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“Pitiful” was the adjective my mom often used to describe people and conditions. That one word captured a sense of pity, distress, despair, contempt and hopelessness for the person or thing described.

To describe someone or something as “pitiful” was essentially equivalent to my mom throwing up her hands. It meant that she felt nothing could or would change the person or the situation. Attempts to change the “pitiful” would be futile. “Pitiful” people couldn’t help themselves. And so my mom used the word “pitiful” for womanizers and prostitutes, kleptomaniacs, “witches” and “warlocks,” stutterers, inarticulate orators, the illiterate, the uneducated, inept doctors, ugly people, destitute people, croaking singers, ineffectual parents, liars, “bad-shaped” people, starving dogs and cats; unkempt households; the physically challenged; the mentally challenged, pigeon-toed people, bad cooks, corrupted politicians, sinning ministers, etc. “Pitiful” was never used to describe people who were mean to others.

No matter where my mom was – on the porch in the summer, in stores, in church, on the street, she found someone “to be pitied,” and in fact, this declaration of a person’s condition as “pitiful” allowed my mom to minimize any emotional investment in or distaste for the person. With this in mind and in reference to his most recent comments about Senator Obama, my mom would certainly describe Rev. Jesse Jackson as: “Pitiful! Just pitiful!”

*pitiful = (1) deserving pity. (2) deserving to be despised.

pity = sorrow for another’s suffering or

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...