- culture1. Here is a word that had mixed fortunes in the 20c, and means all things to all men. There are about 128,000 examples of it (including the plural form and compounds such as culture-bound) in the 500-million-word Oxford English Corpus (language database) in diverse meanings generally related to the OED's definition ‘the civilization, customs, artistic achievements, etc., of a people, especially at a certain stage of its development or history’. In many of these examples culture is used generically and not in relation to any particular people or time:
• For him spiritual and political ideas were becoming more and more inseparable in his concern with ‘culture’ as a whole —R. Crawford, 1990.In others it has very specific reference, and is often preceded by a defining adjective or noun:
• Unofficial sources report that the two organisations aimed to research and develop Mongol culture —Amnesty, 1992.2. The word has also developed more limited reference within a broader ‘culture’, as in consumer culture, corporate culture, drugs culture, political culture, pop culture, yob culture, youth culture, etc.:
• The miners' strike revealed the range of new movements and organisations which have been arenas…for the development of working-class culture and working-class consciousness —T. Lovett, 1988
• It was, nonetheless, a film that tried to solicit an understanding of the emerging drug culture —J. Parker, 1991
• Pop music and its link with youth culture should be an important field of study in media education —Action, 1991.3. After 1914 culture came into contact with the German word Kultur, and from it assumed, in British eyes, connotations of arrogance and supposed ethnic superiority; and it was mocked by some who tended to distort the spelling (culchah, etc.) to indicate that the acquisition of cultured ways implied an absurd degree of affectation or vulgarity. Since the 20c, significant combinations of the word have been culture shock, meaning ‘the feeling of disorientation experienced by a person suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture or way of life’, culture clash, meaning ‘a failure of one culture to understand another with which it comes into contact’, culture-specific, meaning ‘peculiar to a particular cultural environment’, and culture vulture, meaning ‘a person eager to acquire culture’. In 1956, the novelist and essayist C. P. Snow launched a topic of discussion that is likely to last indefinitely by coining the resonant phrase the two cultures to denote the arts and sciences as being somehow alien to one another. For so seemingly calm a word, the currents and conflicts it produces are paradoxical.
Modern English usage. 2014.