The words “vulgar” and “vulgarity” come from the Latin vulgus meaning the common people. Near universal access to learning and information by means of readily available books cheap enough for most people to own and for all libraries to have copies of is only something that developed in the mid 20th century. It only became a near reality with the advent of the Modern Library series of books, which only first reached a large number of published books in the second half of the century. Other reasonable means of accessing books came at the same time. Before that time, knowledge, upbringing, personal improvement, and means of developing personal refinement were only available to those of means and those who searched assiduously for insights.

The rest of the population was called “the vulgar”, the unwashed masses, who had no means of learning and developing the finer attributes possible to the human being, most of which attributes entailed controlling the impulses of the physical, material body by means of learned disciplines using the immaterial mind.

The use of the word “vulgar” to designate things about the human being that lacked true control over the impulses of the material body probably began with musical performance.

In music, vulgar is when the musician allows the impulses of the body/mind to overrule high musical intentions or correct musical execution and therefore loses control over what he/she is doing. Usually this happens without the musician even being aware of it. Accenting upper notes when they are not on a strong beat of the measure that should have the accent is one simple example of often-encountered vulgarity. There, the musician gives in to the impulse to play or sing higher notes louder, even if the composer does not indicate that they do so.

For those not musically knowledgeable: the natural tendency of the human body/mind is to accent or otherwise lead musical phrases to the highest note in the musical passage, even when the composer did not write it that way. It takes great personal and musical discipline and control not to accentuate such higher tones in musical phrases. And it is a vulgarity to do so, because that allows the physical tendencies of the body to overrule what should be the rational, knowledgeable mind. There are many other examples of vulgarity in music, where the unplanned impulses of the body override better musical values.

In aspects of life other than music vulgarity is also when one allows the physical impulses of the body to overrule considered, planned, or otherwise consciously decided intentions. Or to simply override such things as accepted good manners.

As a baby, we come into this world completely vulgar, allowing all impulses to uncontrolledly rule everything about us. The aim not only of our own lives as we grow up from the uncontrolled baby to the controlled adult, but that of all civilization over time, has been to refine and develop our ability to differentiate actions, movements, and everything else about life and to learn to control our purely physical impulses.

God has blessed us with an improbable combination of an apparently material body and an immaterial mind. From the moment we are born, our lives are a progression of the mind‘s discrimination over the impulses of the physical body, with the always well-stated aim of refining this improbable combination of the impulses of the material body and the controlled immaterial conscious mind. And the control of the body with the mind is always the primary obligation that comes with God’s gift!

It is this difference between intentionally and/or artistically determined and executed actions and those determined by impulses of the body that lies at the basis of what is vulgar and what is not. An example is the difference between those who speak their languages perfectly and those who speak less controlled idioms determined by easier ways of enunciating the words, usually along with ignorance of the way the language should be spoken.