Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mirror On The Wall, What Is A "Curmudgeon," Really?

What is a Curmudgeon anyway? It is a question of some interest to me, because it is a label which has attached itself to me upon occasion. The answer provided by writer Jon Winokur, who just about owns the franchise rights on curmudgeonry (much more in keeping with the word than "curmudgeonliness," nest paw?) is not what you might expect.
A curmudgeon's reputation for malevolence is undeserved. They're neither warped nor evil at heart. They don't hate mankind, just mankind's absurdities.

They're just as sensitive and soft-hearted as the next guy, but they hide their vulnerability beneath a crust of misanthropy. They ease the pain by turning hurt into humor.

They attack maudlinism because it devalues genuine sentiment.

Nature, having failed to equip them with a servicable denial mechanism, has endowed them with astute perception and sly wit.

Curmudgeons are mockers and debunkers whose bitterness is a symptom rather than a disease. They can't compromise their standards and can't manage the suspension of disbelief necessary for feigned cheerfulness. Their awareness is a curse.

Perhaps curmudgeons have gotten a bad rap in the same way that the messenger is blamed for the message: They have the temerity to comment on the human condition without apology. They not only refuse to applaud mediocrity, they howl it down with morose glee. Their versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them, even though they soften it with humor.
Or other literary, dramatic and/or rhetorical tropes. On "humor," Winokur opines:
Funny people have a heightened sense of the absurd. They take life seriously, but not literally. They’re sometimes described as “twisted,” but it’s just the opposite: they’re the sane ones in an insane world. Funny people are also aware of the music of humor. They instinctively know that the stress and number of beats has to be just right and that a superfluous syllable can kill a laugh, whether written or spoken. That’s why copy editors are hazardous to humor manuscripts. They care about being grammatically correct, not funny.
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