Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Words and Their Meanings: Gentlemen's Club

The first time I heard the words “gentlemen” and “club” paired, I knew precisely the kind of high-tone, elegant gathering of well-bred intellectuals that must surely be taking place behind what I imagined would be a heavy, dark wood door with gold hardware and some sort of plaque. A gentlemen’s club, I reasoned, was a club for gentlemen. The Curmudgeon is very literal that way.

And so, in my imagined wanderings through the hallowed rooms, I saw small congregations of well-dressed men who’d arrived in capes and top hats which, being gentlemen, they’d doffed upon entry and presented to the uniformed cloakroom attendant. I heard pleasant murmurs, occasionally punctuated by well-informed chuckles. Words like “indeed” and “hear, hear” and “yes, I grant you that” drifted through the rooms, pleasantly muffled by the overstuffed chairs and Oriental rugs. Some of the men quietly sipped brandy and puffed on cigars while others held court, their elegantly crossed legs displaying spat-adorned ankles. A gentlemen’s club would be an oasis, providing men of genteel natures with an escape from the burdens of the outside world.

This, I felt sure (based on my understanding of the words that formed the descriptor), was a place for amiable discourse and bonhomie among colleagues in a quiet atmosphere that featured shelves full of books, drapes of velvet, and portraits of venerated members who’d passed on. Membership, meanwhile, could only be attained by recommendation, followed by board review. No riffraff here, no troublemakers, and certainly no nitwits.

Astonishingly, in America, that which we call a “gentlemen’s club” couldn’t be further from the kind of establishment I’d envisioned. On the contrary, this is the sort of place most likely to be advertised on highway billboards and in the cheapest of local rags. Its location is often heralded by a neon sign and a silhouette of . . . well, let’s just say it involves a woman and a pole.

Before we go any further, let me assure you, the Curmudgeon does not frequent such establishments, as I’d likely find a nine-hour lecture on advanced mathematics delivered by the dullest person who has ever lived to be approximately three times more entertaining. That may just be my particular tastes, or perhaps I’m simply lacking in the requisite boorishness.

But from what I’ve gleaned, the front door is usually covered in tufted maroon vinyl. Within, loud, thumping music shakes the windowless walls. Squinting through the darkness, one is immediately assaulted by the aroma of stale cigarette butts from unemptied ashtrays. The carpet—usually some kind of swirly pattern in vulgar hues—is sticky with beer residue. And it is here that men gather for the singular and far less intellectual activity of watching nude or nearly nude women move lewdly about a pole. And just to class things up, the men throw dollar bills at them.

Now, without disparaging the character of these fine patrons, I will say that at least some of them probably wouldn’t meet the typical description of the word “gentlemen.” For some of them, it has probably been a good long while since they engaged in a battle of wits. And as for bonhomie, well, I find it highly unlikely they can even spell it, and some might harbor suspicions that the word is a euphemism for something homosexual.

And while this next bit may be apocryphal, I believe I’ve heard tell of such ungentlemanly behavior as free-flowing profanity, a failure to properly manage one’s drinking, and frequent incidents involving fisticuffs, to the extent that constables had to be summoned to the scene.

And so it would seem that “gentleman’s club” may be a misnomer. And as the proper use of words is one of my passions, I do wish they would call these places something else—something more fitting . . . perhaps a “horny drunken hooligan’s den.” (That name may need work, but you take my point.)

I suddenly find myself thinking about other words that may be misnomers . . . civilization . . . government . . . common decency . . .

But those are gripes for another week.