A guy named Richard wrote in my web site guest book that I like to complain, and that I complain too much. Richard had just read one of my short essays in which I was expressing some annoyance at a situation. I thought I was just expressing my opinion. He got me thinking about the term 'complain', and whether or not I really was complaining too much.


Webster says that to complain is to claim or express displeasure; to find fault; declare annoyance. The problem with the word 'complain' is that it has a negative connotation. No one wants to be a complainer, but everyone is a complainer, according to this definition, if he or she expresses displeasure, regardless of the subject. For example, if you express an opinion that a politician is too liberal or too conservative, then you are complaining. Basically, all politicians are complainers, and politics in general seems to be dominated by it. But by saying so, does that mean I'm complaining?


If someone says that I complain too much, especially if they say it twice in one short paragraph, as Richard did, then that person is also a complainer. And if I subsequently express annoyance at the person who is complaining about my complaining, then... well, you see the catch 22. Unless you enjoy someone's complaining, you can't say so without being a complainer yourself.


Evidently stating a fact, if that fact is perceived as negative, makes you a complainer. I guess, like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. The opposite of complain is to sanction or approve, but people who do this frequently cause others to complain about it.


In some countries, complaining about the wrong things will land you in jail. A good example of this is the old Communist joke about a guy who applied for permission to emigrate to the United States. His interview with a local government official went something like this:


"Why exactly do you want to move to the United States? You have a nice place to live."


"I can't complain."


"And you have a nice job at the local mill."


"I can't complain."


"And you finally received that raise you've been applying for."


"I can't complain."


"So why do you want to move to the United States?"


"Because there I can complain."


Some people, at least in the West, are professional complainers. Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have gotten rich doing it. Complaining seems to be more palatable (except perhaps with these examples) if the complainer is making a lot of money doing it. It also seems to make it more acceptable to others.


I'm not complaining, mind you. But I'd like to!