Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Good, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh!: 111 TV Words That Made the Leap from the Screen to Society is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters explores some obscure synonyms for contempt.
People can be divided into introverts and extroverts, righties and lefties, cat-strokers and dog-petters, chicken hawks and surrender monkeys, Cylons and Wookies, toaster ovens and toast.
Many things divide us. Fortunately, we all run on fumes, oxygen, and contempt.
Contempt is a perennial weed in the flower pot of humanity, and it blooms in all seasons. I’m no better. Just to give you an unwanted, TMI-ish peek behind the curtain of my own ninny-like psyche, here are a few offenders I find worthy of contempt, beneath contempt, or squatting squarely in a steaming pile of contempt:
• Folks who use the same agreement word repetitively, like so: All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. Come on, haven’t you ever heard of uh huh, hmm, mmm, oh, whoa, yep, yowza, yikes, eh, meh, doh, duh, huzzah, or booyah? Mix things up a bit! Please.
• Bathroom attendants. Maybe I’m a little fussy and Seinfeldian in my desire for powder-room purity, but the last thing in the wide world I desire post-hand-washing is some dude handing me a paper towel full of dude germs. Gah.
• The acting of everyone on Star Trek: The Next Generation except for the bald guy.
• Pea soup.
• People who bike on the sidewalk. Fair warning: If one of you runs over my dog, I’m going to do to you what he does to Scooby snacks.
(Those are just the appetizers. I’ll spare you my contempt stroganoff, which comes with a tart chagrin pudding and a simmering peeve latte).
Eliminating contempt is as feasible as laminating the moon. So for the realist as well as the humorist, the only dilemma is how to express contempt in something other than a clichéd, groan-inducing fashion.
Fortunately, there are 263 words in the Oxford English Dictionary with contemptible in the definition, many of which have gone as far out of fashion as your seventh-grade haircut. They are there to be rescued, resuscitated, and hurled down at your contemptees from a great height. Adopt a word today.
Words take many journeys to Contempt City; some of these migrations include pit stops in Gross-ness-ville and East Gag-me-with-a-spoon-istan. Take scurf. It set off my contempt-dar for its sense as “A contemptible person, esp. a miser, skinflint,” but its first known meaning was “A morbid condition of the skin, esp. of the head, characterized by the separation of branny scales, without inflammation.” I don’t have to look up branny scales to know that I don’t want to look up branny scales. But I kinda wish I were a pirate, so I could call someone a scurvy scurf while stealing booty.
Just in time for Christmas, this nonce word for “A contemptible dastard” could be, with minimal stretching, a perfect synonym for little bastard, one of the three known species of bastard found in the greater metropolitan area. And here’s a bonus word: dastardize. Though it sounds to my ears like demonize, it means something closer to minimize or shrink, as in this 1748 citation: “The moment I beheld her, my heart was dastardized.” As my heirs shall learn, I’m borrowing this 1841 citation for my tombstone: “To lie..dastardized in the dust.”
Dunderhead is a fine term, but there are so many pinheads and greedheads and buttheads and meatheads rolling around the field of contempt. Let’s give heads a break for once—whelps and dunder-somethings are ready to come off the bench, in the form of this compound, used here in 1621: “What a purblind puppy was I!.. What a dunder-whelp, To let him domineer thus!” Keen observers of the dunder scene may also have spotted dunderdoofs and dunderwads in the dark dungeons of the Internet or local dungeonmasters.
While dunderwhelp combines two better known insults, sometimes a totally fresh sound—like zob—is needed when castigating a contempt-causing creep. Sinclair Lewis used this term for “A weak or contemptible person; a fool” in 1920: “And the same thing goes for that crowd of crabs and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag..you tell him that no..Westerner would have New York for a gift!” I love the sound of zob, and I yearn to use it, though I’m under doctor’s orders to avoid all yearning and pining. In a 1942 citation, another ripe-for-revival, delicious-yet-disparaging term is mentioned: yazzihamper.
Have you seen many hereticasters, historiasters, or politcasters lately? If so, you’ve been inundated with contemptible heretics, historians, and politicians, who are also petty and/or inadequate. This suffix—which suggests “incomplete resemblance, hence generally pejorative”—spawned a memorable definition of oleaster: “a wild or bastard olive”. Even Jesse Sheidlower can’t say for sure if below-par milkmen were ever slagged off as mere milkicasters, but I plan on adapting bastard olive as a pet name for any slob or zob who gets in my way.
Though they’re noble beasts with high intelligence, both pigs and dogs have proven trusty tools to the frequent insulter. So why not put them together? As the owner of a dog named Monkey who enjoys a good pig’s ear, I especially enjoyed this multi-species citation from 1894: “They have only learnt how to dance the cancan with the dirty little pig-dog monkeys they call men.”
This rare word, circa 1589, would have a more contemporary ring if used like so, “Why yes, your scabship, it’s true that your momma scores so low on standardized tests that she got stabbed in a gunfight.” As the Bible says, we should compare people to scabs more often, while making greater use of the mocking your-blank-ship formula. The OED has plenty of similarly coined words, such as almightyship, amateurship, antship, clownship, demonship, drunkship, elephantship, heathenship, pimpship, rascalship, and traitorship.
Synonymous with contemptible, this word gives me a happy, maybe because it would fit so well next to villainous in a poem or police report. Here’s a most meritorious use of vilipendious in 1630: “Thou ignoble horse-rubbing peasant,..being but a vilipendious mechanical Hostler.”
This 17th century word has been spelled balatron and balatroon, but I have to rule in favor of the version that will allow a rhyme with the word’s meaning: “A buffoon, a contemptible fellow.” In related news, here’s one of the greatest adjectives and definitions I have ever encountered, and I’ve encountered a few: balatronic: “Of or pertaining to buffoons.” Until buffoonological catches on, balatronic will have a place at the table—at least at my table of immature balatroons.
I hope these words help you, oh blog-lickers, as you navigate the bitterly cheerful weeks betwixt Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the powers-that-be insist that good will, kind tidings, and humanitarian endeavors fill our time (when we aren’t baking cookies or resuscitating the economy, that is).
But dunderwhelps and zobs don’t take the holidays off, do they? Neither does contempt. So if conditions on the ground demand that a few Christmas cards contain the words vilipendiously yours, damnable zob, or I yearn to see you and yours dastardized in the dust, well, never fear. Let the words and feathers fly.
You see, studies show that recipients of these words emerge confused but not pugnacious from the onslaught. Rather than fists, most will offer you the number of a good therapist or literary agent. Even a bastard olive could use either of those.