Friday, February 17, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 2-23-17

Notes From My Knapsack 2-23-17

Jeff Gill


Dudgeon, high and low



Are you offended?


No, I'm not asking about what so much as if. If you are, in general, offended.


Some folks just don't get riled too quickly, and others are easy to stir up, quick to retort, hasty in their comebacks.


There's a phrase, somewhat archaic, mildly mysterious in origins, that you can use when someone is ready to go off half-cocked or on full automatic at any time, and that's when you say someone is "in high dudgeon."


There's an etymology that's tempting to follow in the Granville area, because it has to do with a Welsh word for "resentment or indignation," and would fit the usage as it's used today for a person leaving a room "in high dudgeon." But none other than the Oxford English Dictionary says a lengthy and scholarly version of "whoa, not so fast, bub."


What we do know is that in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and earlier English usage, a dudgeon was the hilt of a dagger: "I see thee still, And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, Which was not so before." So.


"High" dudgeon, and the application of the term in the following century or two, seems to indicate a person who walks around with a hand on their hilt, always ready in the "high dudgeon" position to pull their sidearm and brandish it aggressively.


High dudgeon would be like an armed person walking around with their hand on the butt of their gun all the time. Not quite threatening, but not altogether reassuring, either.


Rhetorically, on TV cable news, online in all manner of venues, social media and otherwise, it seems like everyone is walking around, metaphorically, ready to draw and fire. On a hair-trigger, or locked and loaded all the time.


It probably doesn't help much that so many of our metaphors for dispute and debate are not just militant, but weaponized. Look through the ones I've used so far, and you can see the view down the sights. "High dudgeon" is only quaint and less violent sounding because our context has changed, and people, mostly gentlemen, don't walk around with a dagger in their belt as a part of being dressed for the out-of-doors. But in its day, it had as much a message of "kill or be killed" as "two go in, one comes out" does today.


I would never tell someone who is offended or concerned these days that they're wrong (for one thing, I value my life too much to do that). But I do wonder about what our alternative paths might be to talk about opposition and interest and ultimately policy in terms that are other than high caliber, major impact, mushrooming or armor-piercing language.


This may be my Quaker heritage showing through, but on all sides of the current political swirl, I hear speech aimed at the other side's positions that sounds awfully violent and martial. What if we were looking for ways to express differences or reconcile opposition that picked up on a different set of images and methods?


It's instructive to me, at least, that as I try to come up with some new terminology, I just keep coming up with different ways to rally the troops, charge the ramparts, or decimate the opposition (look up the roots of that last one, yuck). Do you have any ideas? From art, biology, architecture, dance?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you think we could speak differently about differences at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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