Were Margaret Trudeau not a prisoner of her times she would have replied differently to Jane Pauley the other morning, when Miss Pauley insinuated there had been a love affair with Teddy Kennedy. She would not have simply sat there, whispering in her flower-child huff: "I'm insulted that you bring it up." She would have said straight out: "You know, Jane, you really are a slut-faced rat to bring that up. And if it weren't for your blackened teeth and foul breath, I'd punch you in that putrid mouth right now." Or something like that.
But of course it never occurred to Mrs. Trudeau to say such a thing. Even if she were not the hippie Gerald Ford (who can do nothing right, including confession), it still would be too much to expect her to have acted reasonably in that situation, and to have heaped scorn upon her adversary. For nobody heaps scorn anymore. You hear yourself being stretched over some verbal rack, and your eyes squeeze tight, and you make two fists, and your tongue shoots to the roof of your mouth, yet all that comes out is a tepid peep: "I'm insulted that you bring it up." Or something like that.
I tell you, friends, we're done for. When people lose the knack and the will to curse each other out face to face, the civilization's done for. Oh, we haven't lost the ability to curse each other out face to back, and back to back. That's no trick. And we will always yell obscenities from the seats of cars, as a matter of custom. But to square off and tell some jackass to his jackass ears where to go and what to do when he gets there-ah, what a lovely, heartneing thing that is.
And we have lost it. And we all know why.
First, there was psychology. When you reply to an accuser, "I'm insulted that you bring it up," the burden of the insult falls to the insultee. Only in a guilt-ridden world is the issue whether or not you're in a state of being insulted, when clearly the point is that someone else was swine enough to do the insulting. Instead of firing back, you cuddle up in your own feelings. The psychologist did that.
Then there was sociology. Elsewhere in the interview, Mrs. Trudeau referred to some other insult as a vicious thing to say. Who cares how the statement is characterized? Not by a long shot, she. The point, again, is not that in the fascinating world of social discourse a vicious statement was made. The point is that some dirty, son-of-a-vicious made it. Yet, the statement is categorized. The sociologists did that.
And then there was liberalism. You do not call anyone a bastard anymore, because bastards are unfortunates. And you do not call anyone an animal anymore, because animals have their rights. And as for giving people sexual instructions, well, some people may enjoy the unusual activities you suggest, and who is to say what is acceptable behaviour?, and I'm insulted that you bring it up. The liberals did that.
And finally, there was realism, and the accompanying loss of imagination. The poet Swinburne once wrote Emerson, calling him a "wrinkled and toothless baboon" who "spits and sputters on a filthy platform of his own finding and fouling." For Swinburne that was a mere slap on the wrist. And Bach once pulled a dagger on one of his music pupils, calling him a Zippelfaggotist , which only meant a bassoonist who produced the sounds of a nanny-goat, but at least it had flavor. Now, thanks to sterile modernity, the flavor is cardboard. We don't even have the words for invective anymore, much less the tune.
Yet language lost can be regained, if there is only the courage. And if we've grown too timid to use the good old words, why not use some of the good ancient ones? There are plenty of early English words that have been snoozing in drawers for centuries, awaiting resuscitation, such as collybist (miser) and hogoo (stench) and jackpudding (buffoon). Not to mention: jemmy (fop), strutiloquence (prattle), ninnybroth (simpleton) and dorvel (nitwit). Add to these a few archaic slang words, such as donnicker (toilet), loogan (sap), Percy pants (sissy), nougat (nut). Or a mudsnoot (pig). Or a high cockalorum (big shot). Or a dit-da artist (merely a shortwave radio operator, but it sounds worse).
With words like these back in action, we could reclaim both our vitality and self-respect. With words like these Mrs. Trudeau could have called Miss Pauley a hodgepoler (mischief-maker), and Miss Pauley could have retaliated by calling Mrs. Trudeau a donnicker, or a donnicker with a hogoo. Then they could have really gone to town, screaming dorbel and ninnybroth and loogan at each other until their faces glowed red, and the floor shook, and the chairs sprawled, and the air sang with clarity and honor and all the wonderful sounds that distinguish Man from the mud-snoot.