Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Whining, Bitching, Kvetching, and Complaining

TheWife and I had a conversation the other day about complaining and the various shades of it. We all know people who live to kvetch. They aren't happy unless they are unhappy. But there did seem to us certain distinct categories of activity here. All are verbal activities designed to call attention to something the speaker dislikes, but there are subtle differences between them.

All of these are to be distinguished from an act that I do not have a good term for -- it is bringing up something that needs to be changed in order to announce the intention of taking charge of changing it. Complaining, bitching, and whining are all much more passive in nature. They do not include the active intent to pursue a correction by one's own personal intervention.

Complaining is the act where you call someone else's attention to the fault with the desire to have that person do something to rectify the situation. If there is something wrong with your meal, you complain to the waiter, assuming he will correct the problem. If there is something wrong with your hotel room, you complain to the front desk assuming the woman working there will send the appropriate person to take care of the leaky faucet or the noisy neighbors. Complaining is not only voicing dissatisfaction, but in doing so, putting the ball in someone else's court to fix it.

Bitching is airing grievances, not with the intent of having them addressed, but in order to have blame assessed to someone for causing the grief. If you are in a bad relationship, you bitch to your friends to have them believe what an unbelievable piece of work your hopefully soon to be ex-partner is. You bitch to your spouse about that person in the office so that s/he will express disbelief that someone could be so stupid/nasty/incompetant/hard headed/...

Whining is similar to bitching in that it is an expression of deep dissatisfaction with one's current lot, but not in order to evoke emotions from someone else. But where bitching is designed to have someone else's character condemned, whining is designed to elicit pity for you. One whines in order to have their own self-pity vindicated. It is an appeal for attention for me, me, me. don't you understand it is all about me?

Kvetching, on the other hand, is purely for yourself, but in a different way. Kvetching is a form of therapy, a means of getting something off your chest, lightening your load by vocalizing your dissatisfaction. We all need to blow steam sometimes and it can be cathartic to say aloud what you've been thinking inside. The key here is make sure you have you kvetch-fest with people who will not take what you are kvetching about personally.

So, open season; what do you have to complain, bitch, whine, or kvetch about today?