This topic has been, consistently, the most searched and visited on my blog for over 2 years. I suspect that what I was discussing in my original post wasn’t what most people were looking for when they typed in their search window, “What’s another word for culture?” So let’s have another look at at the word and the question.
Wordhippo.com offers this list of possible synonyms for culture:
sophistication, refinement, urbanity, cultivation, polish, taste, discernment, discrimination
mores, ethos, philosophy, values, principles, beliefs
civilization, society, background, traditions, ethnicity, customs, way of life
If you look carefully, you’ll see that these can be sorted into three broad meanings:
1. Sophistication, refinement, urbanity, cultivation, polish, etc (the whole first line of the list).
These are all synonyms describing the ability to appreciate what is usually called “high culture” or “arts and culture” or “fine arts,” by which people generally seem to mean symphony orchestras, ballet, opera, theater, art galleries and museums. Using culture in this sense assumes that all kinds of arts are out of reach of many “ordinary” people, just by the accompanying whiff of snobbishness that says “this isn’t for you, it’s for the elite” – whoever they are. So let’s dismiss this definition. It’s not even close to what I’m looking for.
2. Mores, ethos, philosophy, values, principles, beliefs.
Hmm. A whole set of words related to moral standards. Yes, those are definitely part of what most people think of as a culture, but they’re only a part, not by any means all of it. Moving on.
3. Civilization, society, background, traditions, ethnicity, customs, way of life
I think we’ve arrived. All of these words together go a long way toward describing the total accumulation of behaviors, beliefs and practices that make up a culture.
Notice, though, that it does take all of them (and then some) to start covering what culture covers in just one word. So it appears, in fact, that there isn’t actually another word that is a close synonym for culture.
Meanwhile, my fellow writer, author and friend Cynthia Echterling has come up with a good answer to the question in my original post, which was, what to call the part of worldbuilding that deals with creating cultures and societies. She suggests speculative ethnology. Sounds good to me!