The Etymology of Cordial, and Being of the Heart

I told someone off this weekend. He is a good guy, and a friend (well, was a friend), and I told him off, and now I feel terrible. I don't think I've ever told anyone off, in my life, without feeling really bad about it afterwards.

This is, weirdly, with exception to the people I am in serious relationships with. 

There is an idea that honesty in relationships breeds intimacy, and people use this idea to be really mean to each other.

I have said things to my exes that I would never say to a family member, coworker, friend, bus driver, child, or animal.

I remember my first relationship being especially insane. We lived on the second floor of a 1940s' mill house next to a dilapidated old mill. I was always throwing his stuff out the window. Or he was throwing my stuff out the window.

We lived across from a family of kids who would scout the yard for cigarette butts, until the girl got pregnant, and moved away, she was maybe 14, and liked to wear a red flannel shirt that I stilil remember.

Her brother was maybe 9, and very fat, and hung out with gang members who scared me a little.

They had a really hungry pitt bull on a leash on the porch, and I was also scared of this pitt bull.

That boyfriend, the guy I spent my teenage years with, he was prematurely jaded, and had become violent.

This is partially because of his mother, who was abusive, and the story I remember most is about how she broke a fish tank over his head. She was a nurse, and took out her kit, and sewed him up where the glass had cut him.

She didn't like him because he looked like his dad.

His dad was also violent. He was a fat, scary Hell's Angels type guy who pushed my ex into sports where he became first a star quarterback, then a star pitcher, and then a guy with a ruined arm who had no idea what to do with his life.

All of this made him really angry. He would throw furniture while watching Miami Dolphins games.

I got out of that relationship, at 20, with the feeling that maybe I would not have such strong positive feelings anymore in my life. This was definitely true of my 20s', when most of my strong feelings were negative.

I am not sure what that means, but I guess something about leaving a person you feel this way about, even though you know that it is going to be sort of scaring, in the sense of not being able to feel where the scar is.

I am not sure if relationships are supposed to be tempered with the sort of stressful conflict that has defined my romantic interactions, while remaining mostly absent from my other interactions. All I know is that that I always hate myself after telling someone off. The examples I can remember right now are:

-When I was pregnant, and told people off a lot, such as bus drivers and creepy guys on the street.

-Right after I had my kid, when my ex-roommate stole part of my deposit, and I freaked out and screamed at him for making me do his cleaning and buy the food for a year and then taking $200, which is such a small amount of money, that I will forever feel stupid for caring. Because it's kind of sweet in a way to buy someone food and clean for him, spesh if he is just your friend.

-When I fell out with another former roommate, from college, who was always really high on Xanax, and listened to Eminem (this was 2001), and mostly just told stories about people she told off. I don't remember what happened, just that it was awkward and trivial, and had something to do with an insane trip to Los Angeles that ended up in Tijuana and then San Diego in a house full of skater boys.

-The time that my former alcoholic friend relapsed, and sent me a bunch of weird texts, and I hurt his feelings. Three years later, I am still trying to fix that one.

Most of my rants, which happen maybe once every two years, involve me becoming very morally indignant, and telling the other person about the flaws to their character. This is a hilarious thing to do, because people already know what is wrong with them, especially myself, and I kind of expect my friends not to say what is wrong with me. It is like telling an overweight person that they are overweight. Or a depressed person that they are not really fun to be around. Or a social activist that they come off as narrow-minded and trivial. It just makes them not like you, in addition to feeling even worse than they did before.

But what about the fact that I already think all of these things? If these thoughts are in my head all the time, and I am not expressing them to a person I care about, does that mean I am dishonest?

The Difference Between Courtesy and Cordial

This brings to mind an idea about courtesy, or maybe better, cordiality.

Courtesy is this: "The showing of politeness in one's attitude and behavior toward others."

And cordial is this: "Warm and friendly."

I found out with surprise the etymology of "cordial" a few years ago when I was flirting with a guy on the internet who liked words.

The word is from the Middle Ages just like "courtesy," which relates to the court. (Curteisie, for all the Chaucer fans in the house. ) Courtesy is about knowing how to act. Writing thank you notes. Getting the door for a pregnant lady. It is about ideas such as decency and kindness, but it also has a conventional, "let's all behave" element that is annoying to people who read Nietzsche or maybe Ayn Rand, and think of manners as being a little small-minded, in a way.

(I can relate to people like this because I feel the same annoyance for people who are politically radical. It isn't that I don't believe in radical politics. It is just that I think pushing beliefs on others, especially radical ones, is the opposite of effective, and therefore kind of foolish. I feel this way about evangelical Christians and anarchists, even though I would probably enjoy the source of their inspiration, because it is earnest and loving.)

Well, anyway, cordial is different from courteous. It is more about genuine warmth. This is what the boy on the internet with whom I was flirting (I was flirting with the boy, not the internet, but I feel like grammarians should get over their issues with misplaced modifiers, because cadence is more important than being right, and my audience isn't autistic.) ...ok, this is what the boy on the internet with whom I was flirting told me. He sent me the etymology of "cordial," which is still one of the top Google searches:

(Yes, I know, I did it again, but stop it, you can think.)

(This is getting 'meta.')

(I need to stop saying "meta.")

(But it's funny, because people used to say "postmodern" like that, and it is even more postmodern than that, but ok, I am not going to say "meta" anymore. But I am still going to think 'meta' things all the time, and feel alienated.)

Ok, here is what cordial means, god damn it:

late 14c., "of the heart," from M.Fr. cordial, from M.L. cordialis "of or for the heart," from L. cor (gen. cordis) "heart". Meaning "heartfelt, from the heart" is mid-15c. The noun is late 14c., originally "medicine, food, or drink that stimulates the heart." Related: Cordiality.

When I think about cordial as being 'of the heart,' it becomes so attractive to me, in a way that is not related to courtesy, which seems like just being good girls and boys. Cordial is what you want to be, because you love someone, and want them to feel good. This love can be for a coworker, or a person you are helping because you are a customer service representative, or a roommate, or a person you are dating. It reminds me of a quote I read recently, probably on one of those quotation websites, where they have one word and then a lot of quotations about the word.

(I hate myself.)

"Don't flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become." -Oliver Wendell Holmes

An epic longtail keyword search on Google doesn't take me to the source of this quote (that longtail being: oliver wendell holmes "don't flatter yourself" -quotes -phrases, if you care about these things), but it does take me to a cool article about tact. It is a Christian article, but this guy seems to have a clear perspective of the Bible that doesn't seem as easily dismissed as most of the stuff I read or hear. You can read it here, but I am just going to repeat some of the verses from that article, because they are really good.


2 Timothy 2:24 says, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” — New Living Translation.

Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” — New World Translation.

“Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” — New Living Translation.

Anyway, coming full circle to why I am writing about this, which is not even what I wanted to write about today, I don't think it is best to be in relationships where you are 'getting real' in a way that's unpleasant to other people. And I guess that means that I want to take a different attitude towards negative feelings, especially really strong ones. Instead of seeing them as truth/honesty to be expressed, I would rather see these feelings as odors/messes to be cleaned. 'Dissipation and management of conflict' becomes the construct, as opposed to 'using conflict as a way to have a difficult encounter that deepens your bond.' So this means doing yoga when you feel sad, instead of writing a sad poem that is on the internet, forever. And it also means, I don't know, maybe figuring out why I am having such a negative response to someone I care about, instead of behaving in anger, because it probably has something to do with feeling rejected or insecure or like I am unnerved by a quality I actually see in myself, as opposed to thinking I would actually care this much about someone else's character. I mean, seriously, when have I ever cared about that?
I love everyone I meet. This is my orientation. I used to think that everyone loved everyone they met. And I didn't understand why they weren't acting the same way towards me as I acted towards them.
I think this is because I was a weird, introverted bookworm as a kid, and people always seemed like events, since I was otherwise such a loner. And I'm not really a loner anymore--I am actually staring at my stuff that is all over my living room, because my new roommates have just moved in, an adorable couple who are in college, and I'm so happy to be living with other people again, because I will now have the motivation to make my place a home, instead of a neglected hovel of rooms that I drink and order delivery food in. But I am still shocked and amazed with everyone I meet, especially those who come close enough for me to see the expression of their perspectives, as though they are mine. (I think this is 'immersion.'

Well, my love for everyone else can express itself in constructive or destructive ways. The destructive sense would probably be about acting awkward and weird and prematurely rejected and maybe being intensely observant in a way that is hidden but probably unnerving. 
The constructive way, on the other hand, is to be cordial. And that is not about politeness. It is about service. 

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