It’s a shame to limit our vocabulary as much as we have in contemporary society. In doing so, we have discarded the rich variety of words that enhance our messages to each other. Our statements lose their impact when we fall back on the habit of using a few, in-vogue, words.
There are a couple of contemporary words I’m thinking of that are vastly overused and misused: narcissist and psychopath.
It has become fashionable to use these words to describe people who disagree with us, are bullies, or our adversaries. For instance, it may or may not be true that our current President is a narcissist or a psychopath. The general public has become fond of these words even though political commentators and many therapists, themselves, are professionally reluctant accuse Trump and his underlings of being narcissists and psychopaths.
The use of these two words are by no means limited to the political sphere. They are now being used by many people to describe acquaintances and personal adversaries. If a love affair has gone bad, it has become more common these days to accuse the other party of being a narcissist.
To unprofessionally ascribe terrible behavior to a psychological diagnosis turns the name of that diagnosis into a mere insult. One example of such a term comes to mind–idiot. In the past the word “idiot” belonged to a now obsolete classification system. It was the professional category of people with profound intellectual disabilities. Such people were medically classified as persons having a mental age below three-years-old and unable to effectively function in society. The word has become so debased and over-used as an insult, that it has not only lost its original meaning, but has been diluted as well.
It appears that the same fate awaits narcissist and psychopath. It has become fashionable for laypersons to consult the DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to degrade an adversary. The most popular uses of the DSM-5 is to apply its descriptions of narcissism and psychopathy to people. Despite the fact that only licensed psychological personnel can diagnose patients with mental disorders, unqualified individuals make armchair assessments every day, anyway.
One only needs to casually peruse the Web for narcissists and psychopaths. In doing so a wealth of self-appointed experts are revealed who are eager to share their accumulated knowledge with victimized people.
This is why it might be wise to resurrect powerful words that describe evil-doers. These words no longer need to be considered antiquated and quaint. I argue that one of the most effective words is “knave”. It’s definition is short and to the point–an unprincipled, untrustworthy, or dishonest person.
“The same ambition can destroy or save, and make a patriot as it makes a knave.” Alexander Pope
The regular citizen can label her former lover as a knave and avoid the risk of overstepping any professional guidelines. Anybody can point at their most hated politician and accuse her or him of being a knave, and not being accused of being overzealous.
“There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.” Samuel Butler
In as much as we don’t want to over use knave, we are also free to consult a thesaurus for similar names. I love some of the words Mark Twain used in his speeches and writings: scalawag, scoundrel, rapscallion, and varlet. If these and similar words came back in style, our ability to accuse and insult our adversaries would be more pointed and effective. The use of any of these words and others is stronger than falling back on the current fad of calling someone a narcissist.
When we call a dishonest or abusive person a shyster or a knave, we are more accurate and our message is more effective. If you use the word “knave” in conversation and the other person doesn’t know the word’s definition, your explanation will increase her vocabulary. Perhaps she will be encouraged to use knave or a similar word to strengthen her communication skills.
I’m only suggesting the word “knave” because there seem to be a greater number of them in today’s world.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this statement: “The heart never grows better by age; I fear rather worse, always harder. A young liar will be an old one, and a young knave will only be a greater knave as he grows older.” Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield