Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shrews and Curmudgeons: Vocabulary to Inspire Story Ideas

A scold is a person who disturbs the public and private peace, one who criticizes others all too often using an angry tone. The online dictionary is careful not to attribute a gender to scold, but since the word’s debut in the Middle Ages, scold is a word often used to describe a wife, woman, nag, fishwife, fury, harpy, shrew, vixen, termagant, and virago.

I saw a scold today, but this one had feathers. She was a Mallard hen, and she had plenty to say to and about the two sleek males trying their best to claim her. She hopped in and out of the water, onto and off the dock, evading them. She preened and fluffed her feathers when her suitors distracted each other, one swimming furiously behind the other in an attempt to run off the competition. Once plenty of water lay between the two boys, the trailing bird turned to swim back to the lady of his affection. She set up a complaint once more. She just hadn’t made up her mind and said so in loud duck language.

Mallard Hen
Photo by Al Griffin
The boys couldn’t be called curmudgeons exactly, a word used to describe men who disturb the peace both public and private, the ones complaining about the neighbors and the world going to Hell in a hand-basket. You know the ones. They stand on their porches or in their driveways and shout about basketballs thumping against houses, children squealing and giggling in play, lawnmowers droning too early and too late. Curmudgeons complain about pretty much anything in the belief that they know better and deserve better.

According to online dictionary resources, curmudgeons may also be called bears, bellyachers, complainers, crabs, cranks, fussers, gripers, grousers, growlers, grumblers, grumps, mutterers, sour-pusses, and whiners. They are the most unpleasant companions, but those Mallard Drakes were doing all in their power to ingratiate themselves before the female. They strove to be pleasant companions, but I swear, in my opinion, they seemed non-plussed and befuddled by the female’s lament. They just didn’t know what else to do to please her. They seemed to believe that just being Mallards Drakes should be sufficient.

And therein lies the problem that literature adores. Is it enough to be yourself, or should we struggle toward higher standards in order to make ourselves worthy? The scold thinks so. She demands more and better of her mate. That’s probably why curmudgeons are so often alone.

Reading Challenge:

Read Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew or watch 10 Things I Hate about You. Does the male protagonist amend his curmudgeonly ways in order to win the shrew? Does the female protagonist become different in order to win her curmudgeon?

Writing Challenge:


Noah’s wife, Uxor, and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, both characters from the Middle Ages, were often depicted as shrews. Explain the reasons each woman might have complained as that Mallard Hen did.