Wealthy woman's total linguistic facts

8 minutes to read
Tom Van Hout

Short-form videos reign supreme on platforms such as TikTok and Instragram. Consider, for instance how reels, stories or shorts flood our timelines with bite-sized videos that entertain us with observational comedy, persuade us to buy certain products or promote trending lifestyles or worldviews. Typically, such videos focus attention not only on what people do, but also on how they talk, gesture or dress. Speech, body language and appearance do identity work: they create cultural meaning by associating types of language use with types of speakers. This article shows how you can grasp such cultural meanings by analyzing the total linguistic fact. A character video made by a stand-up comedian will be used to illustrate our argument. 

Wealthy woman does Black Friday

In her viral wealthy woman character videos, American comedian Leah Rudick parodies the trials and tribulations of an anonymous, witty socialite. Wealthy woman exudes generational wealth, blissful oblivion and irresistible joie de vivre as she recounts her experiences among 'the regulars'. Here’s an example.

   Did you know there is a day that is like Hunger Games
   for people who love appliances? It's called Black Friday and
   I guess it's for people who like something called discounts. 

   I said to my assistant: "I wanna learn about discounts.
   Let's go to Black Friday". So she says, "the first thing we need is a tent".
   I said, "what is that?" She said it's for camping.
   I said "what is that?"  She said, "it's what people do
   the night before to get all the good deals."

   So we take the helicopter to this little shop
   called Best Buy, which I immediately love, 
   because I love only the best.
   There is already a line of people out the door,
   it's like an exclusive club for people
   who've never had Botox. 

   You spend the night making best of friends
   with all the campers but then the sun rises
   and all mayhem breaks loose. Everyone rushes
   the store and your friends quickly become your mortal enemies.

   I tripped a child to get my hands on a
   Nintendo Switch, whatever that is.
   Another woman slapped me in the face
   when I stole her cart of TVs.
   She said that's mine.
   I said, "finders, keepers, bitch!"

   It was exhilarating. Much more fun
   than even my funnest pills. 

Wealthy Woman does Black Friday

Cultural work and the total linguistic fact

As Wealthy woman recounts her experiences among ‘the regulars’, she evokes the cultural image of upper class gentry. Think Jackie Kennedy or Princess Diana. Timeless, understated elegance clad in lavish luxury: private yachts, mohair cardigans, mountain retreats, and cocktail parties. Performed here with a dash of blissful oblivion and irresistible joie de vivre. Scholars of discourse, culture and society have argued that in order to understand how such cultural ideas are evoked, we must analyze what Silverstein (1985) famously called the ‘total linguistic fact’: how the interplay of language structure, use and ideology shapes social life. 

Language structure refers to the formal qualities of the act of communication. For instance, verbal shifts from past tense to present tense (‘I said to my assistant….So we take the helicopter’) highlight a shift in narrative stance. Reported speech allows the narrator to voice different participants such as her resourceful assistant or the woman in the store who she steals from. Language use refers to the social actions that are being accomplished. One such action is storytelling. Stories allow us to share and evaluate lived experience (‘Much more fun than even my funnest pills’). The language used in storytelling also tells us something about what kind of person is speaking and what type of speech we’re listening to. And the close-up videography, combined with her facial expressions create a degree of intimacy between the narrator and the audience. 

Language ideology refers to cultural models of the social world that people draw on to interpret speech events.

Language ideology, finally, refers to cultural models of the social world that people draw on to interpret speech events. By describing the store as a club for ‘people who’ve never had Botox’, she differentiates herself from the people, experiences and social groups she talks about. This projection of classed difference taps into a consumer culture fetish: the lifestyles of the rich and famous. From cryptobros giving unsolicited investment advice, to celebrities promoting a new fitness regime and beauty experts teaching us the proper way to exfoliate with pickled onions, there is no shortage of media attention to affluent lifestyles. And there’s also the current trend known as old money aesthetic, a look defined by understated colors, refined elegance and timeless appeal. Moreover, research in the social sciences has documented how celebrity discourse has become an omnipresent feature of contemporary life (Marshall 2014). The mediatization of the super-rich is defined by the absence of politics and the normalization of privilege (Jaworski & Thurlow 2017) and racialized capitalism (Prasad 2021). Such circulating discourses of eliteness and whiteness, and especially the underlying ideals they communicate, provide resources for voicing Wealthy woman so that audiences can recognize the playful, eloquent and fun-loving persona that is being parodied.

To understand how the interplay between form, use and ideology works, we need to distinguish between two types of meaning. Referential meaning is meaning derived from lexical items such as ‘helicopter’, ‘store’, or ‘deals’. It describes the world around us. It’s what you find in dictionaries. Social meaning is an additional layer of meaning that contextualizes an act of communication. It’s implicit information about the context in which the act of communication takes place. Social meaning allows us to interpret what is being talked about, what sort of conversation we’re having and what type of person we’re dealing with. You wouldn’t easily say ‘finders, keepers, bitch’ to, say, your mother-in-law during a dinner party or to a police officer at a traffic stop. 

Indexicality is a magical dimension of discourse that renders context meaningful

Here’s the point. When done right – that is, when audiences recognize the social meanings evoked by, say, ways of speaking, physical appearance or interior design – social identities are established and character judgements are made. This is what is known as indexicality, a magical dimension of discourse that renders context meaningful. Notice, for instance, how the narrator’s emphatic pronunciation of the demonstrative ‘that’ in the ‘What is that?” question to her personal assistant generates an indexical link between what our narrator is inquiring about and the type of person who doesn’t know what camping is: a blissfully ignorant speaker who has led a sheltered life of opulence and privilege.

Wealthy Woman experiences Black Friday


The character video is a narrating event in the form of a YouTube short. These are short-form videos of no more than 60 seconds in a vertical frame (unlike the default rectangular format of a regular YouTube video). The narrating event embeds a number of narrated events. 

   [narrating event: Black Friday is my new favorite sporting event!]
   embedded narrated event 1: orientation - direct address

   Did you know there is a day that is like Hunger Games
   for people who love appliances? 
   It's called Black Friday and I guess it's for people
   ​​​who like something called discounts. 

   embedded narrated event 2: complicating action - reported speech

   I said to my assistant: "I wanna learn about discounts.
   Let's go to Black Friday". 
   So she says, "the first thing we need is a tent". I said, "what is that?" 
   She said it's for camping. I said "what is that?"
   She said, "it's what people do the night before
   to get all the good deals."

The first embedded narrated event is a direct address (‘Did you know…’) that draws the audience in. Wealthy woman describes the globalized retail bonanza known as Black Friday in terms of a dystopian science fiction movie for people who, believe it or not, are into discounted household appliances. This introduction then orients the viewer to a number of complicating actions. First, we enter into a recounted dialogue with her personal assistant about said discounts (a second narrated event). We learn that the narrator wants to go to Black Friday. This requires a tent. And camping. "What is that?"

   embedded narrated event 3: complicating action - reference and predication

   So we take the helicopter to this little shop called Best Buy,
   which I immediately love, because I love only the best.
   There is already a line of people out the door,
   it's like an exclusive club 
   for people who've never had Botox. 

   You spend the night making best of friends with all the campers
   but then the sun rises and all mayhem breaks loose.
   Everyone rushes the store and your friends quickly
   become your mortal enemies.

   embedded narrated event 4: complicating action - reference and quotation

   I tripped a child to get my hands on a Nintendo Switch,
   whatever that is.

   Another woman slapped me in the face when I stole her cart of TVs.
   She said that's mine. I said, "finders, keepers, bitch!"

   evaluation: predication

   It was exhilarating. Much more fun than even my funnest pills. 

The third narrated event details how Wealthy woman travels – in style. Rather than drive or take the bus, she is flown by helicopter to a ‘little shop’ where said discounted consumer electronics are available in bulk. Here she mingles with the locals and makes friends overnight. But then the sun rises and chaos ensues: the store opens and people rush in. Wealthy woman joins the ruckus, trips a child and steals a cart of TVs. The story ends with an evaluation: this was so much fun (‘exhilarating’). Much more so than getting high in one of the rooms of the family estate on the Côte d’Azur.

When it comes to language use, notice how things like word choice (‘my assistant’), pronunciation (something called a ‘dis-count’), or I-statements (‘I love only the best’) lure us into assumptions about social class, character and personality. Indeed, she seems to have been born into a family of tremendous wealth, she’s blissfully ignorant and naturally sweet. She also radiates an irresistible joie de vivre and she is noticeably articulate. Speaking of colorful language, her descriptions and evaluations of the people she meets positions her socially: she has lived a sheltered, secluded life of privilege and luxury. One that differentiates her from the people she interacts with. 

Notice also how her body language speaks volumes. Her facial expressions index a range of emotions: from bewildered amazement to excitement and amusement. Her posture on the other hand is calm: her upper body leans forward at times but she does not use gestures. Her smile and fast-paced delivery, combined with rich descriptive details maintain the attention of the audience and create a degree of intimacy which is further enhanced by the composition of the close-up camera angle. This effect is known as synthetic personalization  (Fairclough 1993): the feeling that we’re being spoken to as individuals while the video targets a wide audience. And finally, the subdued colors of the physical space and the dress she’s wearing contrasts with her performance. That’s all color. The lady may be rich but she is not showing off, she’s showing up. And having a ball. Among the regulars. Fun!


Fairclough, N. (1993). Critical Discourse Analysis and the Marketization of Public Discourse: The Universities. Discourse & Society, 4(2), 133-168. doi:10.1177/0957926593004002002

Jaworski, A., & Thurlow, C. (2017). Mediatizing the “super-rich,” normalizing privilege. Social Semiotics, 27(3), 276-287. doi:10.1080/10350330.2017.1301792

Marshall, P. D. (2014). Persona studies: Mapping the proliferation of the public self. Journalism, 15(2), 153-170. doi:10.1177/1464884913488720

Prasad, P. (2023). True colors of global economy: In the shadows of racialized capitalism. Organization, 30(5), 1113–1129. doi: 10.1177/13505084211066803

Silverstein, M. (1985). Language and the culture of gender: At the intersection of structure, usage, and ideology. In E. Mertz & R. J. Parmentier (Eds.), Semiotic mediation: Sociocultural and psychological perspectives (pp. 219–259). New York: Academic.