I would like to know what "chafed" means in the following sentences:

"I like her," said Daisy, "I think she's lovely."

But the rest offended her—and inarguably, because it wasn't a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented "place" that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village—appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.

This is an excerpt from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Daisy, Tom and Nick went to Gatsby's party, where Daisy was astonished at its unmasked hedonism. Throughout the party, she was more and more aware of the difference between her "old money" society and the "new money" society at Gatsby's party. Therefore, she came to dislike everyone present except one very famous actress.

In this part, I could not grasp what "chafed" means. How could the raw vigor be chafed under the old euphemisms? Does it mean that the euphemisms curbed their raw vigor?

  • 2
    Note that it's not "how could the raw vigor be chafed under..." - the text says the "raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms": the vigor did the chafing, it wasn't chafed by something else :)
    – psmears
    Mar 23, 2018 at 14:26

2 Answers 2


I think this would be an example of synecdoche, a figure of speech where a part of something is used to represent it.

Here, the "raw vigor" of the new money society and the "euphemisms" employed by the old money society represent their respective societies. The nouveau riche find themselves restricted and suffocated under the mores and norms of the unwelcoming traditional society, and thus they chafe under it. To chafe, here, is to:

: to feel irritation, discontent, or impatience : fret - chafes at the rules

The old money have, over decades and centuries, developed a highly indirect (hence, euphemistic) and repressed society, whereas the new money would be far more direct. No doubt they feel some irritation and impatience for the silliness and lack of forthrightness of the old money.


The "old euphemisms" are hinting at the genteel elegance which is supposed to be a hallmark of "old money" — basically, an oligarchic noblesse oblige, a way of behaving which Old Money people lived by and taught to their children. If your family had been wealthy a long time, you knew it, everyone knew it, and there were certain standards to uphold. Flaunting your wealth in ostentatious licentiousness is both vulgar and wasteful.

The "new money" people are coming in and just living it up — wildness, decadence, debauchery, without any restraint or propriety. It's more than conspicuous consumption; it's conspicuous bacchanalia.

The New Money people haven't lived with their money for very long, and they've never been taught the rules of etiquette and behavior which govern Old Money. These rules are the "old euphemisms" which would constrain their excesses. So they are "chafing" beneath the rules.

The next part of the sentence is basically saying that these young partiers are spending through their new money so wildly and carelessly that they're going to run dry shortly, going from nothing (where they started) back to nothing (no money again) with nothing to show for having been wealthy, where Old Money knows to cultivate and invest and leave something for the children to inherit. New Money has no respect. The partiers just look for the next party, the next source of New Money to entertain them, without any thought of the wreckage they're leaving behind.


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