PEDANTRY

THE SENSITIVE GRUMP

If the Scots have hundreds of words for rain, and Eskimos have as many for snow, why should not us grumpy people have as many words again for grumpiness? For life is veritably a rich diapason of variegated experience, and there are as many ways of being truthfully grumpy as there are stars in the sky, and just because the world is going to pot in the evening as well as the morning does not mean we feel the same way about it. And honesty is important: why say we are 'grumpy' about something when we may be either 'apoplectic' or 'mildly dissatisfied' with it?

Observe, if you will, a typical grump's face. (If you are of the sort that prefers animation to still life, and movies to art galleries, say something to get into an argument with them—which, if they truly are grumpy, will be anything at all.) There are curves and folds, there are wrinkles and crinkles, there are turns and gurns, the marks of past frownings and growls and poutings and scowls and harrumphs; a grumpy face is truly a lived-in face, a face that has been put to exercise in the broad and curvaceous Fields of Grump. And, just as a cheerful person has 'laughter lines', a grumpy person has 'cranksome crinkles': true marks of the richness of a life well-grumped.

And the rich inner emotional life of the grump, the many nuances of his or her crankiness, do not go unnoticed and unremarked: why, already in this note, I have used the words 'grump', 'cranky', 'gurns', 'frowning', 'growl', 'pouting', 'harrumph', 'scowl', 'apoplectic' and 'mildly dissatisfied'. To these we may add: 'cantankerous', 'curmudgeonly', 'fuming', fretting', 'gloomy', 'grumble', 'grizzly', 'grouchily', 'grudgingly', 'gruching', (what a lot of lovely 'g' words for grumpitude there are), 'quinsical', 'flabberghasted', and more.

Yes, what a wealth of experience we have here! For while it may always suffice to say that one is 'grumpy' about something, imagine how much more precise—how much more particular—it is to specify that one is 'cantankerous'. Or perhaps you are merely 'a tad dyspeptic', that is, on your way to being 'apoplectic', but by no means there yet. Or—subtler yet—'discombobulated'. Indeed, it is a masterstroke, this word, for you are not only 'disgruntled' (presumably some 'gormless' party has caused you to lose your 'gruntle', though never yet have I known of a person with gorm, or a person be adequately gruntled), but you are truly 'discombobulated'. To this day, nobody may be able to say quite what 'combobulation' is exactly, but we know very well what 'discombobulation'* is.

In short, just about the only thing a grumpy person truly is not is 'angry'. Grumpiness is too much fun for all that.

But I want more! For grumpiness is truly like the weather, and while there are occasional storms—'her brow was thunderous', 'He raged and stormed',) and general states of un-ease ('I am unhappy', 'This is a sorry, sad state of affairs'), there are a thousand thousand states in between. Why, for instance, should we not be able to split the difference and pinpoint the moment between a 'scowl', a 'growl', and a 'howl'—a 'scrowl'? And what intermediate stage lies between 'crankiness' and 'cantankerousness'? Perhaps 'crankrantiness' and 'canktankeriness'? (There is a very fine moment in that Roald Dahl minor masterpiece, The Twits, in which, in a moment of passion, Mr Twit cries out to his wife, 'Grumpers and grojags, woman!' This wonderful phrase from Dahl is a blessing to us all. I still use it to this day.)

It is interesting, too, how some stages of grumpiness seem to go in pairs or triplets: as we have just seen, a 'grumper' goes with a 'grojag'. Hence, 'growl and howl', 'fume and fret', 'rant and rave', 'moan and groan'. But does 'scoff' go with either 'sneer' or 'snort' or even 'cough'? And what of 'gurn'? For there is far more than one gurn. Let us, then, essay some new pairs and triplets: 'gurned and globbered', 'scoff and scroff', ‘grumbled, rumbled, and harrumbled'.

From the grumpy nouns we also get a useful set of verbs: a 'grump' (noun) is someone who 'grumps' (verb)... although paradoxically, a 'silly old bugger' (noun) may very rarely actually 'bugger' (verb). A 'ranter' 'rants', a 'grumbler' 'grumbles'; interestingly, a 'crank' (noun) does not 'crank' (verb), though does get to be 'cranky' (adjective). But why should not a 'crank' get to 'crank', or a 'curmudgeon' (noun) who is 'curmudgeonly' (adjective) get to 'curmudge' (verb)? Why should not the lovely adjective 'cantankerous' yield us 'cantank' or 'cantanker' (noun) or 'cantank' (verb)? Conjugation, please! 'I cantank', 'you cantank', 'he/she/it cantanks', 'we cantank', 'thou cantankest'. Language really has missed a trick here.

We have now reached the end of my reflections, but that does not mean I will stop. There is a whole world of new grumpy expressions out there waiting to be discovered: why not average 'dyspeptic' and 'apoplectic' and 'discombobulated' out to get 'apocompleptobulated'? Can you be loudly 'flabberghasted', which is to say, can you 'jabberghast'? Why loudly declaim a piece of tommyrot as tommyrot when you can call it the 'tommyroot of all evil'? And why should the lovely flow of syllables in 'preposterous' stop where it does when you can denounce something truly preposterous as 'Prepostalopolous'?

So boldly go, my children: ghast your flabbers, and conjugate your cantanking. The only thing you have to lose is your combobulation!

Tim 'Grumpy' Train 

*I like to think of it as a kind of separable verb, like 'to boldly go', 'to happily eat': 'I have dissed my combobulation'.

 Is this truly the face of an angry man? ( Drawing, 18th century (?), after C. Le Brun , Wellcome Collection). Or is he merely combobulated?

Is this truly the face of an angry man? (Drawing, 18th century (?), after C. Le Brun, Wellcome Collection). Or is he merely combobulated?