The Toad's Words

Excursus #17

The best part about writing Toad's Words is the information that you, my gentle readers, send me. For example, in Toad #16 we included the currently popular 'paparazzi' even though the word seemingly came from film and not from literature. Both are fiction, true, but it didn't completely fit in with the other words. Well, Andrew Lycett, my British friend and author of Ian Fleming's biography, sent the following.

"Your background on paparazzo was more appropriate than perhaps you imagined.

Ennio Flaiano, Fellini's scenarist, recorded in his 1973 book La Solitudine del Satiro how he had been having difficulty finding a name for the photographer in La Dolce Vita. He had been reading an Italian translation of the British nineteenth century novelist and man of letters George Gissing's travel book By the Ionian Sea. In that book (chapter 13) Gissing recorded visiting an inn, the Albergo Centrale, in Catanzaro, in Dec 1897. He (Gissing) mentioned with amusement how the proprietor Coriolano Paparazzo had posted a note on the door of each room, expressing his sense of hurt that some guests were taking their meals in other establishments than his own. Flaiano loved the name of the hotelier and adopted it for his own photographer."

The Toad's Words continue to pick up little toadisms. A Santa Barbara friend, Claudia Scott, referred to the words, which the readers send me as 'toad-fodder.' Please keep sending me as much toad-fodder as possible.

Another Santa Barbara friend, we'll call him Jack, thanked me for using grouse and asked that I tackle curmudgeon since his friends accuse him of working on his advanced curmudgeon degree. Well, Jack, here goes:

Curmudgeon, noun

Pronounced kur muj en (e as in item), accent on muj.

An ill-tempered, cantankerous, stubborn, churlish, stingy person.

Certainly the kind of person we all want to have as a neighbor. (You can also understand why I did not use Jack's real name.) Now, the really interesting thing about this word is that no one seems to know where it came from. Twelve of my books simply state - of unknown origin. Another states - origin unknown - and then goes on to say that it might be from a medieval surname, 'Curmegan.' (First name Jack, maybe?) This same reference then says that it might be related to the French coeur méchant. Since literally, coeur mechant means miserable or wretched heart, this seems probable.

Sally sold Girl Scout Cookies to everyone in the neighborhood except for the curmudgeon on the corner who groused that the cookies were too expensive and that Sally had pounded on his door too loudly.

Codger, noun

An eccentric old man. A peculiar person.

Lately, codger seems to be a somewhat affectionate term for an old man (or to be politically correct, an old person.) A less common definition is miser, or one who gathers as much money as he can. This later definition clearly comes from the word 'cadge' which means to beg shamelessly. 

Sally liked the old codger that lived across the street from the curmudgeon even though he always wanted to tell her stories about grouse hunting.

Cavil, verb

Pronounced kav el (e as in taken), accent on kav.

To find fault unnecessarily or without good reason, to raise trivial objections, to quibble about petty flaws. Can also be used as a noun to mean a trivial objection or petty criticism. Comes from the Latin cavillari meaning to jeer, satirize, or scoff at.

For the curmudgeon to cavil about the price of Girl Scout Cookies was ludicrous since he was a retired lawyer.

Cynic, noun

Pronounced sin ick, accent on sin.

An individual who believes that all people are motivated by self interest. Usually used to indicate a disillusioned attitude that has hardened into extreme bitterness. The Greek philosopher Antisthenes and his followers taught that virtue was the only good and that self-control and independence are the essence of virtue. Hence, they were contemptuous of worldly needs and pleasures. The cynic philosophers took their name from Antisthenes' gymnasium - Kynosarges (meaning white dog) where he taught.

The curmudgeon was cynical enough to believe that Girl Scout Cookies were strictly feathering the nests of the bakeries making the cookies.

Chary, adjective

Pronounced cherry.

Very cautious or wary, shy, usually mistrustful and timid. Also, sparing or stingy.

This comes from the old English cearig meaning care and originally sorrowful.

The actual reason the codger came off as a curmudgeon was that he was extremely chary of strangers and his caviling was simply a defense mechanism.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright © by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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