I’ve used the word pugilistic in a number of posts as a way to describe certain individual and political behaviors. A pugilist is a boxer. In the old days it meant a professional boxer, one who did not fight except when in the ring and according to whatever rules were in play at the time. But to be pugilistic is to use language and behave in ways that threaten a fight as a way of asserting one’s self and one’s beliefs.
It used to be a fairly rare thing. For instance, we had a neighbor who could not say a word without sounding like an irate drill sergeant ready to kick butts. He talked that way to his wife, kids, and anyone else who came within earshot. It was the bravado of an abusive, insecure man who had very few behavioral tools in his kit. I imagine that he lived in a world of fear most of the time, and he did imagine enemies and danger to be ever present in the most fantastical of ways. A relative was so convinced that the armed and violent house burglar was just steps away that he pugilistically described the probable event each time we visited, and assured us that he would shoot first and ask questions later. Considering that he kept a loaded revolver in the nightstand next to his bed, it took courage to make a midnight trip to the bathroom. Eccentric to say the least, but these examples were not all that common.
Now that kind of pugilistic bombast has become the ordinary language of some politicians and political commentators. It’s the language of abusive threat. It’s the language of insecurity. It’s the language of ignorance. It’s the language of imagined violent adversaries. It’s the language of those who would seek scapegoats on whom to impute all that is not good in their own lives and punish them for it. It is a dangerous language.