Every Childlike Author needs a Playground.

The Childlike Author Feels… Contempt

Contempt [kuh n-tempt]
– the feeling with which a person regards anything considered mean, vile, or worthless; disdain; scorn.

Have you ever seen one of those legal thrillers in which the judge threatens to hold a character in contempt of court? I’ve always wondered why they use the term “contempt,” and so I’ve got two theories. Keep in mind that I’m no lawyer, and certainly no etymologist.

My first theory is based in the supposition that the justice of the peace is an honorable person. That’s why he or she is referred to as “Your Honor,” as in, “Yes, Your Honor, I did commit the murder with the bloody axe in evidence. I still plead innocent.” It turns out that a secondary definition of contempt is “the state of being despised; dishonor; disgrace.” (My personal favorite definition is “disapproval tinged with disgust.” Also, why the heck do I even have a favorite definition?) Anyway, it stands to reason that if someone present in court were to dishonor the judge, who is clearly honorable as his or her nickname suggests, then that someone doing the dishonoring would be contemptible, deserving of or held in contempt. Hence the court holds them in contempt.

My second theory is simply that the first judge to use the term literally felt contempt for someone in the courtroom (probably someone disruptive), and had that person arrested and put in a holding cell until the case was resolved. Hence the phrase “held in contempt.”

Let me just say that I think my first theory is better.

Still, justices of the peaces aren’t the only ones holding people in contempt, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us regular citizens have also held contempt for, if not a person, then something. Like an idea, an object, an action, or whatever else you can think of that fits.

I know I have, and do.

For instance, I used to hold the Harry Potter books in contempt. Tiny bits of me still hold tiny bits of the series in contempt, but I’ve read them and liked them overall, and then I went and read them again. I’ve read them all multiple times, which is more than I can say about other books for which I held no contempt. And on top of that, I sometimes find myself flipping through the pages to find out how J.K. Rowling wrote such-and-such a scene. There must be reasons why the books are so popular, right?

You see, it’s a fine line between contempt and admiration, just as it’s a fine line between hate and love. All it takes is a little push to put you on the opposite side.

CLICK to Enlarge Image

CLICK to Enlarge Image

A while back I asked my friends on Facebook if such a thing as a healthy, or justifiable contempt existed. The majority of the responders said no, it’s not healthy or justifiable, particularly when directed at a person. That’s a verdict which is hard to swallow. I mean, how do waiters and waitresses feel about restaurant diners who don’t leave worthwhile tips for good service? The patron who leaves a single penny for a fifty dollar meal is probably the target for a whole bus-load of disapproval tinged with disgust. But this same contempt for stingy tippers is (I hope) likely to prevent those same waiters and waitresses from tipping poorly when the roles are reversed. Which is good, right?

And boy do servers admire persons who leave them large gratuities.

And what about other behaviors? Like clipping your toenails in public, or not washing your hands after using the toilet, or talking loudly on your cell phone during a movie or in a restaurant, or kissing your dog on the mouth (you know where that mouth has been, right? In other dogs’ butts. And in its own butt. Or masticating cat excrement.)

Still, if you hold these behaviors in contempt, you probably will try to avoid doing them yourself… until you get a broken toenail at the beach and just can’t avoid clipping it ‘cuz it hurts, or when you’re at that outdoor concert and there’s nothing around but portable potties (sink and soap excluded), or when you get an important phone call in the middle of dinner and a movie and you can’t get out in time before you have to either answer it or miss it altogether. Suddenly those actions aren’t so bad when you’re the one doing them.

But you never have to kiss your dog on the mouth—I don’t think that’s ever expedient.

Which is why I hold the behavior in contempt. I think it’s disgusting, and I disapprove of it. It’s mean, it’s vile, it’s worthless, it’s beneath us as the more intelligent species, and now I’ve expressed that opinion publicly. Complete and utter contempt, by any definition.

In fact, I think that contempt can be a good thing because it helps prevent us from becoming contemptible. For instance, I hold human-traffickers in contempt. And serial rapists. And oppressors and tyrants. And anyone who takes advantage of the poor or the innocent. I disapprove of them all, and I’m disgusted by them as well.

And when it comes down to it, that contempt might be the only real thing preventing me, or you, from joining in and becoming one of them.

But there’s a fine line between contempt and admiration, and all it takes is a little push to switch sides, so let’s be careful.

What do you feel contempt for, if anything? Or do you think contempt is unhealthy? Share (or vent) your contempt below or by clicking HERE.


6 responses

  1. Alex Hurst

    Wow, this post went into depths I wasn’t expecting, and I REALLY enjoyed it! Your cartoons are really fun, too. 🙂

    I was going to go into this long third suggestion as to what contempt meant in legal language, because legal language might as well be its own language, but I decided not to, because I like where it took your argument, and I’d rather think about it in that way. 🙂

    Thanks for a great post. You deserve way more comments than just mine though, so I’m going to share this. 🙂

    Alex Hurst, fantasy author in Japan, participating in Blogging A-Z April Challenge.


    April 4, 2014 at 1:22 am

    • Thanks! I have fun with the cartoons. They’re a nice break from writing… and reading.

      Yeah… I have no experience with legal language beyond television, so I may not have benefited by your suggestion.

      I would LOVE for you to share this! Best compliment you can give my work!


      April 4, 2014 at 5:19 pm

  2. I have utter contempt for my employer, a state and a state agency located in the New England region. To elaborate any further would detract from your fascinating post. Will definitely subscribe to this blog.

    A-Z Challenge at Father Nature’s Corner


    April 4, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    • Yes, I imagine many employers are objects of contempt. It’s unfortunate really. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


      April 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm

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