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Doctor Curmudgeon® The Ancestry of a Curmudgeon


By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP

“My mother says you’re a curmudgeon.”

This erupted from the mouth of a child of ten seated in the exam room with her mother.

Obviously embarrassed, the mother shushed her offspring, “Oh, no, I did not say that. That’s doctor’s name.”

The child became adamant, insisting, “No! No! You said that her name is Doctor Curmudgeon and she really deserves her last name, because she is a curmudgeon…whatever that is.”

Whatever that is…indeed!

The appellation “curmudgeon” is undeniably mine.

Proudly, I claim it.

It was many many long years before I truly felt that I deserved the title of “Curmudgeon.”

Being unaware of much of my genetic curmudgeon ancestry, it is fascinating for me to visit the Council of Curmudgeons (where those of us to whom the official title of curmudgeon has been awarded attend quarterly conferences).

In this elegant building, there are corridors of portraits and photographs of those who went before.

My ancestry!

Some have been villains.

Many are famous.

It is my belief that curmudgeon ancestry is actually traced back to Socrates. This philosopher and soldier was born in Athens somewhere in the vicinity of 470 BC. Socrates did not accept at face value what others called truth.

Socratic debate- the dialectical method of a dialogue in which the participants argue with each other. Hypotheses are examined, and those that lead to contradictions are discarded. Question after question is asked to stimulate debate. (Forgive the simplistic sentence in which I have expressed a complex process as being much simpler than it is).

Socrates has been quoted, “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

Ah…dear Dorothy Parker, another great curmudgeon. She was born in New Jersey in 1893, and what a marvelous witty woman she was! Gracing magazines of her era, such as Vogue, New Yorker and Vanity Fair, her piercing, biting wit was a constant delight to those of the curmudgeonly persuasion.

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” …And I am sure that she did just that.

Many other portraits of curmudgeons are in those hallowed hallways, such as:

Mark Twain: “There is nothing you can say in answer to a compliment. I have been complimented myself a great many times, and they always embarrass me-I always feel that they have not said enough.”

Oscar Wilde: “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

Samuel Johnson: “Treating your adversary with respect is giving him an advantage to which he is not entitled.”

We need our curmudgeons

And, thankfully, today, none of us face Hemlock!

Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.

SERMO www.sermo.com “talk real world medicine”

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