On ComplainingHow to grumble with grace.

On ComplainingHow to grumble with grace.

The word “complain” comes from the medieval Latin complangere, “to bewail.” And that’s exactly how it sometimes feels. When the music is too loud in a restaurant, or a colleague keeps sneezing without covering his mouth, the urge is to howl out the injustice. And yet, so often we can’t—social norms dictate that it would be too rude or aggressive to speak up. So we let the shrill guitar solo screech over the dinner date, or watch a cloud of virus-laden spittle swirl from a co-worker’s lips. Why can’t we bewail offenses freely?

Complaining is as old as time, and the modern, professional sort—the lawsuits Americans specialize in—is nearly medieval: The origin of nuisance laws can be traced to a case in the English countryside in 1610, when a man named William Aldred ...

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