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because who has the energy for high dudgeon these days
DUDGEON, n. If you read fiction from or set in the nineteenth century, sometimes you encounter a character “in high dudgeon,” where “dudgeon” means anger, indignation, resentment, displeasure. I thought about using this word in my draft this week, but got stuck on the question of whether one has to be in high dudgeon. What if you only feel regular dudgeon? Or a little bit of dudgeon? Can you ever be in low dudgeon?
The answer, as it turns out, is that while you don’t have to be “in high dudgeon,” that set phrase is this word’s most common habitat. “Dudgeon” can be used by itself or with other descriptors. Here’s Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913):
HIGGINS [very sulky] You may take the whole damned houseful if you like. Except the jewels. They're hired. Will that satisfy you? [He turns on his heel and is about to go in extreme dudgeon].
“Dudgeon” also exists in the term “humdudgeon,” a combination with “hum” (a pretense, nonsense, kinda like “humbug”) that means a complaint about nothing. Humdudgeon seems to be chiefly Scottish and tragically obsolete.
Nobody knows where “dudgeon” comes from, but before it meant Henry Higgins being “very sulky,” it meant the handle of a dagger. Macbeth says “And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood” and he clearly means a knife handle. People don’t say that anymore, and we don’t know how we get from dudgeon-as-hilt to dudgeon-as-huff. My mind jumped to the idea of being angry enough to stab someone—or anger at being stabbed? you’re in high dudgeon if you have a dudgeon sticking out of your back? 🗡—but there isn’t any written attestation of a connection between the two definitions of “dudgeon” that I could find.
I did find a blogger named Larry suggesting that “dudgeon” (as in anger) might come from Italian “aduggiare,” to overshadow, and the expression “to take umbrage at” (to take offense at, but “umbrage” originally meant “shade”). This would be cool if it were true, but I would need to see some evidence. (Sorry, Larry.) Drawing connections between anger, offense, shade, and overshadowing made me think about “shade” as used in the 1980s ballroom scene by Black and Latinx drag queens, a usage that has now filtered into the mainstream because of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
There does, at least, seem to be a longstanding connection between shadows and insults. An Italian friend once told me that her preferred thing to yell at other drivers was “Levati dal cazzo, fai un’ombra sulle mie palle” (Get off my dick, you are making a shadow on my balls—apologies if my Italian is imperfect), which is knowledge that I treasure. (The other member of my household, upon learning this phrase, said, “Well, that makes sense because my balls must be in full light at all times.”) As far as I can tell, “levati dal cazzo” is a standard swear sort of like “fuck off” or “get the fuck out,” but the bit about the shadow doesn’t generate a lot of search results, so I will credit it to my friend. I’ve never said anything so creative or specific when cut off in traffic. I don’t tend to be articulate in dudgeon, high or low.
This week in Capital-R Romance, I read more of Valerie Steele’s Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, including a chapter dedicated to clothing descriptions in Balzac’s fiction, which was delicious, but I think I will save discussion of that for next week.
I only read one small-r romance novel this week (apologies, I’ve been in kind of a reading slump) but it was lovely!
Team Phison (bi m/gay m, both cis, contemporary) by Chace Verity is a short, sweet romance starring two characters with some traits that are still unusual in the genre—Phil is 55 years old and Tyson is fat—which I found refreshing. There’s also some beloved familiar tropes in this, notably a “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one” opposites-attract dynamic and a really great, supportive, nosy, diverse group of friends. It was smart, funny, and paced just right. Content warnings: main character is estranged from family (not because of queerness), sex.
In things that are neither Romance nor romance, here’s Charlie Jane Anders writing about The Expanse and space opera for Esquire—her definition of “space opera” is more expansive than mine and she delves into the genre’s history.
See you next Sunday!