September 29, 2015

Harridan or catastrophe?

If there is to be a Word of the Day this morning on the blog, it will be either "harridan""Carly makes it harder for Hillary to claim she must be flat and bland lest people see her as a screeching harridan" — or "catastrophe""It just irritates the heck out of me.  Unknown catastrophe. We know that an unknown catastrophe some years ago brought about by climate change destroyed all the water on Mars."

UPDATE: "Harridan" wins, as I guessed it would, since people are attracted to women, even "a decayed strumpet," as Samuel Johnson defined the word in his famous dictionary. I'm flattered that you chose it, not because I am a decayed strumpet, but because I came up with the word myself, and "catastrophe" was a quoted word (from Rush Limbaugh, who was himself quoting someone, a NASA scientist).

The OED defines "harridan" as "A haggard old woman; a vixen; ‘a decayed strumpet’ (Johnson): usually a term of vituperation." The OED's historical quotes include:
a1745 Swift Misc. Poems (1807) 57 The nymphs with whom you first began, Are each become a harridan.
1860 R. W. Emerson Considerations in Conduct of Life (London ed.) 241 This identical hussy was a tutelar spirit in one house, and a harridan in the other.
The Emerson is the one that seems to need more context. Who was this woman? And yet the Swift poem is so wonderful — rhyming "blab it" with "habit" —  I want to copy it here:
Copy of the Birth-Day Verses on Mr. Ford

COME, be content, since out it must,
For Stella has betray'd her trust;
And, whispering, charged me not to say
That Mr. Ford was born to-day;
Or, if at last I needs must blab it,
According to my usual habit,
She bid me, with a serious face,
Be sure conceal the time and place;
And not my compliment to spoil,
By calling this your native soil;
Or vex the ladies, when they knew
That you are turning forty-two:
But, if these topics shall appear
Strong arguments to keep you here,
I think, though you judge hardly of it,
Good manners must give place to profit.

The nymphs, with whom you first began,
Are each become a harridan;
And Montague so far decay'd,
Her lovers now must all be paid;
And every belle that since arose,
Has her contemporary beaux.
Your former comrades, once so bright,
With whom you toasted half the night,
Of rheumatism and pox complain,
And bid adieu to dear champaign.
Your great protectors, once in power,
Are now in exile or the Tower.
Your foes triumphant o'er the laws,
Who hate your person and your cause,
If once they get you on the spot,
You must be guilty of the plot;
For, true or false, they'll ne'er inquire,
But use you ten times worse than Prior....
More at the link.

As for Emerson, I had a little trouble finding the quote, because he'd spelled the word "haridan." Here it is:
Make yourself necessary to somebody. Do not make life hard to any. This point is acquiring new importance in American social life. Our domestic service is usually a foolish fracas of unreasonable demand on one side and shirking on the other....  Few people discern that it rests with the master or the mistress what service comes from the man or the maid; that this identical hussy was a tutelar spirit in one house and a haridan in the other. All sensible people are selfish, and nature is tugging at every contract to make the terms of it fair. If you are proposing only your own, the other party must deal a little hardly by you. If you deal generously, the other, though selfish and unjust, will make an exception in your favor, and deal truly with you. When I asked an iron-master about the slag and cinder in railroad iron, — “O,” he said, “there's always good iron to be had: if there 's cinder in the iron it is because there was cinder in the pay.”
The Art of the Deal... 19th century style.


holdfast said...


Because Hillary!

And War On Womyn.

Chuck said...

Harridan. Elections have consequences, and words have meaning.

traditionalguy said...

I am a catastrophist all the way down. Harridans don't get my attention anymore.

But doesn't the Blood Moon Theory of a Cstastrophes blend in Trump's response to Harridan Meygan Kelly's facial excitement.

Michael K said...

Harridan because Hillary!

Carter Wood said...

Lou Reed would vote for "harridan," I believe, based on this evidence.

Lou Reed – "How Do You Speak To An Angel," lyrics, from "Growing Up in Public," 1980.

A son who is cursed with a harridan mother
Or a weak simpering father at best
Is raised to play out the timeless classical motives
Of filial love and incest

How does he
Speak to a
How does he speak to the prettiest girl
How does he
Talk to her
What does he say for an opening line
What does he say if he's shy

The Bergall said...

Hillary's new slogan of the week:

"America's favorite Mother In-Law".

Ann Althouse said...

If for some reason the "vote" button isn't visible, go here.

Ann Althouse said...

The most interesting thing about the word "harridan" is how Samuel Johnson defined it. The most interesting thing about "catastrophe" is how Shakespeare misused it.

Bay Area Guy said...

"Harpy" is pretty good. "Shrill ex-Mother-in-Law" is not bad either. (hat tip to the Mother in Laws above).

"Power-mad, shrieking, maniacal feminist" also captures the spirit.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

If we elect Hillary! I suspect both words would get quite a workout.

traditionalguy said...

Point of order: When Shakespeare mis-uses a word, that becomes its corret usage.

traditionalguy said...

I correct correct.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

It took me only seconds at an anagram generator to conclude that it should be catastrophe, by an order of magnitude.

rhhardin said...

Mallarmé, Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe, "A still block of stone fallen down here onto earth from out of some unknown catastrophe."

mikee said...

Why use "harridan" when there is a perfectly good descriptive word - "Hillary" - available to describe Hillary? I think harridan doesn't do Hillary justice, as it covers only the shrieking irrationality part of her behavior, not the corruption, lies, personal destruction of opponents, misuse of law, blatant illegality and megalomania.

"Hillary" catches all of that, and more of her, and will in future be as commonplace a political insult as "Nixon" has been for most of my life.

Owen said...

@Mikee: "'Hillary'...will in future be as commonplace a political insult..."

Already is, at least in the right circles.

James Pawlak said...

"Loaded Question"! Both terms apply more to Hillary!

Ann Althouse said...

"Point of order: When Shakespeare mis-uses a word, that becomes its corret usage."

"Away you scullian..ile tickle your catastrophe."

It meant: the buttocks.


Ann Althouse said...

I can reveal that now that I see "harridan" has won.

Harridan, defined by Samuel Johnson, as "a decayed strumpet."

I'll have more on the topic!

rehajm said...

I'm going to work 'decayed strumpet' into the rotation.

rehajm said...

...though it may reduce my use of moistened bint

Nichevo said...

not because I am a decayed strumpet,

Not that you're NOT a decayed strumpet

Bill said...

I see Hillary as more fishwife than harridan: "HADDOCK! Get your HADDOCK! Freshest HADDOCK in CHAPPAQUA!"

Anonymous said...

I'll guess Emerson's harridan was Margaret Fuller, who stayed with the Emersons, man and wife, on and off for long periods of time to the dismay to Mrs. Emerson. Fuller was America's first woman intellectual, a bit of a handful for most 19th century people.

It could also be Emerson's aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, another frequent house guest who could be sharp tongued, who was tolerated by Mrs. Emerson. You have to feel sympathy for the Mrs. as along with these and other frequent guests Emerson's mother lived with them for twenty years. Mary Moody Emerson was somewhat of an intellectual herself, read widely, and provided Emerson with early educational inspiration after his father died when Emerson was young.

Bill said...

Hmm. "Hillary: harridan or catastrophe?"

tim in vermont said...

I am sure crone would have won for the same reason.

Smilin' Jack said...

Harridan or catastrophe?

Vote for Hillary and you won't have to choose.

Mountain Maven said...

Criminal. 18 USC 1924

Nichevo said...

"Just soo glad you had sons, and your niece passed early."

Ne plus infra. Trust a lawyer.

Known Unknown said...

I think harridan won in part simply because it is the lesser known word. It sounds more interesting, even if one does not know that it has to do with a woman, or women.

richard mcenroe said...

What's wrong with "virago"?

BN said...

crapped out on the little "the buttocks" gambit, didn't you?

Quaestor said...

Quite aside from Dr.Johnson's amusing definition of harridan I'm indebted to our hostess for the Swift verse, not only does it anticipate the "over the hill" birthday greeting card (the only birthday card from a non-relation a man is likely to get after age 12) it illustrates the evolution of English. Take a look at this line: For Stella has betray'd her trust. And this one: And Montague so far decay'd.

Note how betrayed and decayed are contracted. One doesn't have to look very deep into Elizabethan and Jacobean poetry, when iambic pentameter was king, to find examples of the past tense ending that must be pronounced just like the name Ed in order to preserve the meter, as in betray-ED and decay-ED. English didn't start out with as many unvoiced vowels as we have now. Back when writing materials were expensive if one invested ink in a vowel one usually wanted it voiced by the reader. The Swift poem shows us the time of change from the voiced e in the past tense ending to the unvoiced, and his use of the contraction, something nobody bothers with today, also shows that he intended the reader to pronounce betrayed and decayed much as we do today rather than in the antique fashion.