“Facial hair for the past century has been thought to reflect a suspicious streak of individuality and defiance,” says Christopher Oldstone-Moore, a history lecturer at Ohio’s Wright State University.
…”There’s a long history in our civilisation of anxiety about facial hair, and hair in general, as being unhygienic: hairs will fall into the chocolate and soil the food,” says Oldstone-Moore.
Even in the case of firemen, the waters are muddy. “The mask argument is in part a tool to be used for a larger argument, which is it’s just not uniform, it’s not respectable, it’s not proper, for disciplined professional men to have facial hair. That’s the bottom line.”
Currently reading Mark Forsyth’s The Horologicon, where I happened upon this passage:
Slavery has been abolished but shavery survives. This latter is rather a shame, as it lessens the need for all of the technical beard words, of which there are many. They all involve the Greek root pogo, which is pronounced in exactly the same way as the stick (although the two are etymologically unrelated). So there’s pogonology (the study of beards), pogonate (having a beard), pogoniasis (a beard on a lady), and pogonotomy (shaving). As we live in an essentially misopogonistic society of beard-haters, most men must start the day by taking a razor from the pogonion or tip of the chin up to the philtrum, which is the name for the little groove between your nose and your upper lip. Then you have to work carefully to avoid a neckbeard, which the Victorians called a Newgate fringe. Newgate was the name of a London prison where people were hanged. So a Newgate fringe was meant to resemble the rope that was slipped around the felon’s neck before he took the plunge into eternity.
Two lessons here, then. One, Forsyth is an immensely entertaining writer, and I have greatly enjoyed his books. Two, the next time you see someone using “neckbeard” as a synonym for a virginal, basement-dwelling loser, you may confidently accuse them of classism before instructing them to check their shaveowner’s privilege.