How #niggardly of you. (aka, words don’t mean what you want them to mean. Get a dictionary. click for definition.)
One of the joys of writing the #Matryoschka Heritage novels is finding the exact word for the situation, motive, and character. Some words arrive full throttle, such as affect and effect, and take over. They both can be nouns or verbs, to the confusion of many a wannabe grammar Nazi and at least three grammar programs I’ve paid to use.
Some words are simply fun, with nearly no use. One of my favorites is niggardly. I may have used it in actual conversation three times in my life.
The first time was when I was a Union shop steward at Boeing. I may have been elected to the Union Council by then, but memory doesn’t allow for such fine distinctions. Anyway, Boeing had had a banner year, with both major commercial and government wins in previous years which were paying off in major declared profits. The employees are excited for the company, this being when employees still identified with the employer. Also, and not to be discounted, high profits would lead to high salary increases in the next year’s cycle.
This about the time when Boeing initiated ‘industry norms.’ Translated to common English, they paid a consulting firm to secretly (yes secretly) poll all competitors, then calculate how much lower salaries could be and still no lose a critical mass of talent. That year salary increases were the worst in years. Being young, and full of myself, I made public at-work noises about the ‘niggardly’ attitude of Boeing Executive management over those who made the profits. Pure Marx. The result was that I beat a hasty transfer to a different division.
From this, you would think I would become more liberal, and a staunch Unionist. Remember that I was elected to the Union Council? That experience tarnished my illusions about the virtuous union chiefs vs. the greedy owners. To get to the point, I left Boeing with a firm, and never shaken, opinion the Unions, like Owners, are the to-be-tolerated sides of the same coin that makes Capitalism work.
Unions, like Owners, are the to-be-tolerated sides of the same coin that makes Capitalism work Click To Tweet
Next time I used the word niggardly was over a decade later and in not as elevated manner. Work groups still went out together roughly every week, bonding and kibitzing. Another quaint practice lost since the ’80s. One place we frequented was a Chinese buffet. When I noticed that the replenishment of the more desirable items diminished when large groups appeared, I felt it my duty to protest to the management. What little hold I had had on the manager was lost when I used the word niggardly to describe their practices.
The 90’s went without an excuse to use the word. However, a senior department head in the WDC municipal government privately complained to his staff about how niggardly the budgeting process of the current mayor was. Two of them jumped on this as a racist slur, given that they and the mayor were black. The press went to town, apparently not having a single dictionary in any of the Editorial Boards in the city. The outcry spread nationwide, until out of embarrassment and fatigue, the issue whimpered to a death. The ‘guilty’ department head was quoted as wishing that he had had a thesaurus to find a word that people couldn’t declare racist.
That is about it. In the last decade, I had a moment when I compared the cost of the average automobile in the church parking lot to the niggardly giving in support of the same church. Less said of that incident the better.