Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Occasional Curmudgeon

I've long been a fan of curmudgeons. My favorite for many years, and the favorite of just about everyone in America, was the late Andy Rooney of CBS's 60 Minutes program on Sunday evenings. Rooney died in 2011 just weeks after retiring from the show. He was 92.

To be a proper curmudgeon, one has to be old. Young people simply can't get away with it. Having earned the right through surviving youth and middle age, tolerating past employers, and the dubious honor of raising children, I now claim what is mine by nature. I am a grumpy old man. And today's sermon is about one of my pet peeves, euphemisms.

Oops! I used the word "old." We no longer have old people, we have "senior citizens." I laughed when a relative in his mid-80s recently told me that he goes down to a center each month to fix breakfast for the senior citizens. I wonder how old they are? Some of our senior citizens move into "assisted living" facilities. A prized curmudgeon, author Wilma Dykeman, described her last residence as an "assisted dying" facility. That seems to be a better fit with what I've seen.

I don't think we even have a word for the room where the toilet is located. We have "lavatories" (to wash), "bathrooms" (to bathe),  "restrooms" (to rest), none of which actually refers to the main reason for the visit. The Brits have "loo," which hasn't caught on here. I found that it originally referred to a card game in which "forfeits are paid into a pool." That's getting there. The Brits have proven once more that they are more creative than the Yanks. I guess that's why we speak English. Thankfully we are becoming bilingual, and businesses are starting to post signs declaring "baƱo." Maybe it will catch on. Oops! Even that word means "bath" in Spanish.

The military has given us "collateral damage," which means killing people and breaking things that were not the intended targets of an attack. No one wants to advertise the killing of children, after all. And then there's "ethnic cleansing," which is what we did to the indigenous peoples when we burned villages and crops, killed, and finally relocated the Native Americans to Indian Territory. That was a bad thing when it happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Finally, those seeking immortality would be well-advised to move to Morgan County, Tennessee. If the obituary section of The Morgan County News is any indicator, no one has died in this county in living memory. A full page of obits every week never says that any loved one has died. Instead we are given a variety of euphemisms, both religious and secular. My instructions to my sons are clear. When it's time to put a notice in the paper, the first sentence must read "He died." In fact, that should suffice for the entire obit! Anything more would be just putting lipstick on a pig.


  1. Alright, Jim! You & I have communicated in the past about the laziness of Americans and American language. I despise contractions, incomplete sentences, euphemisms that soften the impact of reality. "He passed peacefully", "she went to her heavenly home", and other such things are among the worst. I agree completely with "He died." Andy was always one of my favorites too. I miss him & the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet. But my wife & I still watch reruns on RFD-TV. And she never saw it when it was new so it is all new to her.

  2. Sadly, my mum has just died... but we managed to find a smile in the midst when my sister broke the news by saying "We've lost mum"! Even she wondered why she'd expressed it that way!

  3. Terrific post, Jim! As a long time admirer of Andy Rooney and a card-carrying curmudgeon, I too have trouble with euphemisms (though having been brought up as a Southern Lady I still refer to breast of chicken as 'white meat' and the thigh as 'the second joint.')

  4. I am not sure that we deserve to be credited with being more creative with the English language over on this side of the pond - we can spout euphemisms until the cows come home. And I have always admired that wonderful American invention of "The Fall" for Autumn, which may be a euphemism, but if it is it is a delightfully creative one.

  5. I do agree with you! When an American friend asked to 'go to the bathroom' when I was a child, I took her there in surprise, as was she... our loo was in a different room! I agree about 'He died' too. I read a tomb stone yesterday saying ' he fell asleep' it made me want to write- well, why the heck didn't you wake him up instead of burying him? A kindred grump- Jane

  6. What? You mean I have to grow old before I can become a curmudgeon? O, hang on, I HAVE grown old. So I take it being a moany and permanently cross old woman is not only my right but also totally appropriate.

    I shall be a real pain in the arse before I pass on into the golden sunset.

    How does ‘bog’ go down for loo? The only word you must not use is ‘toilet’, that is just too lower class.

    I also need ‘Dementors’ explained. Who or what are they?

    1. Dementors are creatures in the Harry Potter books that serve as prison guards. Their faces consist of blank surfaces with a large mouth, which they use to suck the souls out of wizards and witches. Their near presence is heralded by falling temperatures, darkening of the light, and a feeling of depression that sweeps over all present. In short, they seem to be the magical source of what we now call seasonal affective disorder, or the winter blues.