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MUCH modern sensibility feels that it is a shame that shame exists. This paradox is seemingly dissolved because the first use of shame, in an easy, common, colloquial phrase, engages a different sense of the word from the second one. In “it’s a shame that” = “it’s too bad—or to be regretted—that,” we seem to be using the word as if all the issues it raises for the papers in the current issue of this journal arose from some archaic and obsolete meaning of the word (consider also, for example, how we say “a heavenly day” to designate one delightfully of this world, and “it was literally hell” for a condition that was acutely figuratively so). It is of course the meanings of shame as the subject of the second clause that concern our speculation. But the notion that it is indeed somehow deeply shameful that shame seems to be part of the human condition is not a trivial one. Cicero declares at one point that he feels ashamed even to mention shame (pudet etiam loqui de pudicitia [De legibus I.19.50—cited by Barton, 2001: 203]). And yet this is distinct from a more personal sense of being ashamed that one may feel—despite all one believes to be the case about self and society, and so forth—that one is nonetheless feeling shame in a particular situation. The general case—of the shamefulness of shame—involves a sense of what we might call moral shamefulness . I shall return to this question later. To begin, I must observe that in these brief remarks on some aspects of the language with which we designate and invoke shame, I shall be primarily concerned with a modest agenda: to explore the possible interactions between two different concepts of shame that are both deployed in our common English word of Germanic origin, but which are often distinguished in other lanSOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter 2003) Honor Dishonorable: Shameful Shame JOHN HOLLANDER guages. In addition, a few important literary fictions pertaining to the origins of shame will be considered. But while depending upon some of the fascinatingly detailed work by anthropologists and sociologists (and particularly a thinker like Erving Goffman, in his concern for language as well as for institutional taxonomies ), I shall invoke patterns, rather than detailed instances, of linguistic usage. And along the way, I shall glance at some analogous complexities in our use of a major candidate for shame’s somewhat oblique antithesis, honor. The first entry for “shame” in the current Oxford English Dictionary (OED) [1a] covers the two roughly distinguished branches of signification of the word defining it as The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous , or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honour or disgrace one regards as one’s own), or of being in a situation which offends one’s sense of modesty or decency. The distinction covered by the “or”—highlighted in OED [3]: a disgrace, loss of esteem or reputation—is reflected in several familiar languages. French, for example, distinguishes between pudeur and honte, roughly paralleling the Latin pudor and infamia previously noted: one can speak of rougir de pudeur, blushing with shame, but not— except with deliberately heightened rhetorical force based on a patent extension of meaning—of blushing with dishonor.1 (Consider an instance of this last usage occurs, Edmund Burke’s “As one of the people, I blush for what has followed” [Burke, 1844: III.332]. This is a figurative blush of moral shame; here, it does not mean [a] “I’m ashamed to be one of the people” but more [b] “I’m ashamed for ‘the people’ by what some of them have done, which tempts some of the people even to contemplate saying [a], which could be thought of as a shameful thing to say.)2 Here, one meaning of “shame” (pudeur) is metaphoric for another (honte). Honte can in addition designate both a sense of shame and a cause of shame, in much the same way that English shame seems so full of grammatical as well as semantic possibilities. The Indo1062...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 1061-1074
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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