond material concern, then even “yacht ownership” doesn’t capture it, because that turns out to be a matter of intense competition.

It actually helps to put numbers to it. There’s a difference between having a million-dollar house or a million in stocks and bonds, or between one and ten million, or between a million and a billion. It’s a matter of whether an unexpected expense is likely to be considered a threat, an unconscionable waste, an irritation, a detail, or unnoticeable, or whether a charitable donation is a sacrifice, heartfelt generosity, an advantageous deduction, or something the size of a small nation’s budget.


Phil 02.26.13 at 8:13 am

‘Wealth’ isn’t right – I agree with the philosopher – because it quantifies degrees of asset-ownership: you can have high wealth, low wealth or no wealth at all. (There’s also the etymological connection with ‘well’, with the subterranean implication that wealth measures how much you’ve got of what’s good for you. Ruskin made a point of this and argued that money beyond a certain point should be referred to as ‘illth’.)
‘Affluence’ describes a point on the scale, but not the point you want – as people have said, lots of people are affluent here and now while also being a couple of months’ salary away from poverty.
Unfortunately I think the idiomatic phrases – ‘rolling in money’, ‘on Easy Street’ and especially ‘filthy rich’ – capture it best. That doesn’t mean that ‘ease’ or ‘easiness’ would work (or ‘filth’/’filthiness’!).

‘Richness’ has a lot in its favour; it’s unambiguous and it’s slightly jarring, which draws attention to the fact that we don’t have a simple antonym for ‘poverty’. The problem with that is that it is (or could be seen as) a direct and unidiomatic translation from your native language, which could be a distraction or an excuse for the unfriendly (“ah, by richness, mevrouw Robeyns, I do believe you mean wealth, but never mind, never mind…”). If you went that way you would need to make it very, very clear that you know it’s not idiomatic in English and you’re using it consciously.

Or ‘riches’, per marek. Actually I think that is the antonym of ‘poverty’. It’s mostly used figuratively – if you said that somebody was living in riches you’d immediately visualise them surrounded by lots of stuff, or literally rolling in money – but that’s a minor problem. And as marek says, it’s got ‘rich’ in. I’m almost convinced that’s the one to go for.


DN 02.26.13 at 9:02 am

Wealthy is best. I’m affluent. Not wealthy. As folks describe above, most native English speakers immediately get the difference.


Mao Cheng Ji 02.26.13 at 9:07 am



bad Jim 02.26.13 at 9:33 am



Ingrid Robeyns 02.26.13 at 9:50 am

Waaw, this is a most wonderful set of reflections. Thanks, All!
Only too bad that you, Real Native Speakers, do not agree on what is the best word… :-)
I am undecided which one too pick yet. I will definitely try to use ‘the rich’ more often than the noun, but given that the paper is on the conceptualisation of that state of being rich, I have to give it a word (if the paper where a description of the life of the rich, or the argument for a normative claim of something related to the rich, I could probably avoid using the looked-for-word completely, but I don’t think I can given what I’m trying to do).


Tim Worstall 02.26.13 at 10:02 am

My assumption is that the group you’re trying to describe are those for whom their stock of wealth means they are insulated from really ever having to worry about either income or wealth. Anything short of St. Petersburg in 1917 isn’t really going to change their lifestyle in any significant manner.

At which point I would say the important word is “comfortably”. Comfortably affluent, comfortably wealthy, comfortably rich.

May not be much of a solution for you but most English English speakers would put someone described as “comfortably wealthy” into that group that I think you’re trying to identify.


Axel 02.26.13 at 10:03 am

I second “prosperity”.

Wikipedia says “Prosperity is the state of flourishing, thriving, good fortune and / or successful social status. Prosperity often encompasses wealth but also includes others factors which are independent of wealth to varying degrees, such as happiness and health.”

I’m baffled that it didn’t come up until the 66th comment.


marek 02.26.13 at 10:22 am

I am not sure that ‘comfortably’ is doing quite the work Tim @69 wants it to. Its effect can be isolated in the perfectly good English English phrase ‘comfortably off’. That has a meaning much closer to ‘affluent’ in the way a number of commenters have been using it – enough not to have to worry on a day to day basis and to have a reasonable cushion against external shocks, but nowhere near enough not to have to think about spending decisions or for arbitrary luxury. I don’t have a strong native speaker intuition about how ‘comfortably’ works as a modifier, but in all of Tim’s example phrases something such as ‘rather’ would carry the equivalent meaning.


mollymooly 02.26.13 at 10:45 am

I feel strongly that “wealthiness” is better than “wealth” for your purpose.

“Richness” is usually applied to “rich” in senses other than “wealthy”, so your NNS instinct that it is not a word was not unfounded.

“Affluence” for me recalls Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, which is probably not the connotation you want.

While HNWI is an odious euphemism, coining an abstract noun HNWIness would be amusing, though hard to pronounce.


Rob 02.26.13 at 11:34 am

“Poverty” is not even quite the same thing as “being poor”; one can be poor temporarily without suffering any ill effects (even students from relatively affluent backgrounds are “poor” for the time they’re students, but they’re never in poverty). “No, I’m quite poor at the moment” would be a reasonable and unremarkable answer to the question “Want to go to the cinema on Thursday?” in a way that “No, I’m in poverty at the moment” wouldn’t be. Being in poverty isn’t just bad, it’s actively harmful and undermines one’s chances of escaping poverty.

On that basis, I’d vote against “affluent” as an antonym for “poverty”. I’d say that “affluent” would apply quite neatly to people who have a household income over $125,000, and maybe net wealth of $200,000+ (largely in the form of housing). But take away the income and those people stop being affluent very quickly. Affluence is, quite literally, about flows, not stocks – in fact, “affluent” is almost precisely the right word for someone who has temporary wealth. It could, therefore, be a good word when referring to people who have benefited from a sudden change in circumstances – Silicon Valley investors in 1999, say, or London bankers in 2006.

To me, “wealthy” is the right word for people who have a reliably large stock of assets and a stable income. It implies having enough wealth that a temporary loss of one’s income doesn’t matter much, an ability to take minor misfortune’s in one’s stride without difficulty. Of course, wealthy people can still have problems and can still lose out, but their biggest worries are about maintaining their wealth, not their income. To me, “the wealthy” are exactly the same people as “the rich”, but “wealthiness” is unambiguous, if clunky, whereas “richness” isn’t. In fact, you can probably avoid ever having to use “wealthiness” and just use “wealth” instead (“His wealth guaranteed him certain advantages in life..”, “Their wealth sets them apart from those members of society who suffer from the effects of contractionary monetary policy…” and so on).

The fact that affluence refers to “flow” also tends to lead one naturally to thinking of “out” flow as well as “in” flow – that being affluent is partly about spending the money as well as receiving it. I appreciate that the dictionary doesn’t say this precisely, but “superaffluence” feels to me like a near-synonym for “opulence”; if the affluent go to the opera, eat organic grass-fed beef and have paid childcare, the superaffluent have their own reserved seat at an internationally-famous opera, eat organic grass-fed buffalo that they shot themselves on a private safari, and have a full staff on hand to care for themselves as well as their children, and their child’s nanny has a PhD and speaks six languages. The term captures a difference in lifestyle, not the overall size of assets or income. To put it another way, Warren Buffett is wealthier than Larry Ellison, but Larry Ellison is more affluent.

I appreciate these are fine distinctions between categories of people who, whichever way you look at it, are definitely all very much more different from us than they are from each other. But, ultimately, I think it makes more sense to talk about the wealth of the wealthy than the superaffluence of the superaffluent.


Matt A. 02.26.13 at 11:40 am

If your are not opposed to using two words in tandem,, the introductory sociology text “Seeing Sociology” defines the term EXTREME WEALTH as Being the opposite of absolute and relative poverty. It describes a state in which only a small fraction of the amount of wealth an individual has would be enough to provide basic goods (food, water, shelter, clothing) for a billion impoverished individuals. This sounds like what you are looking for.


Jon Martin 02.26.13 at 11:59 am

“Superaffluence” is clearly the best option here. “Affluence”, to a native-speaker, does not imply the required level of wealth. “Richness” would be technically fine but not intuitive because it is more commonly used to refer to baked goods, and in any case it sounds clumsy and little bit hacked together.

For me it’s a no-brainer if what you want is to be immediately understood without ambiguity – though of course I am just one data point.


ajay 02.26.13 at 12:23 pm

Rob makes a good point: “affluent” should mean “high income” and “wealthy” should mean “high net worth”. “Rich” is, I think, a blanket term for either – and of course there’s a good deal of overlap between the two.

“Prosperous” means something quite different – just “not having serious money worries”. You could talk about a prosperous shopkeeper, but he wouldn’t be rich. Or wealthy. Or even affluent. It just means he’s reasonably successful.

Would the same philosopher advise not using the word ‘fat’ for the state of being overweight since we all have some fat?

There is a distinction between being fat and being overweight, though – a very muscular person could be overweight and have very little fat. And yet he’d still have some of the same health problems (knee damage, plantar fasciitis) that a very fat person would have. Likewise, it’s a common mistake to assume that we are obsessed with the weight of {actors, models, whatever} – we’re obsessed with their fatness. We just refer to it (erroneously) as “weight”.


ajay 02.26.13 at 12:24 pm

It describes a state in which only a small fraction of the amount of wealth an individual has would be enough to provide basic goods (food, water, shelter, clothing) for a billion impoverished individuals.

That sounds like a pretty useless definition because it’s only going to apply to about 8 or 9 people.


Mao Cheng Ji 02.26.13 at 12:58 pm

““Prosperous” means something quite different – just “not having serious money worries”. ”

Right, shopkeeper can be prosperous, but also ‘prosperity’, I think, might be a good word to describe “the state in which people who are rich find themselves”.


Tim Wilkinson 02.26.13 at 1:02 pm

re: ‘plenitude’ – I’d prefer just plain ‘plenty’ – which goes nicely with ‘poverty’ – or even ‘abundance’. But these all have a rather agricultural feel to them (though I understand the earliest known roots for ‘poverty’/’poor’/’pauvre’/’pauper’ are also to do with infertile land, this is well-buried by now).

t e whalen’s point at 56 is important here: I liked “plenitude”, but I’m thinking now that maybe what you’re trying to capture is not necessarily “having a lot of stuff” but instead the “power to have a lot of stuff”. One could be rich and yet live simply. To be rich is to have “purchasing power”, not to have “purchases”. This kind of distinction doesn’t really apply so obviously to the very poor are concerned: in general, their hunger is down to lack both of a fishing rod and of regular donations of fish.

‘Abundance’, ‘plenitude’, ‘plenty’ also, connectedly, share the problem with ‘wealth’ and ‘riches’: that they don’t focus on the state of the person having it. MCJ’s ‘prosperity’ avoids this but does have the first drawback mentioned – understating the social context and evoking instead nature’s bounty. ‘Wealthiness’ and ‘affluence’ also avoid this but I agree the former is a tiny bit clunky and both are rather devalued, even euphemistic; in any case certainly not strong enough.

‘Pecuniosity’ or ‘pecuniousness’ may be too specifically concerned with money as the basis of the social aspects of being rich, and are also a bit cumbersome, as is ‘enrichedness’, which shares with ‘enrichment’ perhaps a bit too much of the passive verb as opposed to the steady state. ‘Privilege’ goes too far in being unspecific.

It might be useful to have a little more info about the direction the paper takes after introducing the term, but then perhaps reading ahead too much might look a bit like cheating, since I assume the idea is to try and start off with a term/concept that’s widely used and (thought to be) intuitive, reasonably basic, possibly even ‘natural’, and only then to get into analysis and possibly deconstruction, debunking etc.

Of those I’ve mentioned, ‘prosperity’ might be not-too-far-off, and ‘Poverty and Prosperity’ of course has a ring to it, but any choice will need to be glossed. I’d probably be inclined to go with ‘richness’, since the idea is to discuss the condition of being rich without euphemism, but to make a point of explaining why.


ajay 02.26.13 at 1:38 pm

‘prosperity’, I think, might be a good word to describe “the state in which people who are rich find themselves”.

I don’t know – the thing is that “prosperity” sounds, well, morally less problematic than “rich”, and also as though it has less to do with having more bags of gold than other people, and more to do with being part of a well-functioning society. A bandit chief in a civil war could become rich, but I don’t think you’d describe him as prospering – except ironically. Everyone in a society can expect to be prosperous, but everyone can’t be rich.
It’s “peace and prosperity”, after all – and, of course, the origin of the word suggests that it’s to do with expecting good things to keep coming, rather than necessarily having them right now.


politicalfootball 02.26.13 at 1:38 pm

“parasitically engorged on the blood and toil of honest workers”.

FATWA: First Against The Wall Affluent


engels 02.26.13 at 1:45 pm

‘Wealth’ isn’t right – I agree with the philosopher – because it quantifies degrees of asset-ownership: you can have high wealth, low wealth or no wealth at all.

Many nouns can be qualified in this way but that doesn’t affect their unqualified meaning. Consider ‘anxiety’- you can have (be in a state of) high anxiety, or low anxiety, or no anxiety at all, but that doesn’t affect the fact that a state of anxiety is the opposite of a state of calm.

If you [used ‘richness’] you would need to make it very, very clear that you know it’s not idiomatic in English and you’re using it consciously.



engels 02.26.13 at 1:47 pm

I like ‘rolling in it’, ‘minted’ and ‘stinking’ best but I don’t think they have abstract noun cognates.


ingrid robeyns 02.26.13 at 1:52 pm

Those of you who favour ‘richness’ may find support in two essays just published in the Boston Review, cfr.

I just saw this and I’ve gotta run to a seminar but this may be a good test-case to see how terms such as ‘richness’ and ‘wealth’ are used today.


EB 02.26.13 at 2:06 pm

You can use “Wealthy,” “Affluent,” or “Rich” as long as you specify the income/asset level that you mean. In numbers or quintiles/deciles/etc. Otherwise, none of these words will mean the same to any two people.


Matt Regan 02.26.13 at 2:16 pm

I’m w/Marek and Phil. I really like “riches”. One understands immediately what it is to live “in” either poverty or riches. It converts nicely into its individual constituent “poor” or “rich”. Like “poverty” , it maintains a vaguely perjoritive connotation. Plus, its antonym: “the poors” already has humorous internet currency.


turbo 02.26.13 at 2:25 pm

Nearly a hundred posts and nobody has brought up Chris Rock? Rich versus wealthy?


The gist: he bemoans the fact that black people seem able to become rich, but not wealthy.

With Rock’s analysis in mind, I’d have to advocate for ‘wealth’. Perhaps the trouble with it being its attendant prepostion or lack thereof. One is in poverty, but one has wealth.

Is it possible for one to be in pelf? That might work. Pelf’s a rare word, but has the good fortune of bad connotations.


pjm 02.26.13 at 2:52 pm

I echo the distrust of the philosopher who eschewed wealth, wealthy, wealthiness. In fact, “wealth” gets more at the heart of the issue. Wealth (i.e., ownership of assets) is even more maldistributed than income. Having a large income implies one is building up wealth given it requires discipline to consume ones’ way through an income at the top of the pyramid and in fact the highest earners are often compensated in assets along with cash. Last and perhaps most germane point, one of the essential qualities of being rich is the ability to eschew income and choose leisure (i.e., live off ones assets).

On the downside, given the lack of a precise term, those who use “wealth” to denote the opposite end of the social spectrum from the impecunious often feel the need to say “great wealth” for clarity’s sake.

I admit I like the word affluence, even if too mild, but it pairs nicely with “effluence”.


Peter Gran 02.26.13 at 2:53 pm

My use of the term rich in the book the Rise of the Rich mentioned above was intended to be an alternative to the idea of the rise of the West and to mean people of influence and I specified that that too was a broad term, one not overlapping simply with money very well but with different kinds of power of the sort which would put them on the side of law and order and the growth of the market but not excluding the kinds of facilitators and middle men who were from another points of view perhaps even outcasts or criminal adventurers. More than a ruling class, I thought, its power in large measure a result of its collaboration. This is what confronts the modern mass populations. Peter Gran


Jim Buck 02.26.13 at 2:56 pm



Trader Joe 02.26.13 at 2:59 pm

Regardless of the term used I’m curious to see the paper itself and the conclusions it reaches about the condition of “richness,” “affluence” or “wealth.”

In my experience those that have such “richness” are as varied in how they flaunt it (or don’t) as those with far less. That said, I’m sure there is commonality in thought, mindset and subtle action which goes beyond the public perceptions and assumptions about wealth.

We’ve all seen a large brand new Mercedes roll by and thought – there goes a “rich” person. Our minds don’t leap to the same conclusion when a 7-year old Buick rolls by, even if they both come out of the same neighborhood and might both be owned by “rich” people.


“Come on baby, eat the rich” (Mötörhead) 02.26.13 at 3:15 pm

If your aim is to characterize “the state in which people who are rich find themselves”, I would use affluence, which designates a state of plenty, or as the French say by antiphrase, being “hors du besoin” — out of need.

If affluence really poses the problem you suggest, richness is perfectly fine, and wealth will certainly do too. You have a wealth of options here :) Oh, and I suggest taking a look at The Great Gatsby, it might have great suggestions, as it often does.


mpowell 02.26.13 at 4:10 pm

It depends on what kind of wealth level you are talking about. But I strongly encourage the use of the word ‘superaffluence’ if you are referring to the top 1% or higher. Here is why: many of these words people have attached strong secondary meanings to, and they are all different. Rich, wealthy, affluent all have these problems. You want a word that you can use to talk about a concept that you are also willing to define pretty carefully and you just want to avoid irritating people who don’t like the word you choose. And the problem is that if you pick a word like wealthy, one person may think it’s the right word, others will think it is the exact wrong word. But nobody uses the word ‘superaffluence’, yet everyone can imagine it meaning exactly what you want it to! This makes it the perfect english word to me. Just be certain to define it carefully the first time you use it.


Shelley 02.26.13 at 4:28 pm

If it’s rich people you’re talking about, I suggest that instead of a word, you use an icon.

The obvious one: Richie Rich.


pedant 02.26.13 at 4:50 pm

One way to mark that you are introducing a technical term would be to use “richesse”.

It’s not hard for English-speakers to pronounce, or to understand; it sounds a lot like “rich” and “richness”, but it avoids any confusions involving “richness” (e.g. food lingo).


Tim Wilkinson 02.26.13 at 5:13 pm

btw I think this has been mentioned, but just to be clear: ‘opulence’ is not used to refer to people but only to objects (and perhaps by extension, ‘lifestyles’) – a bit like ‘luxurious’.


Frank in midtown 02.26.13 at 5:28 pm

Plane rich. That’s the dividing line between the wannabe’s and the have’s.


dollared 02.26.13 at 6:08 pm

“Carelessness.” Literally, and as F.Scott Fitzgerald put it. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made….”


GiT 02.26.13 at 6:41 pm



JJ 02.26.13 at 6:53 pm

Most of the terms discussed are unavoidably freighted with emotional connotations, which is why advertisers love the to employ the word “rich”. On the affluence-indigence spectrum, we pity the poor and envy the rich. I heartily agree with Sancho’s suggestion @32. Instead of moving the Overton window, or trying to expand or contract it, just get rid of it and consider the spectrum itself: the affluent are over-privileged and the indigent are under-privileged.


tim 02.26.13 at 7:38 pm

Um… For what it is worth, it is “affluence” you want exactly. Anyone who describes someone a couple paychecks away from not being rich that way is misusing the word “affluence”. It so exactly is the word you want that I am just baffled by the conversation.


casino implosion 02.26.13 at 8:47 pm

“Superaffluence” is a terrible, clunky, jargon-y word.


SJ 02.26.13 at 8:53 pm

“Yachted” – absolutely perfect!

Webster’s suggests that the antonyms of poverty are: affluence, opulence, richness, wealth, wealthiness… so richness probably covers it.


Matt Hellige 02.26.13 at 9:14 pm

+1 for “wealthiness.” I think it’s the word you want. It’s unwieldy, but not terribly so.


GiT 02.26.13 at 9:32 pm

I’m with Tim @ 101 on affluence, but apparently we’re atypical.


Medrawt 02.26.13 at 9:56 pm

Incidentally, the fact that this conversation was deemed necessary – and that it has produced such diverse results – might itself be worth passing mention in a discussion of this same phenomenon? Of course, it might not so much be a phenomenon of the top 0.5% as it is of the top 3-5% … the insistence people making increasingly close to one million dollars per year have on demurely calling themselves “upper middle class,” the (ahem) rich vocabulary we have that nonetheless defies clear and specific usages … but I don’t know how much these are specifically American phenomena, rooted in our revulsion at speaking plainly of class and the bountless optimism which keeps us all thinking we’ll be millionaires within the next decade.


Philip 02.26.13 at 10:15 pm

Affluence sounds like the right word to me but I think richness or wealthiness would be okay as long as you explain how you intend to use them. The only bit I’m not sure about is how far above the mean do you draw the line on the material-possessions-distribution for someone to be rich. If you are looking at the 1% then affluence wouldn’t do but for the wealthiest 30% it probably would.


Phil 02.26.13 at 10:38 pm

Anyone who describes someone a couple paychecks away from not being rich that way is misusing the word “affluence”.

Perhaps it’s because I studied Latin at school, but “affluent” to me simply means “high income”. Admittedly, having a high income used to be more or less synonymous with having a secure high income – making the distinction between high income and high wealth somewhat academic – but those days are gone.


PJW 02.26.13 at 10:47 pm

“The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” (Mark Twain)


Roland 02.26.13 at 11:15 pm

I did not read through all the comments, but a few thoughts. I like “superaffluence.” Poverty we think of as not having enough to provide for the basics at some variable, but low, threshhold level. If you’re over that threshhold, you are not “in poverty.” From there it’s a long way up before we are “rich.” [Although by third world $1/day standards everyone living “in poverty” in the NA/Europe is “rich”?] So where we draw the line of “rich” is relative to a given community or society or country. Taking the U.S. or the U.K. as an example, we don’t think of anyone in the 2-4th quintiles as “rich.” We definitely think of the second percentile as affluent, and only some small percentage as superaffluent. In my lexicon, I think anyone who has enough to provide for a very comfortable life, does not have to worry about money, and has security to remain in that position over time, is affluent. Superaffluent I would consider someone who has so much money that they can’t spend it all, given some prudence, with a very lavish lifestyle. But it seems, to me, that the concept of “superaffluence” is much more relative to individual outlook, and a much looser concept than “poverty.”


Anand Manikutty - also Top 1 % on Verbal GRE 02.27.13 at 12:01 am


Native English speakers don’t really count for me when it comes to a question like this. One can have very good command of the English language even if
he (haha!) is not your native language. So a person with a good command of English is
who you are looking for. You have three potential approaches to solve this problem.

(1) The redefinition approach: If your requirement is that it should be a regular English word, then I believe that ‘affluence’ and ‘superaffluence’ are both fine – provided you co-opt the regular definition and define it in your paper in the sense that you want that word to refer to.

(2) The “coining a new word” approach: If you are looking for a new word to coin, ‘Richesse’ sounds cool. “Richitude” sounds very good to my ears too. It is even a portmanteau (“Rich” + “attitude”) and rhymes with “plenitude”. If you want go further down the Indo-European language tree, you might find Hindi and may want to consider the word ‘Amiri’ which, in Hindi, refers to the state of being rich. It sounds like a nice word for the English language to me.

(3) The constructed language approach : A somewhat different way to resolve the problem is to coin a new phrase. I w
ould suggest something like “(HI|W )” (pronounced perhaps like the name Hugh) which stands for “High Income or Wealthy” and “(HI&W)” (pronounced may be like “heaw”), but at this point, we are getting quite deep into ConLang territory.


Soru 02.27.13 at 12:14 am

Money is a symptom of poverty.. So the opposite of poverty is _free_. Alternatives are at liberty, or unconstrained.


Katherine 02.27.13 at 12:20 am

I’ll vote for super affluence. It is clearly referring to the filthy rich. All the other words, as illustrated above, have meanings with enough variation that confusion on misunderstanding could easily arise.


Anand Manikutty 02.27.13 at 12:34 am


You have, I think, three potential approaches to solve this problem – and this is all right off the top of my head:

(1) The redefinitional approach: If your requirement is that the word be a regular English word, then I believe that ‘affluence’ and ‘superaffluence’ are both okay – provided you co-opt the regular definition of these words and define it/them in your paper to have the meaning/sense that you want these words to have.

(2) The “coining a new word” approach: If you are looking for a new word to coin, ‘Richesse’ sounds cool. “Richitude” sounds very good to my English-hearing ears. It is even a portmanteau (“Rich” + “attitude”) and rhymes with “plenitude” as well. If you want go further down the Indo-European language tree, you might find Hindi and may want to consider the word ‘Amiri’ which, in Hindi, refers to the state of being rich. It sounds like a nice word for the English language to me.

(3) The constructed language approach : A different way to answer the question is to construct a new ConLang word or phrase. I would suggest something like “(HI|W )” (pronounced perhaps like the name Hugh) which stands for “High Income or Wealthy” and “(HI&W)” (pronounced may be like “hiaw”?) which stands for “High Income and Wealthy”, but at this point, we are getting quite deep into ConLang territory. You could also define words like “(HI&HC)” (Individual with “High Income and High Consumption”) and “(HI|HC)” (Individual with “High Income or High Consumption”).

And finally a short comment on being a Native English speaker. Native English speakers don’t really count for me when it comes to a question like this one. You can have very good command of the English language even if he (haha!) is not your native language. So a person with good command of English is really who you are looking for. Not to toot my own horn but I was in the top 1% in GRE Verbal but can’t catch a break with many English speakers because people often assume that native English speakers have this magical wand of correctness that they are able to call into action whenever they decide to vocalize. Being a native speaker of language X means very little. There is such a thing as a “ear” for language but that too has only a correlative association with being a native English speaker. Native English speakers, no offense to you, folks, but it is increasingly becoming less important to be a native English speakers in this age of globalization than it is to have a neutral accent that can be understood by people from other parts of the world.


engels 02.27.13 at 12:46 am



blavag 02.27.13 at 1:37 am

I agree with Sharkey at 42-“affluence” in the US. But dollard at 98 is on the right track. How about “privileged”?


Main Street Muse 02.27.13 at 1:43 am

I believe in America today, we refer to this demographic as “the one percent.”

Like someone noted above, “richness” seems more suited to a chocolate cake or a painting. “There’s a richness to the palette…” “There’s a richness to the flavor…”

Don’t know who the English philosopher was, but the idea that you need to drop the word “wealth” because we all have some “wealth” even if we own just a two-pound coin seems an odd idea. But philosophers tend to like to quibble over such things.

Americans have long been fascinated with the extremely wealthy. From “The Rich Boy,” a Fitzgerald short story (circa 1926): “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”

Hemingway’s response – years later, in The Snows of Kilimanjaro “The rich were dull and they drank too much or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald [Julian, in today’s editions] and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The rich are different from you and me.’ And how someone had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”

In terms of language, one can live in poverty; one can live in affluence and wealth. One IS poor; another IS wealthy… Perhaps there is no easy answer to your question?


Martin Langeland 02.27.13 at 1:45 am

Aggressive Opulence.

Give credit to Richard Linzer.


EricD 02.27.13 at 1:49 am

“Richness” has unwanted connotations, as in the richness of food, of experience, etc.
“Wealthiness” has a sharper meaning and seems to work in useful sentences (a crucial test):

“A life of wealthiness….”
“Their shared experience of wealthiness….”
“Wealthiness fosters attitudes….”



joel hanes 02.27.13 at 3:16 am

Loth as I am to be the first vulgarian …
still I must point out that English already has a perfectly-descriptive epithet for members of the 0.1%.

Such people have “fuck-you money”.
n. : An amount of wealth that enables an individual to reject traditional social behavior and niceties of conduct without fear of consequences.


MattF 02.27.13 at 6:49 am

You could use an acronym, e.g., RAS for ‘Rich As Shit’. It’s halfway to inventing a new word.


Andy 02.27.13 at 10:53 am

I think affluence works. Just tested that word with a “first thing you think about” and my mind’s eye brought up a nice car pulling into a country club. Also, I am very comfortable financially and would never refer to myself as affluent.


Robert 02.27.13 at 12:36 pm

I would vote for retaining the Dutch/Flemish or German words with an attempt at an English explanation.

Even if the explanation would fail to fully encapsulate the meaning in the other language it perhaps more importantly succeeds in highlighting the interesting gap within the English language with regards conceptions of wealth and consequently poverty.

It raises a very interesting opportunity.


LenaF. 02.27.13 at 3:20 pm

Didn’t read all the posts but ‘Reichtum’ is commonly translated with wealth as in Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations (Der Reichtum der Nationen); also in the translation of Marx’ Capital…


david 02.27.13 at 3:52 pm

If it’s the state of being rich you want, superaffluence is your word. Wealth is the rich part, but not the state of being it. Richness is a better word, but as in 78 above it won’t be immediately understood to make your point.

Or you could try plutocratitude.


JG 02.27.13 at 10:24 pm

One meaning of ‘wealth’ captures exactly what you describe and should be intelligible. (Consider for example “wealth is power.”)

Constructions like ‘super-affluent’ or ‘capitalized’ seem workable, but awkward. Probably acceptable for academic prose, but it would be necessary to define such terminology for the audience.


John Quiggin 02.27.13 at 11:54 pm

Using “plenitude” would be very confusing as Juliet Schor has a book out with this title, using it to mean, roughly, “being satisfied with what you have”

I’d favor a combination of “affluent” if you want to refer to the top quintile or decile and super-affluent if you want to refer to the top 1 per cent. But, given the political tangles surrounding words like “rich”, “wealthy” and “affluent”, it’s necessary to say up front how you are using these words.


Anand Manikutty 02.28.13 at 1:55 am

Rather than posing this question to native speakers of English, it would be more appropriate to pose it to bilinguals. People with knowledge of at least one additional language may be able to describe certain linguistic phenomena, such as that of encountering a word from a different language within an English sentence.

Being bilingual, I personally would vote for a word in a different languagee. The German and the Dutch words sound quite good as choices. Encountering a word from a different language would immediately clue in the reader that a specific term is being introduced. Ever since the 60’s (Cf. George Orwell’s “Politics and the English language”), there has been a marked attitude preference for true blue Anglo-Saxon words in English. This attitude needs to change. And we must send forth the best words we breed and take up this task, the bilingual man and woman’s burden.


JB 02.28.13 at 2:41 am

I like gentry, and sometimes patron and patrician. also ‘landed’, like land ownership and ‘landed gentry’


JB 02.28.13 at 2:46 am

also Burgher and Boyar.


merian 02.28.13 at 3:56 pm

What’s it with the GRE score bragging? As a non-native speaker who got full marks in the verbal section I much resent the idea that this lends me any special authority on the question, or comes even close to the insight that an interest in linguistics provides. Anyhoo. Ingrid, yeah, it’s always surprising to me to find, again and again, that even for relatively basic terms and closely related languages used for a largely shared area of discourse (economics of Western societies, as it would appear in an opinion piece, even), vocabulary doesn’t fully overlap.

In English, wealth does admit the sense you’re looking for. The most readily accessible dictionary I have lists “the state of being rich; material prosperity”, but at the level of terminological precision you’re operating at as an academic, you may even see a nuance between the two: The first part of this one definition refers to what I (German native speaker) would recognise as Reichtum in your sense (the being-in-a-state, with the connotations of how the subject in this state feels about it) while the second leans toward the state itself. Nonetheless, it would do, and I’m sure you’re finding examples for it. But the main reason wealth might not get across your sense so easily is the overtones of the other senses, such as (citing the s ame dictionary) “plentiful supplies of a particular resource […] of a desirable thing” (such as “a region’s mineral wealth”). Also, I imagine “prosperity” like “affluence” isn’t quite rich enough for your purposes.

To a adequately capture the polar opposite of poverty as a state people are in, in English, I’d probably apply the following strategies: a) use the adjective rich instead of the missing *richness when possible; b) find a good circumlocution (“living in a state of material abundance”, “extreme levels of affluence” … many good suggestions above). You’ll have to define anyhow how you delimit it from being merely affluent or prosperous.


Anand Manikutty 02.28.13 at 8:24 pm

All-pimped-out, Wealth-fulfilled, High-Income-capable – more potential choices.

> What’s it with the GRE score bragging? As a non-native speaker who got full marks
> in the verbal section I much resent the idea that this lends me any special authority
> on the question, or comes even close to the insight that an interest in
> linguistics provides.
A good GRE score does not directly provide evidence of ability with language but is obviously indirect evidence. You are mistaken if you are claiming that an understanding linguistics is somehow better as opposed to mere knowledge of English. People who know English are qualified to comment on this question. As for me, I was merely pointing out that being a native speaker of language X is something not something an individual can change and so privileging certain people who happen to have language X as their native language on even a question related to language X is not actually okay (more comments at the link above, time permitting).


ezra abrams 02.28.13 at 8:28 pm

but what does poverty mean ?
In contemporary American English, it has connotations of , among others, lack of education, out of wedlock children, being a minority,…..all of which relates to lack of choices, lack of power, lack of ability to do things..

I think affluent captures much of this:
poverty is going hungry when your boss fires you; affluence is taking a vacation
poverty is choosing between fixing the car and electric bills; affluence is buying a new car


Hanseatic 02.28.13 at 10:16 pm



Happy Heyoka 03.01.13 at 2:29 am

A word that I haven’t seen so far is “loaded”.
I love “unconstrained” – makes a nice polite version of “fuck-you money” but it really depends on who you are trying to describe.

For example, there is a difference between:
“let’s go to Paris for the weekend”
“have someone buy that nice restaurant in Paris and send all the staff to our house in the Bahamas for the weekend party”

All of us know someone or have personally spent time in the first category; I have met maybe one person in my life in the second.


mclaren 03.01.13 at 4:38 am

`Richness’ in British and American English most often get applied to food, or on occasion interior decor. “The richness of the [fill in blank]” typically doesn’t get used for a monetary condition; at first glance I would insert “dessert” or “entree” or possibly “furnishings” if I didn’t know the mystery word inside the brackets.

`Opulence’ typically refers to the visible effect of one’s surroundings, which is all wrong for what you want to say. You want to refer to the actual substantive wealth of the person, rather than the flashiness of their dress or decor or accoutrements. For instance, a con artist usually affects an appearance of great opulence, dressing lavishly and renting expensive cars and signing a lease on an exclusive penthouse — but the con artist is typically a pauper, not wealthy at all. So opulence isn’t the word you want either.

No has suggested “bling,” but that also seems wrong, since it’s a lower-class version of “opulence.” “Loaded” certainly works as an adjective, but you want a word that will work as a noun as well — “There go a group of loadeds” just doesn’t sound right. “Plutescence” suffers from its unfortunately proximity in sound to putrescence, and in any case it’s such an unfamiliar neologism that it seems unlikely to catch on.

Maybe “plutocrat” and “plutocracy”…?


Ingrid Robeyns 03.01.13 at 10:39 am

thanks all for all the thoughts. I really enjoyed this discussion. For what it’s worth, I’ve come down to ‘rich’ and ‘riches’. I’ll try to write about the content of the paper once it’s in a shape in which I dare to throw it to the lions :-)


Phil 03.02.13 at 10:39 am

Ingrid – it’s occurred to me that one source of confusion has been the unarticulated distinction between a noun of quality and a noun of state (I don’t know if those are the correct terms). ‘Richness’ is the noun corresponding to the quality of being rich at a point in time, which is why it attaches to food, fabric etc. (I don’t know Dutch, but is there such a word as rijkhed?) What you’re after is the noun corresponding to the state of being and remaining rich, just as ‘poverty’ is used to denote the state of being and remaining poor.

This line of argument confirms my sense that ‘riches’ is the word you want (fortunately).

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