I’ve been thinking about the expression “disreputable person.” It has come up in my reading about Lord Alfred Douglas and Oscar Wilde. After Wilde was released from prison, he wished to be reunited with Alfred Douglas, but when the lawyer for his wife got wind of it they cut off Wilde’s allowance. A term of his divorce agreement was that she would pay him some support as long as he did not associate with “disreputable persons.”
“I do not deny that Alfred Douglas is a gilded pillar of infamy,” Wilde wrote to his agent, “but I do deny that he can be properly described in a legal document as a disreputable person.”
It struck me what a strange expression this is. It implies that being “disreputable” is a quality inherent to a person. In fact, it is other people’s gossip that gives someone a reputation. The person himself has little control over that. Only the people who accuse and judge have the ability to determine if someone is “disreputable” or not. By claiming Douglas was a disreputable person, they made him so. There was only one thing necessary for Douglas to stop being “disreputable” and that was for other people to shut up.
By the way, if you’d like to read some of my past posts where I mused on the words we use try this one about the word “lovers,” this one about the expression “struggling with” and this one about “the lifestyle.”
Oh, and another “by the way,” according to my word press logs, my most popular posts are the ones I’ve done that mention Lord Alfred Douglas. Not sure why.