Tag Archives: language

The Language and Culture of Poverty and Wealth

Several years ago when I was in my early teens I heard someone explain that the main difference between people who remain poor and people who become wealthy and maintain their wealth is their view of the purpose of money. ‘The poor,’ he said ‘see money as something to be spent, while the wealthy see money as something to be invested.’

I was young and poor when I heard this so I didn’t fully understand it, but I could tell it had the ring of truth. Over the years it’s an idea I have explored more thoroughly and with great results.

Poverty is a huge concern in American society, and all over the world. Politicians, activists and social scientists spend countless hours on this topic, proposing solutions. Billions of tax and charitable dollars are spent and new laws and policies are made each year trying to rearrange society to combat it, yet millions of Americans remain poor.

Poverty and Wealth are Cultural

In 1966, the anthropologist Oscar Lewis coined the term “Culture of Poverty” and asserted that the deeply impoverished, regardless of ethnicity, history, or location on the globe all tend to share “remarkable similarity in the structure of their families, in interpersonal relations, in spending habits, in their value systems and in their orientation in time.” Like all cultures, once it has “come into existence it tends to perpetuate itself.”

Just as there is a culture of poverty however, there is also a Culture of Wealth that can be observed, a manner of living and relating to the world that produces and maintains economic stability and abundance in the lives of its participants. There are many factors, beliefs, ideals, values, and behaviors that distinguish one culture from another. Oscar Lewis identified 70 markers that contribute to the culture of poverty, and the culture of wealth is directly inverse to them. But what is the primary factor by which anthropologists categorize and separate cultures from each other?

Language Matters

The most significant factor that separates one cultural group from another is language. Similarly, subcultures within larger societies can be distinguished by their use of language, lingo, slang, jargon, vocabulary and professional terminology.

Linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf suggested that language and its use may have a significant impact on an individual’s perception, cognition and their view of reality. This is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Numerous other linguists have suggested that features within language from vocabulary and grammar to phrases and metaphors influence if not dictate the structure of human thought. The manner in which we perceive and comprehend the world is heavily dependent on our understanding and use of language.

This is also the theoretical foundation for the discipline of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) which studies the effects language has on the subconscious mind and its influence on behavior.

The metaphors a person uses give the key to their life and the way they think. A person to whom life is an adventure is going to approach events quite differently from a person for whom life is a struggle.

Organizations use metaphors. An organization that prides itself on its team players is going to react differently from one that sees itself as a fighting force. One current metaphor for business is a ‘learning organization’, which conjures up a rather different picture.

Strangely the financial world is sprinkled with liquid metaphors. They talk of cashflow, flooding the market, liquid and frozen assets, floating a company. Money is like water, perhaps?
Metaphors are not right or wrong, but they have consequences for how people think and act. (O’Connor-McDermott, 122)


It’s well understood that in all fields of professionalism there is a lingo, a vocabulary, terminology that must be learned in order to function at even a novice level. If one aspires to be an engineer, a biologist, or a sailor he must learn the application of a particular vocabulary and vernacular. It should be no surprise to realize that economics, personal finance and simple successful household budgeting require a similar level of competency with its own vernacular, the language of commerce.

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of the popular Rich Dad series of financial books states;

The difference between a rich person and poor person is that person’s vocabulary. You need to learn words such as producer price index, profits and cash flow. In order for a person to become richer they need to increase their financial vocabulary. (Kiyosaki)

This makes sense. Pick up any book about finance and you will run across terminology such as: investment objective, index fund, international equity and the language of commerce, of the Culture of Wealth is revealed. If an individual never has a clear understanding of terms such as positive and negative cash flow, disposable income, financial assets and liabilities, he will never think to apply them to daily life and therefore find difficulty accruing and maintaining wealth.



Without the language to conceive of basic financial principles, the Culture of Poverty carries with it many other behavioral factors that keep people stuck in the lowest economic bracket. This behavior is characterized by apathy or hostility toward wealth and finances, a belief in the virtue of poverty, as well as irresponsible and extravagant spending patterns in order to project an appearance of wealth. This equates to financial self sabotage.

Delayed gratification is a foreign concept to the culture of poverty. When the poor find a source of steady income they typically squander it through extravagant spending patterns on short term experiences and material things that quickly lose value. The financially secure however behave very differently.

Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., author of The Millionaire Mind, a study of the lifestyle and habits of millionaires found that common behaviors of people whose net worth was $1 million or more included such habits as living below one’s means, entertaining family and friends at home rather than going to extravagant parties in the tradition of the beautiful people. Rather than spending their money on excessive consumables they chose to study and plan investments, attend religious services, and they avoided the use of credit and debt (Stanley 366).

Dr. Stanley found that most millionaires have a well balanced life style without the flashiness of rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. They lead relatively normal lives, but spend a good portion of their time on activities directly related to their financial goals.


Similarly, Rabbi Daniel Lapin has compiled a whole list of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that tend to lead Jewish people into successful positions and financial outcomes.


In conclusion I’ll say again that poverty and wealth are cultural phenomena, and both of those cultures are in large part a result of language which determines a person’s perception of reality and therefore their behavior. Those individuals who escape the chains of poverty have learned to use and apply elements of the language of commerce while those who remain in poverty do not.

Once an individual familiarizes himself with the vernacular of finance to the point that he feels comfortable working with and applying it on a daily basis, he begins to view things from a much more financially competent perspective. Naturally, this financially competent perspective influenced by a familiarity with economic language is a significantly motivating factor to financially responsible behavior.

If more people of all ages were to become educated in this manner, though many individuals may still never become truly ‘wealthy’ those who put this education to use will come out of poverty and begin to establish executive control over many more aspects of their lives and their community.

If you really want to start learning to be financially independent, start by picking up a book on financial terms. It will change your life.

You’re Welcome vs No Problem and Virtue Signalling

I stumbled upon this gem today.

Saying “thank you” is an expression of gratitude. Responding with “you’re welcome” expresses that the act is a pleasure and that the recipient is right to freely expect such treatment. It’s the exact opposite of how lucasnoahs describes it, and he couldn’t be much more wrong.

Kids are always trying to pretend they are somehow more enlightened and virtuous than their parents and grandparents. In reality younger people and children tend to be far more selfish and far less empathetic. They also tend to be less cultured, less educated, less experienced and less discerning.

I’ll give lucasnoahs credit for defending cashiers against Tom Nichols’ unprovoked and unnecessary insult but otherwise his attempt at linguistics leaves much to be desired. His rant is self-righteously condescending, lacks insight and is based in fantasy. It’s pretty obvious he thought it up on the spot with little to no analysis as a would be “you been told” moment.

For the record, I tend to say “no problem,” but it’s a habit I’ve worked to diminish. When I want someone to know that they are genuinely appreciated, that whatever they may be thanking me for is truly a selfless act that I’m happy to perform, I say “you’re welcome.” Saying “no problem” just doesn’t seem adequate to me.

“You’re welcome” is the standard, proper and a grammatically correct response to “Thank you,” and has been a part of Anglo-Saxon culture and literature for at least seven hundred years. “No problem” is none of those things. It’s is a more recent colloquialism. It’s slang.

The word “welcome” literally means that the action in question is offered or performed with joy and pleasure, and is often used to express a sense of connection and familiarity with the other person. It’s a much more meaningful and intimate phrase than saying “no problem” which isn’t even a full sentence. When someone is welcomed to something it’s to say they are right to freely expect to be received with or to receive such treatment. To say “you’re welcome” is a statement of positive intent. You ARE – with pleasure and without any notions of negativity associated with it – welcome.

To say “no problem” is a statement in the negative. It contains the assumption the act could have been a potential problem that needed to be addressed. It’s not free from selfishness; it’s based in selfishness. It’s not about the recipient being served or received joyfully and affectionately. The speaker is simply expressing that the action didn’t cause him any displeasure. There’s no sincerity, no comfort. It’s just indifferent

When a person is welcomed it’s a positive sentiment. They tend to be comfortable and relaxed as if they belong. There is a sincerity present that is absent when someone or something is looked at as simply not being a problem. It’s why we say “Welcome home!” instead of “you’re return home isn’t a problem.”

Sure, people who say “no problem” can still be empathetic, and some still enjoy being helpful, but saying “no problem” isn’t some sort of virtue they have over their supposedly selfish elders who say “you’re welcome.” It’s just one of many popular colloquial responses to “thank you.”

“my pleasure”

“don’t mention it.”

“any time”

“sure thing”

“you know it.”

In the end it doesn’t really mean anything special either way because most people aren’t putting as much thought into it as I have here or even as lucasnoahs did in his self-righteous and incorrect little comment. We’re all mostly just responding out of habit. But if we are going to make the claim that one response is more virtuous than the other, “you’re welcome” has the higher ground here.

The main point to be garnered from lucasnoahs’ comment is just the thing which I already expressed. People of younger generations like to virtue signal as if they’re better than their elders. It shows a real lack of respect, self-awareness, and humility on their part.

That’s not a virtue. That’s a problem.