A cropped version of a vintage black and white illustration of three Victorian-era figures.

Nicer Name Calling

I’ve begun to think lately that the current language of anger in our culture is less than useful, certainly less than kind (and it’s not such a terrible idea to be kind to people even when you’re angry with them). If someone crosses your path in such a way as to inconvenience you—like maybe they’re pulling out of a parking lot at the same time as you and there’s some disagreement as to who was there first; or else the “malefactor” is thoughtless of you or someone you’re with in some other mundane way, I wonder if it’s necessary to stoop to such epithets as “dickhead” for example. That soubriquet is in such common usage that the spell check on my Microsoft Word program has no problem with my combining dick and head into one word. It informs me, however, that I’m making a spelling error if I make spellcheck one word, which as I type this now is underlined in red. It feels no need, on the other hand, to admonish me to break up into two parts “dick” and “head”.

And there it is: Dickhead is now, according to the US and English Oxford dictionary, a legitimate, acceptable word. I don’t think that’s right.

A vintage black and white illustration of three Victorian-era figures.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the reality of the top of a penis, circumcised or not. But in our still basically Anglo-Saxon culture, which came to us in the western hemisphere deeply colored by Victorianism and our early pilgrim influences, it’s simply “not nice” to refer to a person as “being” a part of the anatomy that is otherwise utterly unmentionable.

Some of our forefathers and mothers burned witches, and it didn’t take a lot of sinning in many cases to be convicted of witchcraft. I personally think there’s a strong possibility that in the case of Hester Prynne, for instance, branded according to Nathaniel Hawthorne, with an “A” for adultery—that had she called the men who punished her in the manner they did a bunch of dickheads, that she would very likely have been burned at the stake.

So, I’ve raised what I think is a societal problem. “Do I have any solutions?”

Yes, I do.

Words go in and out of style. At one point early in the development of black jazz in the United States, the word “cool” took on the usage common today. It applied to anything that was nice, smooth, appealing, fascinating or attractive in a non-gauche (or if you prefer), non-white way.

Later, white people began to use the word “cool” pretty much indiscriminately, shortly after which it was no longer cool to be cool—in jazzy black communities first, and finally anywhere at all.

Time passed, and “cool” crept back into popular usage. It may still in some areas be thought of as not being as cool as it thinks it is, but nevertheless, as of today anyway, it’s not uncool to be cool.

Long way to my point.

Why not just look for an out-of-use, archaic, if you like, substitute for dickhead, something less cruel and injurious.

The Biblical meaning of the word vengeance is “vindication.” Yet, we take vengeance to mean, for example, that God will come and wreak some awful punishment on all of us sinners. But that’s not what God intended when He allowed “vengeance” to slip into the Bible. He just wanted to bring about what vindication means—He wanted to make something right out of something that had previously been… wrong.

That God, of the actual Bible would, I’m pretty sure, never call sinners dickheads.

Here’s my suggestion. I’m thinking of a word that means a dishonest or unprincipled person. Using that instead of the aforementioned dickhead would convey our distress over what a thoughtless, insensitive person might be doing at the moment, but it wouldn’t stoop to the level of the worst insult we can possibly imagine, to a level of name calling far beneath our dignity.

The word I have in mind for a dishonest, unprincipled, unkind, thoughtless person: “Varlet.”

For example: “I arrived at this parking lot egress before thee, thou varlet!”

Wouldn’t that suffice to let the sinner know they had seriously transgressed?

Of course it would. And we wouldn’t need to call into question the other person’s humanity, by labeling him—notwithstanding what the Oxford dictionary says—the outer end of a penis.