Today I told my class that while I’ve been called “bumptious” (irritating and conceited, and a former word of the week) I’ve never been called a Pollyanna.
Who was this person? The OED has her as the brainchild of American children’s author Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868–1920). Pollyanna was a relentlessly and often naively cheerful character. I’d call that sort of person “perky,” and they irritate me to no end, being a bit of a grump (I was chosen to be Scrooge in our 6th Grade Christmas play).
The OED has our word not appearing very often in modern speech, and that’s a pity. Students may encounter our metaphor in the contexts of Political Science, Leadership, History, Journalism, or Literature on our campus. I don’t know anyone who reads Porter’s works these days, but we have Pollyannas aplenty. From the OED, a 2003 example: “Although the authors conclude that ecological sustainability is slowly gaining ground, they are no pollyannas.”
Read a fine piece from Atlantic Monthly, “How We All Become Pollyannas (and Why We Should Be Glad About It)” for a nuanced look at the fictional character. She turns out not as irritating as we might believe, though Ruth Graham does note how “When she gasps in rapture upon being sent to her room to read a pamphlet about houseflies and hygiene, it’s impossible not to roll your eyes.” Despite that moment, Pollyanna fought off gloom by working to be happy.
That’s a good lesson for everyone. Now all you Pollyannas, Negative Nellies (and Neds), Bumptious Bobs, and other malcontents or perky folk, I need your words and metaphors for this blog.
Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
“Large Vinyl Pollyanna Doll” courtesy of Wikipedia.