Taking umbrage with our so-called outrage

Todd Hartley
I’m With Stupid

I did a Google search a few minutes ago for the term “people outraged,” and it came up with 45.9 million results. Now, I’m no expert when it comes to Google searches, so I’m not sure if that’s more or fewer results than other searches typically come up with, but it sounds like an awfully large number to me.

I find this interesting because I feel as if people are outraged about nearly everything these days, and it seems, more often than not, like folks are flying off the handle over things that don’t really warrant such a strong reaction. For example, the top result in my search had to do with white suburban moms supposedly being “outraged” because Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opined that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”

(Note to white suburban moms: He’s right. You love your child, and that’s great, but it doesn’t make the little snot-nose any more exceptional than any other kid.)

To me, Duncan’s comments hardly seem like the sort of thing to elicit “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation” (the first definition of outrage according to the Oxford Dictionary), but I’m not a white suburban mom, so what do I know? Maybe in this case someone else’s opinion really is “an act of violence and brutality” (one of the definitions of outrage according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

In any event, I can’t help but think that we as a nation may be overusing the word “outrage” just a tad.

At this point, those of you who know me are probably laughing out loud because in the past I’ve been as guilty as anyone of claiming outrage over insignificant things, but I’ve changed my tune recently and decided not to let myself get so upset all the time.

What brought on this change of heart, you ask? Did I have some sort of revelation or awakening that turned me into some happy-go-lucky Pollyanna? Well, no. I’d love to claim that was the case, but the truth is that I was recently prescribed Valium for my balky back, and after I took a few a few, it dawned on me that it makes very little sense to get angry over things that don’t directly affect me.

Sure, it’s probably just the drugs talking, but I’ve decided that from now on (or at least until my prescription runs out), I’m going to tone everything down. Thus, I would like to reintroduce America to a word we all seem to have forgotten about: “umbrage.”

For those of you who don’t remember what “umbrage” means, here’s the definition according to the Oxford Dictionary: “offense or annoyance”; and according to Merriam-Webster: “a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done.” Doesn’t that sound a lot closer to what we actually feel when we read or hear something we disagree with?

So if what we’re all experiencing is offense and annoyance rather than shock and indignation, what’s with all the outrage, and who’s to blame? The answer, naturally, is the media, which as you may remember are responsible for everything wrong with America these days. But I understand why this is the case: Outrage sells, and umbrage doesn’t.

Let’s say you’re an editor for The Huffington Post, which is possibly the most hyperbolic disseminator of newsy-type stuff in history, and you’re hoping to generate lots of page views courtesy of an eye-catching headline. Of course you’re going to say “white suburban moms are outraged” rather than “some suburban mothers took umbrage.” Accuracy be damned just as long as people are clicking the link, right?

The problem, though, is that people read headlines about how the left is outraged by some offensive thing Rush Limbaugh said or the right is outraged by Obama’s very existence, and they start to believe that they should be shocked and indignant themselves. Before you know it, everyone’s angry, and America becomes ever more divided and partisan.

But I think I have a solution, and no, it doesn’t involve giving everyone Valium, although that probably would work. Instead, I propose that we give sedatives to all the newspaper and online editors out there before they come up with headlines. Once the drugs kick in and their own personal outrage has dwindled to umbrage, I imagine those editors will be much more likely to write something a little less inflammatory and a little closer to the truth.

Todd Hartley is outraged — outraged! — over the fact that his prescription is about to expire. To read more or leave a comment, please visit


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