These people who write ranting articles – what’s with them, right? Like complaining about people who have a whole “birthday week” or eat avocado toast or put up their Hallowe’en decorations early or leave their Christmas trees up late or other bits of harmless joy. Where do these scribblers get off being so pissy? If I want to steal extra moments of glee in a glowering world, who are they to tell me not to?
Sure, pissy-lit (literature that’s defined by being pissy) is fun to read, in its way – venting at the inanity of some self-important or overly enthusiastic or weirdly childish or frankly ostentatious or simply socially ungrammatical practice. They’re great clickbait. Admittedly, for many people they’re what’s called a hate-read, but a clickthrough is a clickthrough whether for or against, just as a book that’s bought to be burned is bought all the same. (And do you really hate reading it? Why are you reading it, then?)
Still, for all their curb appeal, their eye-catching emotional garishness, even if you enjoy them, pissy-lit pieces are not the same kind of positive contribution that some other articles are. They’re the literary equivalent of weeds. Yes, in one way a weed is an over-successful and underappreciated plant, but if you have it in mind to grow other plants that might bring different benefits, weeds can choke them out. Likewise, if you read pissy articles, you’re just engendering further pissiness.
Consider the dandelion. It’s a hardy plant, very successful, and, if we’re being honest, pretty and useful. You can have it in salads. You can have wine made of it. You can boil the leaves to make a tonic. But if you have dandelions on your lawn, one thing you soon can’t have without a lot of work (and poison) is much of anything other than dandelions on your lawn. And maybe you don’t want just dandelions. What do they do for you, anyway? What does consuming dandelion tonic do for your health?
The French name for dandelions is a clue to that. I don’t mean dent-de-lion, ‘lion’s tooth’, the origin of English dandelion (based on the shape of the leaves, not the flowers). I mean what they’re commonly called: pissenlit. If you know French, you know what pisse-en-lit means: ‘piss in bed’. They got the name not because they’re yellow, but because they’re diuretics. Drink the tonic of pissenlit before bedtime and you might well wet the bed – as was known in France by the 1500s (the first citation in Littré).
So there is my paronomastic simile. Pissy-lit is like a pissenlit – pissiness begets pissiness. And why are the authors of pissy-lit so peeved about these social practices, anyway? The answer is usually obvious when you read the articles, and it’s just the same as with people who rail against certain words or turns of phrase: they don’t like the people they envision as doing them, people who they see as inferiors trying to claim some kind of superiority, or trying by implication to force them to value something in a way that would seem childishly weak to them.
But am I not just being pissy about pissiness? Raining on the parade of those who like raining on parades? Hmm, is asking someone not to be mean just as mean as being mean? The basic mathematical principle that subtracting a negative equals adding a positive is good here as in so many social things. And sure, venting can be good, but finding ways to like things you had previously hated is even better – trust me, I’ve done it many times, and it’s a winner, because you have one more thing you like, and wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by things you like than by things you hate?
You may object that I am being unkind to dandelions, which can have many benefits if we choose to avail ourselves of them. And perhaps, for the sake of a bon mot, I am. But on the other hand, if I said I thought pissy-lit was dandy, I’d be lyin’. Those who live by urination ultimately meet their ruination.