Did someone call you ‘prim and proper,’ and you’re wondering what it means?
In short, ‘prim and proper’ means “prudish” or “straight-laced.” “Prudish” is an adjective that describes someone that is easily shocked by matters relating to nudity or sex, while “straight-laced” describes a person that has very strict moral attitudes.
‘Prim and proper’ means “straight-laced” or “prudish.” A person who is described as ‘prim and proper’ is typically someone that has very morally conservative, traditional behaviors and beliefs. This type of individual might be easily shocked by anything even remotely rude and always correctly behaved.
The definition of the word ‘prim’ is “respectable and stiffly formal; showing or feeling disapproval of anything that is regarded as improper.” The American English definition of the word ‘proper’ has several definitions, but the applicable meaning is “respectable, especially excessively so; respecting or according to recognized conventions or social standards.”
For example, let’s say that your grandmother is in town and your best friend is inviting you to a rock concert. When you tell your friend that you can’t go because your grandmother is visiting, your friend might suggest that it would be fun to bring her along. If your grandmother is very traditional and would definitely not enjoy such a raucous event, you might say, “thanks, but I don’t think that’s a good idea; she’s very ‘prim and proper.’”
This phrase can also be used in an insulting, mocking, or playful way, depending on the context and the tone. For example, if a person was afraid to go swimming because they didn’t want other people to see them in their swimsuit, a friend might say, “stop being so ‘prim and proper’ and jump in the pool!”
The word prim seems to date back as far as the 1680s, with the meaning “to assume a formal, precise demeanor.” The meaning of “stiffly precise in manners or speech, formal” is dated to 1709. The precise origin is unknown for the word ‘prim,’ but it is thought it might come from the French word prim, which means “small, delicate, think.”
The word is also attested as a noun from around the year 1700, which meant “precise, formal, or stuck-up person.”
‘Proper,’ on the other hand, dates to around 1300 with the meaning “excellent, commendable; apt, adapted to some purpose, fit.”
From the Google Ngram Viewer, we see that ‘prim and proper’ has followed an exponential growth in popularity, first appearing around the 1840s and becoming increasingly popular in the second half of the 20th century. Interestingly, it has started to decline in usage since about 2017.
How would you use ‘prim and proper’ in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other ways to convey a similar meaning as ‘prim and proper’? Here are some synonymous and related words and phrases:
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