Does it seem to you like people are right about at their limit of annoyance lately? It sure seems that way to me. Screaming at one another, completely losing their composure on airplanes, in stores, and for that matter, nearly wherever they happen to be. Not to mention shooting one another, which feels like it’s getting more and more common, at least in the US.
Geese seem to be perpetually annoyed
Some of this might be simply the kinds of things that are getting mentioned in various media, of course. There are trends in what gets filmed, written about, and reported, and it could be that people acting out from pure annoyance is the hot story of our time. But I don’t think that can be all of it — I think there really is more acting out, shouting, threatening, and pure aggressive rudeness than there used to be, at least in very recent times. Go back far enough in history and you can read about US Senators hitting each other with walking sticks during actual sessions. And there’s been no shortage of local violence at any time.
But I still think there’s an upturn in aggressive annoyance and people acting on it. It’s no secret that when you’re already irritated about something, another completely unrelated annoyance can shatter your self control much more easily. Parents can lose their tempers at the kids simply because of a bad day at work that the kids have nothing to do with. And for that matter, a bad day with the kids can have consequences at work, too.
So maybe what’s going on is that our basal irritation rate is generally elevated. Why might that be? I think it might have something to do with frustration about all the things — big, important things — that seem to be going very wrong in the world. Most people, I think, want to do something to help. And yet what can we do about something as huge as climate change? When there’s a global pandemic, how can we help? What can we do about something as vast as “the economy,” or “inflation?” Or war? For one thing, I would love to reduce my use of fossil fuels, but I can’t afford to replace my car with an electric one. And even if I could, I’m uncomfortable with the unpleasantness of many materials needed for batteries — how they’re mined, and what happens in a few years when the batteries need replacement.
I also can’t do much of anything about the political nonsense I see and worry about. Or the violence all over the place. Even though statistically, there is less violence now, and in a broad sense things are getting better in so many areas, it just doesn’t feel like it.
That’s the thing; everything feels very frustrating just now. We seem frayed. Near the ends of our emotional ropes. Maybe there’s just too much change. And it can be annoying.
I don’t have any solutions, but I suspect just calmly speaking and writing about these things helps. Also remembering that most of the people you meet, most of the time, are probably okay. And so, most of the time, are you.
Tales from the Forest
Magpie surveyed the meadow from her perch on a branch on Hare’s tree. Beaver and Raccoon were just finishing the decorations, the Deer family were trimming the grass here and there, and Hare was loading up tables with all manner of snacks. Dog trotted in from the path with Ferret riding on her back.
“Hello, Magpie,” said Dog, “everything ready for the October, um, Fuss?”
“Oh, I think so, I think so,” said Magpie happily. I think this is going to be the start of something big, Dog. We can have this same party every year, just like they do in town.”
“Maybe,” said Dog. “Do you think we might want to make any changes next time? I mean, the party in town isn’t ’til tomorrow, so you could visit that one and see if their party has anything we should have too.”
“I thought of that,” said Magpie, who hadn’t. “I try to go to all the parties I can find in town; I almost always find some new shiny things for my collection.”
“I’m going to try some of those snacks,” said Ferret, jumping down from Dog’s back. “Thanks for the ride.”
“See ya later,” said Dog. “Let me know if you want to leave, Ferret.”
But Ferret was already dashing toward the snack tables. Doris Deer wandered over. “This is a pretty good meadow,” she said to Dog, “but the grass isn’t up to what we find over on the other side of the forest. There’s a meadow there, right next to the lake, you know? Grass is much better.”
“Oh,” said Dog, “I know that meadow, Doris, but I’m not the grass expert you are. Maybe Hare’s snack tables will make up for the grass?”
“Oh we’ll probably just eat too much and feel all achy and bloated,” said Doris.
“Wait,” said Dog, “have you already started the October Fuss?”
“October fuss or not,” said Felix Deer, trotting over, “this is the way we talk all the time. Except for me. I’m not a fretter.”
“You’re all the better for not being a fretter,” said Dog, who didn’t like complaining.
“Then you must be a setter,” said Felix.
“I’m more of a petter,” replied Dog with a grin.
“It’s October, so you’ll need your sweater,” said Felix.
“My sweater has a letter,” said Dog. “That makes it better.”
“Ha! I win!” said Felix, “you already said ‘better’!”
“Oh, right, I did,” said Dog. “Hey Felix, do you ever spend much time in town?”
“Are you kidding?” said Felix, “I’m a deer, we stay away from towns.”
“But you’re a very small deer,” said Dog. “I just thought maybe you hung out there sometimes, you know, staying hidden?”
“Nope,” said Felix.
“We used to spend quite a lot of time in town,” said Pa Mouse. The Mouse family had just arrived at the Fuss. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing really,” said Dog. “I just think we might have something a little bit wrong about our October Fuss. Compared to the one in town, you know. The one Magpie heard about that gave her the idea.”
“I’m still right here, you know,” said Magpie irritably. “You don’t have to talk about me as if I wasn’t.”
“I’m just getting started Fussing,” said Dog, thinking fast.
“Oh,” said Magpie. “Well that’s okay…er, I mean, that’s not a very good excuse, Dog. It’s too bad nobody pays enough attention any more.”
“Attention to what?” asked Ma Mouse, who still hadn’t quite grasped the whole ‘October Fuss’ idea.
“Attention to me, of course,” said Magpie. “That’s the trouble around here; nobody pays enough attention to me.”
“Oh come on,” said Raccoon, who was on her way back to the house to put away the last of the decorating supplies. “We’re having this whole dumb party just because of you, Magpie.”
“I should just keep my ideas to myself then,” sniffed Magpie.
“Dear me,” said Ma Mouse, “is everyone feeling cranky today?”
“No, it’s like I was trying to explain before,” said Pa Mouse, “the October Fuss is a party for fussing, so everyone is trying to find things to complain about.”
“Well I don’t like it,” said Ma. “I don’t like complaining, and I don’t like those who do it.”
“Now you’re getting the idea,” said Pa. He blinked, then added, “Um, I mean, I don’t like it either, and there’s too much of it going on, especially today. And I hate snacks too, so let’s go check them out to make sure we know which are the best…I mean, the worst.” Ma and Pa Mouse and the Mouse children hurried off toward the snacks.
“Rats,” said Dog, “I didn’t get a chance to ask them about the October Fe..er, Fuss in town.”
“It’s not ’til tomorrow,” said Magpie. “So they wouldn’t know about it.”
“In town they have one every year,” said Dog. “And I just had a couple of questions about it.”
“Oh who cares about your questions anyway,” said Magpie.
“Magpie, that sounds more like just being grumpy than fussing,” said Dog. “Aren’t there any rules for this thing?”
“Rules?” asked Magpie. “Er…I dunno, Dog. I hadn’t thought of that. Do they have rules at the one they have in town?”
“Maybe that was going to be one of my questions,” said Dog. It wasn’t one of her questions, but Magpie had managed to make her feel a bit annoyed. The same thing was happening around the snack tables, where everyone had decided to complain about the snacks instead of eating them. Except for Otter and Muskrat, who were happily sampling anything someone claimed was the worst.
Beaver came over and sat down next to Dog. “Do you think this is going to get better?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Beaver.” said Dog. “I was just asking Magpie if there were any rules. You know, about what you should and shouldn’t say?”
“Everybody is trying so hard to fuss and complain that it’s making them all irritable,” said Beaver. “I don’t much like it. And that’s not an October Fuss, either.”
They watched as two of the Deer family — Dog guessed Dennis and Desmond — started butting each other, and Squirrel and Hedgehog started yelling at each other.
“I think this has gone far enough,” said Dog.
“What are you going to do?” asked Beaver.
“This,” said Dog, and she took a deep breath and let out a string of barks that were so loud and dangerous-sounding that everyone in the meadow stopped what they were doing and stared.
“I have an announcement,” said Dog loudly. “The Fuss part of October Fuss is over. No more complaining. Let’s all go back to our regular selves and just enjoy this nice party Magpie organized for us. Tomorrow Magpie and I will check out the party in the town and find out how they do it. They have years of experience with these things, you know, so I’m sure they have a way to make it a fun party. Until then, let’s just have a fun party our own way.”
Everyone relaxed. “Sorry I yelled,” said Squirrel to Hedgehog.
“That’s okay,” said Hedgehog, “I yelled too. I was just trying to do my best to do that fussing thing. But I’m worried that I’m not very good at it.”
Even the Deer, who were better at fretting than nearly anyone, stopped arguing amongst themselves.
Magpie, who was still perched on the same branch, said “I guess that was a good idea, Dog. Are you really going to come with me to the October Fuss in town tomorrow?”
“Sure,” said Dog. “Maybe we’ll learn something.”
After the Fussing was taken out of the October Fuss, everyone had a good time after all. Then the next day, Dog trotted to the park in town where she knew the party was. She also knew it wasn’t really called an October “Fuss,” but she thought Magpie should probably find that out for herself. Which, she discovered, Magpie already had. When Dog got to the park, there was Magpie, sitting on a fencepost.
“Dog,” she said, “you’ll never guess what’s happened! It’s not an October FUSS at all!”
“Really?” said Dog as innocently as she could manage.
“Really,” said Magpie. “I must have, I dunno, misheard it or something the first time. This is called an October FEST, and it’s just a regular party.”
“Like the one we had yesterday,” said Dog.
“Well, the one we ended up having,” said Magpie. “Thanks to you, Dog.”
“I just don’t like complaining,” said Dog. “But look over there, Magpie. I see something shiny, dropped in the grass.”
“Ooh, I see it too,” said Magpie, and she flew over to add it to her collection.
“Well I’m glad that’s settled,” said Dog, and she trotted off to have some fun.
Word of the Hour
Dislike a journalist, website, or publication because of their political commentary? If you write a review, try to beat this:
“His Journal, then, is a depository for every species of political sophistry and personal calumny. There is no abuse or corruption that does not there find a Jesuitical palliation or a bare-faced vindication. There we meet the slime of hypocrisy, the varnish of courts, the cant of pedantry, the cobwebs of the law, the iron hand of power. Its object is as mischievous as the means by which it is pursued are odious.”
That’s from a letter written by William Hazlitt to the “Quarterly Review” in 1819. It goes on in that general vein so much and so well that it’s been called “one of the finest works of invective in the language.” In another part of the letter Hazlitt calls the editor of the Review an “ultracrepidarian”. His was the first use of the word ever recorded, so he may well have coined it himself, but nobody knows for sure. An “ultracrepidarian” gives opinions about things they don’t know anything about. The word comes from an allusion to something that happened in ancient Greece. There was a famous painter, Apelles, who liked to put his pictures up in public and hide nearby to hear what people said.
In once case a shoemaker complained that a sandal in a picture had too many loops. Apelles fixed it. This apparently fed the shoemaker’s ego a bit too much, so next he complained about the leg the sandal was attached to. As the famous scribe Pliny described it later (in Rome), Apelles told the shoemaker he shouldn’t judge beyond the sandals. There’s even an English proverb based on this story: “the cobbler should stick to his last” (a “last” is a pattern used by shoemakers). But Pliny, of course, was using Latin, so what he actually wrote was “ne supra crepidam judcaret”. This idea caught on in Latin (well before the English proverb) and was expressed in different ways, the most common being “ultra crepidam”, which is short for “ne sutor ultra crepidam”. “Crepidam” comes from the Greek word “krepis” (shoe), and you’re probably familiar with “ultra” (to go beyond). So although “ultra crepidam” has a literal meaning that, well, doesn’t mean much (“going beyond shoemaking”), every educated person up until about 1940 (except in the US and Prussia, of course, where the educational system was designed solely to prepare workers for factory jobs) would understand that it referred to the episode conveyed by Pliny.
Hazlitt (probably) created “ultracrepidarian” out of “ultra” and “crepidam”. By the way “crepidam” comes from the Greek word for shoe: “krepis”, and there’s another obscure English word based on it: “crepidarian”, which means “pertaining to a shoemaker.”
The End Part
William Hazlitt is famous enough that there’s an online literary magazine called Hazlitt: https://hazlitt.net/.
October Fests (not “Fusses;” Magpies do not have the most acute hearing) may have originated in Munich, Germany in the 19th century. The first was to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, which was on October 12, 1810.