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When I created this new section of Timeless & Timely earlier this year, one of the popular editions was Historical Words That Should be Revived.
People chortled over “twaddling” and “crapulous.” They sniggered at “snollygoster” and “cockalorum.” And they guffawed at “ultracredipdarian” and “shivviness.”
Saturday’s “Off the Clock” entry has tended toward language, and given that our topic this week was misrepresentation and chicanery, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the vocabulary related to the scandalous.
Hardened in effrontery; shameless. From Old English braes, brass (of unknown origin).
False and malicious misrepresentation of words or actions of others calculated to injure reputation. “Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, / Thou shalt not scape calumny.”—Hamlet, 1603
(Scottish) The stool of repentance. A low seat in a church where offenders against chastity, or other delinquents, were forced to sit during service and receive a public rebuke from the minister.
Diū liăn: 丢脸
(Mandarin) Lit. “to lose face,” to be humiliated. Whence the English idiom “to lose face.”
(Dutch) Lit. “turning cage.” An iron cage used to punish and publicly humiliate adulteresses.
To make a person feel awkward or self-conscious. From Portuguese em-, to put into, and baraço, cord (early 12th cent. as baraza). Apparently originally with reference to animals being restrained by cord or leash; further etymology is uncertain.
A society that emphasizes punishment and forgiveness to restore moral order. (A “shame culture” stresses self-denial and humility to restore such order.) Concept popularized by anthropologist Ruth Benedict, 1946.
(Japanese) Shy, ashamed, shameful. Often used in reference to a person receiving excessive public praise, and thus standing out from other people.
Scandalous repute; public reproach, shame, or disgrace. “Ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people.”—Book of Ezekiel, King James Version, 1611
To cause to feel humiliated; to cause a person embarrassment. From Middle French mortifier (various senses: 1552, to become gangrenous, decompose; 1588, in viandes mortifiés as a culinary term; 1594, to bruise, wound; 1636, to embarrass). From Latin mortificare, to deprive of life.
A potsherd. In ancient Athens, the decision to banish or exile a person from the city was made by casting a vote on a shard of pottery. Whence ostracism. “Ostracism was not the punishment of any criminal act,” wrote Plutarch, “but was speciously said to be the mere depression and humiliation of excessive greatness and power.”
To upbraid, reprove, rebuke. “I have been a very great rogue for your sake, and you reproach me with it.”—William Congreve, 1693
A grossly discreditable circumstance or event; something that hinders reception of faith or obedience to divine law. From Greek skandálon, trap or snare; hence skandálēthron, a mousetrap. See Julius Pollux’s Onomasticon (2nd cent.): “And the carpenter may also make mousetraps, whose upright and open part is called a pattalion, and that fastened to a rope a skandálēthron.”
A painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s conduct or circumstances. Also, the privy members: “And with loving pencil you shaded my eyes, my bosom, and my shame.”—James Joyce, 1922
(Yiddish) Shame, disgrace, scandal.
Succès de scandale
Success due to notoriety or scandalous character.
To pollute, defile; apparently, from French souiller, to soil, tarnish. “The purity of his virtue was sullied by excessive vanity.”—Edward Gibbon, 1781
A lawless or violent action; also, rude, ill-mannered.
Source: Lapham’s Quarterly
No doubt you recognized quite a few familiar terms. Which were new to you? Which stand out?
Before we part, take another look at the image above: the number of times “honor” and “shame” were used in English language books from 1800–1960. Shame has trailed honor since about 1828. For a couple of brief moments in the two preceding decades, we wrote about shame more than honor.
But since about 1900, honor has been in a freefall and shame has steadily declined.
What might our world look like if we focused more on honor and shame? Might we see less shameful and more honorable behavior?
It wouldn’t hurt to start talking about it.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.