‘culture vulture’ (a person who is voracious for culture)

The colloquial phrase culture vulture denotes a person who is voracious for culture.

This phrase is based on the phonetic similarity of the two words that compose it, since only the initial sound differentiates one from the other.

The earliest instance that I have found is from the Waterloo Daily Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) of Wednesday 13th May 1931:

“Booksneaf” was selected as descriptive of the habitual book borrower by a committee of the Book Publishers Research Institute. Other names suggested included: Book weevil, borrocle, culture vulture, biblio-acquisiac and blifter.

As the word vulture implies, the phrase has often been used derogatorily with a connotation of lack of discrimination, as in the column Signifying Nothing, by Marjorie Taylor, in The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) of Saturday 20th April 1940:

Included in the Genus Homo Sapiens is a species called Culture Vulture. It is generally female and its habitat is strictly Urban. It does not thrive on farms because the atmosphere is not refined enough, and besides, farm women have too much horse sense.
A Culture Vulture is interested in everything; but not to the extent of finding out what it’s all about.

Opens a Can of Beans.

She listens raptly to any lecturer, musician, dramatist or politician. Then she goes home and opens a can of beans for dinner. The Culture Vulture’s mate eats the beans, wondering if the study of Italian Renaissance literature can be, after all, any more important than a two-inch steak. She thinks that big dinners are a nuisance. He is not convinced, but instead of grumbling he goes out to Tony’s, or somewhere. The Culture Vulture goes to bed and heartlessly dreams of tomorrow’s lecture at the Lycium [sic] entitled: “The Encyclopedia Britanica [sic].”

The variant vulture for culture has also been used; for example, on Thursday 9th November 1939, The Morning Post (Camden, New Jersey) published this story about the American boxer, actor and television personality Max Everitt Rosenbloom (1907-76), nicknamed Slapsie Maxie—Slapsy Maxie’s was a Hollywood nightclub named after the boxer:

Chatter in Hollywood: The gentle, refining influence of Maxie Rosenbloom’s bride is already evident in Maxie’s new interest in the arts. He accompanied her to the opera two nights and saw “Rigoletto1” and “Die Walkure2.”

‘Vulture for Culture’

After the opera, when Maxie appeared to do his show at Slapsy Maxie’s, he sat down at the table with Gracie Allen and George Burns. George asked him how come he was going in for opera. “Oh,” said Maxie nonchalantly, “I’m a vulture for culture.”

1 Rigoletto, an opera by the Italian composer; full name Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901)
2 Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), an opera by the German composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-83)

A synonym of culture vulture is culture hound; the earliest instance that I have found is from The Alliance Herald (Alliance, Nebraska) of Tuesday 24th February 1920:

The chief misfortune of the west, it appeared, was that it was too new a country. A new country has certain disadvantages, and one of these was that everyone was in a mad race for dollars. When dollars are the only objective, according to the average Boston theorist, one loses sight of the finer things of life. Listening to one of those Massachusetts culture hounds, we were always moved to tears. Usually we could restrain them, but every now and then our emotions would get the better of us, and we would—say something profane. That’s something the Bostonian can’t abide—profanity.

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