Have you ever heard of someone being in low dudgeon?
When someone’s in a dudgeon, when they leave a party or premises in a towering snit, when their dignity has been endangered and they will hold more grudge than an ordinary curmudgeon, if the altitude of their derangement is mentioned – and it often will be – it is always high.
It has not always been so. Walter Scott, in his 1816 novel The Antiquary, wrote “They often parted in deep dudgeon.” That might seem a smidgen more appropriate. After all, a dudgeon is a sort of mental dungeon that you cast yourself into, no? But it is no mere brooding. It is a fuming indignation, on display for all to see. Take that mood-jail and set it on high and fly a flag from it: it is not a dungeon but a donjon, which is to say a keep.
Which is not to say how long the dudgeon will keep. If such indigence of humour is indigenous to the person’s temperament, it may engender regenerating dudgeons. But some people just tumble into the occasional ditch and then climb out – or lift themselves out by the hair of their personal Rapunzel kept up in the keep of their high lonely dudgeon.
Why this word, dudgeon? There is another word dudgeon, now in general disuse, meaning a kind of cheap, knotty, dodgy wood used to make handles of daggers, dirks, and (who knows) perhaps cudgels – and then, by transference, naming the weapons themselves. The available evidence suggests that the two are unrelated. The sense is so separate, the transferral would have had to be by a carrier pigeon dropping lexical dog-ends. But still, we may picture a dudgeon of this second sort held high, ready to strike, or anyway brandished to show one’s sharp mood. Be careful, though – if you lose your judgment you may draw the judgment of others, who will ever be ready to drag your dudgeon down.
Thanks to Tony Aspler for suggesting toay’s word.