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downstart, n.

Frequency (in current use): 

 1. A person who comes from an aristocratic or privileged family background but has little or no inherited wealth.In early use applied especially to younger sons of aristocratic families who received no inheritance under the system of primogeniture, and popularized by George Bernard Shaw.

1840   C. G. F. Gore Preferment II. vii. 280   Marnonval..had much to answer for in having quartered the other two chaps upon society—the one being an upstart, and the other a downstart.
1898   G. B. Shaw Sixteen Self Sketches (1949) viii. 44   My father was an Irish Protestant gentleman of the downstart race of younger sons.
1923   Winnipeg Tribune 8 Dec. 8/1   Next week, Mary Johnston will write on ‘Better to Marry an Upstart than a Downstart.’
1949   G. B. Shaw Sixteen Self Sketches ii. 7   The Downstart, as I call the boy-gentleman descended through younger sons from the plutocracy, for whom a university education is beyond his father's income, leaving him by family tradition a gentleman without a gentleman's means or education, and so only a penniless snob.
2007   Irish Times (Nexis) 5 May (Arts section) 7   Higgins grew up as part of a family of wealthy Catholic upstarts who were well on the way to becoming downstarts as his father's money ran out.

1840—2007(Hide quotations)


 2. A person who pretends to be from a lower social background; an inverted snob. rare.

1960   G. Mikes How to be Inimitable 21   Quite a few people assert that they are of lower origin than they..are... The place of the upstart is being taken by the downstart.
2002   Australian (Nexis) 24 Dec. r9   She is, after all, that unique creation of the British class system, a ‘downstart’—that is, someone who, unlike her upstart great-grandfather, throws away the silver spoon..and eats with the peasants, providing they are creative and famous.

1960—2002(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, December 2018).