Could someone explain why the word "cleavage" in the following sentence is awkward? I've encountered the word most frequently in reference to women's body. Is that the reason? or are there any other reasons?

"There is a cleavage between the rich and the poor in America."

Thank you in advance.
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, it's so often used to mean the valley between two natural protuberances, the breasts or the buttocks, that we tend to avoid it in other circumstances, for fear of provoking hilarity.
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    Senior Member
    USA English
    TT's explanation is indeed the case, although note that cleaving and cleavage are common words when talking about icebergs.

    I also wonder about the value of the sentence since it implies that America is the only country where there is a divide between the rich and the poor, when that seems to be a global condition.


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Cleavage is a term relating to crystals too. To me it doesn't automatically suggest breasts - your sentence about rich and poor sounds normal and doesn't make me snigger. That's its single most common meaning, I suppose, but it has other normal meanings too.


    I've read it in an academic paper where the author was giving an example of an inappropriate usage of words by second language speaker. The original sentence read,

    "There is a large cleavage between the poor and the rich in America."


    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's very different, stillwater.

    The collocation "large cleavage" would inevitably conjure up breasts.


    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    If it were an article on the costs of cosmetic surgery it would be especially inappropriate.

    I wouldn't use 'cleavage' in this context. I'd understand it but it sounds non-native. 'Gulf' or 'divide' sound more natural, and are physically similar to the used word; otherwise 'disparity' or 'gap'.


    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I agree that cleavage is the wrong word here, not because of its association with breasts but simply because it's not really a synonym of gulf or disparity.
    It may be that because it's inappropriate someone might comment that we're not talking about breasts! However, it's perfectly normal in other contexts, like crystals and rocks.