Commoners turn from opera to Oprah!

Common people watch television every night for six hours.

I don’t think the writer intended to be so negative, or worse – insulting! Let’s explore the meaning of common, first of all by looking inside an opera house.

Opera house
Seating inside a typical opera house

Some seats in opera houses have always been more expensive than others. The cheapest seats are in ‘The Stalls’ or in ‘The Gods’, because in these areas the view of the stage is limited. Wealthier people can afford to pay for a private ‘box’, and they get a better view. The best view, meanwhile, is from the ‘Royal Box’.

These days all of the seats at opera houses are quite comfortable, but back in the nineteenth century when opera was popular in Europe, the seats in the stalls and in the gods were either uncomfortable or non-existent! These areas were reserved for the poorer members of society. Wealthy – or aspiring wealthy people – did everything they could to avoid the stalls because they were full of ‘commoners‘, which was how wealthy people referred to poor, dirty, smelly, low-income opera-goers.

These days, although inequality still exists in society, it is not so obvious at the opera. In any case today’s commoners generally don’t go to the opera. They prefer to stay at home and watch football on TV while they drink beer and eat pizza. And that’s not because opera is expensive – going to the opera is actually no more expensive than going to a football match.

Today if we say someone is common, we can mean any – or all – of the following:

  • they have unrefined tastes (prefer Oprah to opera)
  • they dress tastelessly
  • they eat junk food
  • they are unskilled
  • they are not well-educated

So you see it is quite negative and potentially insulting to say someone is common. This is especially true if you are referring to a woman:

common women
Young women who might be
described as ‘common’

Indonesian flag Indonesians may note that common, when referring to a woman, includes norak, murahan, and vulgar! So use common carefully!

Returning to our opening example, it would be more appropriate – and less negative – to use one of the following:

  • The average person watches 6 hours of TV a night.
  • Ordinary people watch 6 hours of TV a night.

Indonesian flag Indonesians might also be interested in this post about ‘watching’ (nonton)!

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