Thursday, August 14, 2008


It all started when I shared my last Blog entry with my ever-critical daughter ("Mom, your eyeshadow is too dark!"). She said she liked it, but that the word whippersnapper made me sound "over the hill." I suppose in one sense I am, but we won't go there.

So, I posted about it on Wordcraft, completely expecting to be exonerated on that one. Here is what "dear" zmj had to say:

"The stereotypical utterer of the word whippersnapper is a past-retirement age, crotchety-old man, upset with some below-voting age youngsters, and is said while shaking his fist at them or their retreating backs. Raspy, creaky voice is optional. Of course, anybody can use the word, it just may sound strange or have weird connotations."

Harsh! Others agreed that it is meant to describe only "young" people. One poster, indeed, said that the "youngsters" probably see me as 120 years old. Oh. my.

So after all of that, I finally decided to do what I should have done in the first place...look it up. Here is what the online entry says: ""an unimportant but offensively presumptuous person, esp. a young one." Now that is perfect! And, while it says, "esp. a young one," it surely doesn't make youth a prerequisite.

I do feel exonerated on this one. I believe I used it right! This lady was indeed an unimportant, persumptuous person. I am bad at guessing ages, but I'd say she was in her 30s. So there, Wordcraft!


Bob Hale said...

I'd say that it's a prerequisite that the person be younger, preferably a lot younger, thatn you. I can't imagine calling my Dad a "whippersnapper". And the phrase "why you old whippersnapper" has a distinctly odd sound about it.

Kalleh said...

You'd day that, Bob, but the dictionary doesn't. I think that is one of those words, as I said, that people have embellished, and eventually it will probably evolve.

I checked the OED, and it comes from a snapper of whips. Some of the early entries refer to younger people, such as (from 1700 Dict. Cant. Crew) " Whipper-snapper, a very small but sprightly Boy." However, others don't, such as "1840 THACKERAY Paris Sk.-bk. (1869) 15 Not that he feared such fellows as these--little whipper-snappers--our men would eat them" or "1876 BLACK Madcap Violet xxxviii, It is only the whipper-snapper in criticism who is always crying out for a grand and tremendous motive."

Kalleh said...

Ah...I meant "say" that and not "day" that!

I wish you could edit these comments!

Cat said...

Well, if you depend entirely on what dictionaries say, then you don't even need to think about what other people feel. The dictionaries don't have that human touch of impression, experience and inference.

People, however, bring all of those things to the table. We have a tendancy to always be trying to put people and things and ideas into categories. If you tend to use eccentric words, you might find that you get put into a category that you don't prefer. Actually, even if the words you use aren't eccentric, that can happen, can't it?

To my way of thinking, you're only as old as you feel, and you're only as interesting as your words. Keep on using whatever words you want, in the ways that please you, and help your daughter learn to do the same! Vive la vocabulaire! (apologies to native French speakers)

Kalleh said...

Cat, the further I read in Saussure, the more he is convincing me that you are completely correct. As I posted on Wordcraft, he asserts that linguistics is only about the spoken word, not the written word. The written word, he says, is just a representation of the spoken word. It's just that we have given the written word so much prestige because it's more permanent that the spoken word.