Couth: A word, and a quality, worth defending

Couth: A word, and a quality, worth defending

I don’t need to get political to notice that there’s too much that’s uncouth in the world: rude, sloppy, nasty, generally unpleasant things and/or people abound.

That’s why I’d rather defend the word couth. My copy of “The Concise Scots Dictionary” (a 1989 edition by Crescent Books, based on a New Orchard Edition of 1911) defines couth as an adjective: “pleasant, kind, affable; comfortable, snug” and as a noun, “kindness.”

Calling someone couthie, then is saying they’re “kind, pleasant, agreeable, affable; tender, sympathetic; snug, comfortable; well-to-do.”

Couthless has a much shorter entry: “cold, unkind.” Not so far from the American “uncouth.”

Could we be missing couth and couthie as qualities because we are losing the words? Let’s get these words some use and see what happens!

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. Be couthie — try it!

Be a couthie reader and subscribe. Just click the wee button at the top of the post and follow the prompts.




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  • In my family the words "couth" and "uncouth" are alive and well! I believe that my great-grandparents' generation used the words regularly, and, now, when we use these words it's almost as if we are bringing in our ancestors' judgment regarding each others' manners --- or lack, thereof!

  • In reply to folkloric:

    Hurray! I'm always glad to hear that great words are alive and well. I love your observation on your ancestors' use of the words. What a great way to keep their words, and their presence, with you.

  • fb_avatar

    Admirable traits, all, and many that are lacking in current society and in written and verbal communication. However, I believe that when people think of the word "couth" they are more inclined to think of words such as cultured, sophisticated, refined. Fine and good people living life in fine and good ways.
    Unfortunately, I believe that in today's rancorous rhetorical environment the people to whom these attributes would be conferred upon would be reviled, cast as elitist, and labeled with dismissive and malicious titles that I won't propagate here.
    I hope that I am wrong, or at least only wrong in the short term. Perhaps, in the long term we will become people of good nature, kindness and caring, refinement and manners.

  • In reply to Larry Adams:

    Thank you, Larry, for very good points. Your observation that people with couth (i.e., couthie people) could be reviled as elitist is a sad one, because elitism, when you get down to its meaning, is about having standards. We do need them, even if we argue about what the standards shall be.
    I hope that your long-term view holds and we do become people with the qualities you list -- people with couth.

  • I think, in truth,
    There's hope for 'couth'.
    But don't hope unduly
    For 'ruly'.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    It may be doggerel, but I hope Margaret gives you extra credit for that one!

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Extra credit granted, even though the poetic idea was contagious.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I'm glad there's hope,
    I shall not mope.
    But I hadn't thought of "ruly" --

  • I will see if I can work couth into a conversation! The thought makes me laugh!

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    Thank you, Kathy. Any thought that makes anyone laugh is a valuable one these days.

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