stronteur

There’s a certain type of person I’ve always been fascinnoyed with (you know, simultaneously fascinated and annoyed): a person who makes a point of letting you know that they don’t know about something. A kind of one-downer. A stronteur.

You know what a one-upper is, of course: when you’re talking with someone and you say, “This chocolate is really good,” and they say, “Naw, this chocolate is crap, I’ll tell you what’s good…” Or you say “I just got a 122-point bingo in Scrabble,” and they say, “Scrabble’s a great game for kids, but I won my college’s Go tournament.” Naturally, you want to kill them, but mostly you just try to jump into the hedges when you see them coming.

Well, a stronteur isn’t like that, and yet somehow in a way is. If you’re chatting with friends and you say “I got some really good chocolate,” a stronteur will jump in to say “I don’t know anything about chocolate. It’s all just the same to me.” If you say to your friends “I scored a pretty decent old camera for ten bucks,” the stronteur will volunteer, “I don’t really understand photography. Cameras just confuse me.” No matter what the topic, count on the stronteur to let you know that they don’t know much about it or don’t understand it. And if you tell a joke around them, bet five bucks they’ll say they don’t get it.

So in that way a stronteur is a one-downer. That’s not like a Debbie Downer, which is someone who always pisses in the popcorn: “I was reading an article about child labour in the chocolate industry”; “Film processing pollutes but digital cameras are a complete environmental disaster and use dwindling rare-earth minerals”; “My grandmother choked on a Scrabble tile and died.” No, a stronteur just wants to make sure you know their own personal lacks.

Of course, you could take from their comments the implication that what you’re talking about is not important enough for them to know about it. Not that they’d say that. But one way or another, one of you is going down a notch.

This is not a new type of person, so of course they deserve a not-new word. As old words go, stronteur is a touch stranger than most. It feel like it’s appropriate to the sense, don’t you think? What with that strangling str at the start, the honking ont in the middle (and a hearkening to the central ontology and deontology), and that flip French eur at the end. But it’s that eur that is a bit odd, because it is French, but stront is not. It means ‘crap; excrement’ – well, in Dutch it does; its English reflex is strunt, which (when used at all) means ‘liquor’, but strunt in Swedish means ‘nonsense, stuff not worth paying attention to’.

A stronteur would be sure at this juncture to let you know they don’t know anything about etymology and this is all just confusing to them. But they’d be in luck this time: though the etymological info above is all real, the joining of stront and eur to make this word for a one-downer is, until just now, unattested. It’s a new old word.

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