A word to be grumbled or growled with a voice soaked in whiskey, cigarettes, or mere cussèd impatience. It starts with a low gurgling throat rumble and then bares its teeth, which are munching on a crummy cigar. The whole word can be said with the teeth clenched. A mean dog, a dirty mess, the back end of a greedy bird… this word is made up of bits that bespeak intolerance, resistance and grudges. But how much of it is really just for show? Many now take the label upon themselves as a protection of filthy rust around a heart hinted to be of nobler metal, and 16th-century users of the word would have been surprised to hear the common modern collocation “lovable” with it. There have always been curmudgeons, of course; they seem to come out of some unidentifiable place, born already old – like the word itself, which has not been successfully traced to its roots. Speculation abounds as to how it came to be… and why its objects can’t smile just once for the camera, please?
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