Limits to Curmudgeonhood?

 

In a conversation last month, the subject of curmudgeonhood came up. There were some advocates of a minimum age restriction that would start somewhere around fifty. In short, their view was that curmudgeonhood was earned through experience.

My dictionary’s* definition of curmudgeon is: “A surly, ill-mannered, bad-tempered person; cantankerous fellow.”

Alright, given that definition, maybe curmudgeonhood is nothing to aspire to, but I also notice that there is no age limit given or implied. I’ve known two-year-olds who qualify. Actually, I suspect almost all two-year-olds qualify by that definition.

Of course, not every working definition of a word is the same as the published definition. Many think more of a lovable curmudgeon: a crabby, older person who shouts, “Get off my lawn.” The sort of person Clint Eastwood has morphed into playing as he has aged.

Another factor in curmudgeonhood as the cultural working definition exists is intelligence. I have not been able to find it after extensive searches, but my memory tells me there was a scientific article a few years back that showed that curmudgeons were often more intelligent than their peers. The curmudgeon sees someone proposing this “great new idea,” and says, “It’s been tried before many times, and failed every time.” This takes some combination of intelligence and experience, but would the lower age limit, if any, be different for someone with an average IQ vs. someone who was outside the 95% normal? What about for someone whose IQ was way off the scale? Would he be able to come to curmudgeonhood at a younger age? Would it be different for those who gained knowledge of human nature via reading history or in other vicarious ways rather than those who have gained their experience through suffering the slings and arrows of being around normal humans?

So, what do you think, Ricochetois? What is a curmudgeon? Are there age limits? Are curmudgeons born or made? If made, what creates a curmudgeon?

* Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language Second Edition (1980)

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  1. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Characteristics of curmudgeonhood:

    You know 10,000 things that few other people know, but regrettably few people seem eager to hear about.

    But on the other hand, many of those very same people make pseudo-learned statements based on debunkable, Neil deGrasse Tyson-style anecdotes and cliches. They make you cringe, and you start objecting when you hear…

    “the car companies conspired to kill mass transit!”

    “the Fifties were the worst time in history. Women had to wear gloves and girdles. No one even had sex until the mid-Sixties. Why, it was a crime to even talk about it”

    “Muhammad Ali was a popular American hero”

    “Americans were desperate for small, fuel-sipping cars, but Detroit refused to make them”

    “The Challenger blew up because NASA made them launch on Reagan’s orders, so he could speak to the Teacher in Space during his State of the Union address”

    “It’s totally understandable why inner city murder, arson, and rape went through the roof in the Seventies. We’d just had a shattering disillusionment called Watergate that called our so-called verities into question”

    —and if all that doesn’t make you a curmudgeon, nothing will.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary McVey: —and if all that doesn’t make you a curmudgeon, nothing will.

    My Curmudgeonhood Quotient (CQ) was rising just reading your list, Gary.

    • #2
  3. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Just one last thing, Arahant. In the old days, in comedy cartoons and movies, if a bunch of yowling alley cats were preventing city dwellers from getting to sleep, an irate citizen would toss an old shoe at them. They’d jump out of the way and quit caterwauling. Nowadays, that would be cruelty to animals. Damn it, if you can’t toss old shoes at alley cats without being criticized, can we even call this a republic anymore?

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary McVey:Damn it, if you can’t toss old shoes at alley cats without being criticized, can we even call this a republic anymore?

    It’s truly a sad state of affairs. And having gone through two cats who were in heat (before we had a chance to spay them), I must admit the temptation is strong.

    • #4
  5. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    I have my own theory on this subject as I am definitely a curmudgeon and an analytical one at that. I’m going to call it the “Overflowing Glass Effect”. This can be used for many situations not associated with curmudgeon hood.

    For any given thing, we all have a measure of tolerance. Each of these individual things is represented by a glass – ideally an empty glass, but lets just say we don’t even notice this until some of our glasses start to fill up. They are all at different levels for different things. Each time a particular person leaves the kitchen light on, or doesn’t do the dishes, or accuses you of never doing the dishes etc. a little more water is poured into the glass. At some point the glass for that subject becomes full and any new transgression make the glass overflow. All tolerance for this silly little thing has been lost or spent. This can then easily be translated to other people and situations.

    The longer we live, the more filled glasses we have in all categories. Moreover, smart people will begin to connect these categories and see patterns. The waiter who says “no problem’ is 90% likely to be inattentive since “no problem’ is a narcissistic construct vs. “you’re welcome”. That’s a little thing of course, but there are much bigger things.

    “Get off my lawn” comes from years of experience of reseeding and covering dirt patches years of indifference and ingratitude by the kids who are playing there.

    We curmudgeons see the future and we don’t like what we see. Sometimes it’s like watching a tragedy unfold.

    • #5
  6. Yeah...ok. Member
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    Gary McVey:

    “The Challenger blew up because NASA made them launch on Reagan’s orders, so he could speak to the Teacher in Space during his State of the Union address” .

    In 50 years they’ll say we commute to the moon via SpaceX because Obama said NASA violated Sharia.

    • #6
  7. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    I’d expand the definition to include the idea that the curmudgeon believes things are suboptimal and it’s other people’s fault.

    Also, the curmudgeon is an essentialist: People don’t grow and improve; the kids can’t be taught consideration, so the only available option is to chase them off the lawn. The world’s decline is irreversible; nothing can be gained by attempting to improve it.

    I don’t think a 2-year-old has enough awareness of others to qualify as a curmudgeon. But I’ve known some seven-year-olds who fit the bill.

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    A curmudgeon is one who recognizes the human condition and isn’t shy about pointing out its inevitable implications.

    “No, as a matter if fact, the government is not the solution to all our problems. Government never solves problems: it merely changes the preconditions, the operating environment, and the parameters of problems in weird and unnatural ways, giving rise to one or more new problems, each as vexing as the problem originally addressed. Now, get off my lawn.”

    • #8
  9. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I’ve been aspiring to, and training for, curmudgeonhood ever since I read The Cat and the Curmudgeon when I was a young’n.

    If there’s an minimum age, then I broke that rule with gusto.

    • #9
  10. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Misthi, your wait is over! You’re a “made man” now! Just stop by Curmudgeon headquarters and pick up your membership card. (It also gets you discounts at Walmart). Welcome, brother.

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Son of Spengler:I’d expand the definition to include the idea that the curmudgeon believes things are suboptimal and it’s other people’s fault.

    Also, the curmudgeon is an essentialist: People don’t grow and improve; the kids can’t be taught consideration, so the only available option is to chase them off the lawn. The world’s decline is irreversible; nothing can be gained by attempting to improve it.

    Yes and no, Spengler. Believing that children are the way they are because of their parents does not necessarily mean that you believe the children can’t grow and improve. It might mean that you suspect their parents are idiots and that they are not going to improve with parents like that and since your only recourse to discipline is to tell them to get off the lawn, that’s what you do.

    Is the decline irreversible? No, but the system needs to be changed to reverse things, and the politicians won’t because they are ensconced in the system. It’s their job to support the system, because the system supports them and their families. Etc.

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthiocracy:I’ve been aspiring to, and training for, curmudgeonhood ever since I read The Cat and the Curmudgeon when I was a young’n.

    If there’s an minimum age, then I broke that rule with gusto.

    Well, since I claim to have been one since age twelve, and Skipsul claims age fourteen, you’re in good company.

    • #12
  13. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Arahant:

    Son of Spengler:I’d expand the definition to include the idea that the curmudgeon believes things are suboptimal and it’s other people’s fault.

    Also, the curmudgeon is an essentialist: People don’t grow and improve; the kids can’t be taught consideration, so the only available option is to chase them off the lawn. The world’s decline is irreversible; nothing can be gained by attempting to improve it.

    Yes and no, Spengler. Believing that children are the way they are because of their parents does not necessarily mean that you believe the children can’t grow and improve. It might mean that you suspect their parents are idiots and that they are not going to improve with parents like that and since your only recourse to discipline is to tell them to get off the lawn, that’s what you do.

    Is the decline irreversible? No, but the system needs to be changed to reverse things, and the politicians won’t because they are ensconced in the system. It’s their job to support the system, because the system supports them and their families. Etc.

    “Parents are idiots” = essentialist

    “Politicians won’t because they are ensconced in the system” = essentialist

    I don’t think we’re in disagreement, as much as you consider the essential, unchangeable features to be different from the ones I identified.

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Gary McVey:Misthi, your wait is over! You’re a “made man” now! Just stop by Curmudgeon headquarters and pick up your membership card. (It also gets you discounts at Walmart). Welcome, brother.

    Yer gonna make me get up off this porch to drive out to the friggin’ sticks to get some piece of paper?!

    Pfft. Waste of time if you ask me…

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Son of Spengler:“Parents are idiots” = essentialist“Politicians won’t because they are ensconced in the system” = essentialist

    I don’t think we’re in disagreement, as much as you consider the essential, unchangeable features to be different from the ones I identified.

    It’s not that the parents (or the children) are unchangeable, it is that it is not the curmudgeon’s job, and perhaps the curmudgeon has tried other approaches before, but “Get off my lawn” is the only one that ever worked. The curmudgeon also might be in a situation where he could get in trouble by trying to change some of these things.

    The only essentialist belief I hold is that human nature doesn’t change. But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Sometimes the grumpy approach is the best approach to get things done.

    Old Adage: “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

    Bill Murray: “Yeah, but who wants flies?”

    • #15
  16. skipsul Member
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Proud curmudgeon since I was 14.  Now get off my lawn, and if I see your dirty mug on my street again I’m calling the cops.

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    skipsul:Proud curmudgeon since I was 14. Now get off my lawn, and if I see your dirty mug on my street again I’m calling the cops.

    Go, Skip, go!

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    skipsul:Proud curmudgeon since I was 14. Now get off my lawn, and if I see your dirty mug on my street again I’m calling the cops.

    By the way, what made you a curmudgeon at such a young age?

    • #18
  19. skipsul Member
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Arahant:

    skipsul:Proud curmudgeon since I was 14. Now get off my lawn, and if I see your dirty mug on my street again I’m calling the cops.

    By the way, what made you a curmudgeon at such a young age?

    I went to a trendy college prep school with a bunch of rich liberal scions of rich liberal lawyers, and I watched them turn the place from a solid academic institution into yet another liberal experiment in gender shaming.  Plus I was reading National Review when I was 13.

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    How about you, Gary? At what age did you become a curmudgeon, and what brought it on?

    • #20
  21. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    I came from the outer boroughs of New York City, and like the others here I started reading early. I gradually noticed that many of the adult writers I looked up to were dismissive of features of neighborhood and family life that seemed more true, vital or important than the stuff they were so obsessed about. This seems kind of obvious fifty years later, but at the time, to a 12 year old kid, it was, as Betty Friedan would later call women’s issues, “the problem with no name”–because the cultural Muzak of the time had no way of noticing or defining the gradual split in American culture.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary McVey:I came from the outer boroughs of New York City, and like the others here I started reading early. I gradually noticed that many of the adult writers I looked up to were dismissive of features of neighborhood and family life that seemed more true, vital or important than the stuff they were so obsessed about. This seems kind of obvious fifty years later, but at the time, to a 12 year old kid, it was, as Betty Friedan would later call women’s issues, “the problem with no name”–because the cultural Muzak of the time had no way of noticing or defining the gradual split in American culture.

    So, that sounds like another vote for twelve.

    • #22
  23. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    For me, 12 was the year Shea Stadium and the World’s Fair opened, a short city bus ride from my house. It was the Goldwater year, a year before Bill Buckley’s quixotic run of New York City mayor, a polished, much admired bit of performance art and mockery of the established that as sheer wit exceeds anything Stewart and Colbert do or did.

    • #23
  24. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    You are all causing me to doubt my own curmudgeon status.

    I always thought a curmudgeon was someone who spoke their mind and never gave a hoot about anyone who didn’t like it.  So someone who says “gaffes” that are the obvious truths.

    By THAT metric, I am doing OK.

    • #24
  25. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I became a curmudgeon when I had finished transitioning from liberal through libertarian to conservative. This would have been during Reagan’s first term, with someone (I seem to recall it being Tip O’Neill) blathering on in opposition to whatever Ronnie’s latest outrage was.

    “But he’s right, you knucklehead” was bellowed at the TV screen.

    • #25
  26. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Never fear, iWc, your curmudgeon status is clear; I just checked MI5’s database and you are listed as “licensed to contradict, dispute and bear righteous witness with sufficient rigor as to cause our enemies’ ultimate demise”.

    So how did you earn double O status? You have to best two Ricochet old timers in argument, and your file lists…

    “Only one?” (iWc fires his wit across the internet and McVey crumbles to the floor)

    I guess…the second one is easier….

    “Quite”.

    • #26
  27. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    am enjoying this thread!

    • #27
  28. J Flei Member
    J Flei
    @Solon

    I became a grouchy old man at about 17.  When the OJ Simpson not guilty verdict came down, I was in high school, and that somehow catapulted me into becoming a cantankerous cynic.

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    iWc:You are all causing me to doubt my own curmudgeon status.

    I always thought a curmudgeon was someone who spoke their mind and never gave a hoot about anyone who didn’t like it. So someone who says “gaffes” that are the obvious truths.

    By THAT metric, I am doing OK.

    As I said, working definitions that people use are not always reflected in the dictionary, especially a 35-year-old dictionary.

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival:I became a curmudgeon when I had finished transitioning from liberal through libertarian to conservative. This would have been during Reagan’s first term, with someone (I seem to recall it being Tip O’Neill) blathering on in opposition to whatever Ronnie’s latest outrage was.

    “But he’s right, you knucklehead” was bellowed at the TV screen.

    So, you were an old man in your mid-twenties? Came to curmudgeonhood late, but welcome.

    • #30

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