From A Gallery of Ethopaths

Ethopaths fear, as much as cancer,
A straight, unvarnished, simple answer.
They love the euphemistic chatter
That clouds up an essential matter.
Seeing things clearly and addressing
Their substance with no elaborate dressing
Strikes ethopaths as plain immoral.
They’d rather take a dose of chloral
Than state the facts in simple fashion.
In fact, they have an ingrained passion
For phrasing that obscures and covers,
And this is why their language suffers:
Circumlocution leads to blunder
That tears one’s sound and sense asunder,
Or else makes speech as gauche and clunky
As that of a State Department flunky.
They talk of the undeveloped nations
When they mean wastes and desolations;
Putting taxpayers through the screws
Is called enhancing revenues;
They speak of an out-of-wedlock child
When bastard is how he should be styled.
They’ll term the stride of Stephen Hawking
As muscularly challenged walking
A euphemism most elastic:
Back in the past he was a spastic.
Having a cigarette and whiskey
Is substance abuse, and far too risky
To merit much more than stern rebuke.
Such prissiness can make one puke.
Sometimes they dress up outright lies
In an upscale and chic disguise
Meaning, when they say World Opinion,
The New York Times and its smug minyan
Of inbred editorial hacks
And pompous governmental flacks.
They clamor for language that’s inclusive
When they mean censorship’s intrusive
Finger in how you choose each pronoun.
It’s hard to obtain the simple low-down
On just what an ethopath is saying.
His words are a kind of crypto-praying
Where discourse is like a charm or spell
Keeping one safe in a verbal shell
Away from the brutish world of fact,
Unmanageable save by discreet tact.
Besides such gaseous obfuscation
Ethopaths turn all conversation
Into a surreptitious pleading
For things that they think the world is needing.
Statements by ethopathic vermin
Always contain a coded sermon
Telling one how one ought to think.
Language for them is just a link
In their relentless urge to lecture,
And you can tell the verbal texture
Of every ethopathic speech—
They all advise, prescribe, and preach.
Old Petrarch said the eyes revealed
That which the soul would keep concealed.
With ethopaths, it’s the wagging tongue
That shows the stuff from which they’re spun.



Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

12 Responses

    • C.B. Anderson

      James, you’re damn right that this is brilliant satire, and I have found that satire works best when it exposes bald truth. One thing I have learned in my long acquaintance with J.S.S. is that he never pulls his punches.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Paul, it was unclear, in the manner of this format, to whom your comment was directed. But J.S.S. has often criticized the academic establishment for its corrupt adherence to politically correct orthodoxies.

      • Paul

        Hi C.B. –

        I was addressing anyone – and wondering if others felt the same way. I’ve also seen intentional obfuscation in academic writing – that I feel should be as clear as possible. It feels like a betrayal of the goal of trying to understand and effectively convey.

  1. Jan Darling

    The best read I’ve had since you last stirred the literary WOKE pot. Hugely enjoyable, thank you, Sir.

  2. Joe Tessitore

    We are engaged in an uncivil war.
    Our enemy now declares that we are white supremacists for supporting the President.
    Who can say how we “should” respond?

    And who else can write poetry like this?
    Certainly not me.

  3. David Watt

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, and stylishly hammered it home.

  4. Sally Cook

    Dear Joe –

    My comment for some reason apparently did not take. To reiterate, as always, you teach us by example! Wish the universities in which you teach would wake up and realize the value of your inspired teaching and the quality of your work.


Leave a Reply to Sally Cook Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...