Happy With; Mad At

In a previous life, when I had a small step-son, he asked his mother if she was “happy at him.” This prompted a grammar discussion that confused him because sometimes she was “mad at him” so why was “happy at him” wrong? It stuck with me as one of those out of the mouths of babes views of life.

It prompts a bit of thought about which emotions go with which propositions. We’re happy with, but mad at. On the other hand, we can be angry with or angry at someone, but only pleased with them.

We can also be happy, glad, angry, pleased, mad, or sad, about someone.

Or with/at/about something.

But mad at and angry at kinda stand alone. Ex-step-son identified an interesting difference in how our speech frames the world. I’ve pondered it ever since.

(I suppose a grammarian could give us chapter and verse. I’m just riffing here.)


At first I thought happiness is collective, whereas anger is singular.

But that’s not right. Shared outrage is a cottage industry these days, and the behavior of mobs shows how easily anger can be shared.

Obviously emotions are collective. They all can be shared.


Now I’m thinking (but not concluding) that happiness is inclusive, whereas anger is exclusive.

Happiness and joy tend to embrace something, to gather it. Anger has a target — anger pushes away. Hence we are mad at.

(Granted, it’s possible to be angry at oneself, which makes oneself the target.)


More food for thought: I wonder which is more contagious: laughter or anger? Are inclusive emotions easier to share than exclusive ones?

Are mobs a special case? Is “mob psychology” notably different from personal psychology? Or is it just generally true that emotions can be shared?

§ §

Under 400 words. Look at that, I can write a short post! 😀

It’s not exactly tweet-length, but it’s pretty short considering the source. By my standards, it essentially is a tweet.

(Bonus: I used an image that’s been in my “potential headers” folder for a long time. Intended for a post, but never used. It was too interesting to just delete, but I haven’t found an excuse to use it until now. One less bell to answer.)

Stay happy with, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

5 responses to “Happy With; Mad At

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Of course, being bad with someone is a whole other thing! 😈

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    One my friend’s kids, when he was very young, used to say things like, “Her took it to the car.” The idea of possessive pronoun took him a long time to pick up (years), despite numerous corrections.

    I took an English semantics class in college. I remember very little from it, but one thing that stuck was that language isn’t about words, but phrases. And many of them, particularly in bastard languages like English, just have to be memorized through experience.

    Congrats on the short post! The secret seems to be a very narrow subject matter. Easy to say. Much harder to stick to.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “The idea of possessive pronoun took him a long time to pick up (years), despite numerous corrections.”

      I suppose once any kid develops a bad habit it can be hard to unlearn. (Great quote: “Habits are like feather beds. Easy to get into and hard to get out of.”)

      “…language isn’t about words, but phrases.”

      Makes sense, especially with regard to idiom. English is wonderfully dynamic, but the flip side of that is that it’s also convoluted and hard to learn. (Which is no excuse for most USAnians, including myself, being mono-lingual. Even less excuse for poor grammar or vocabulary. Much of the rest of the world learns English as a second language and speaks it better than many USAnians.)

      “The secret seems to be a very narrow subject matter.”

      Narrow in the sense of that I didn’t have much to say about it certainly! 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ve long regretted never learning additional languages. It’s strange since my parents were bilingual, frequently talking in Cajun French, but not often enough for me to learn it. (I suspect they liked having a way to talk adult stuff with me in the room.) And college let me replace my foreign language courses with programming ones. I guess the logic being a computer language is a language.

        On narrow subject, you could have expanded it into an overall post about communication issues or something along those lines. I’m sure you could do 2000 words on that easily.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Likewise on learning other languages. And likewise on the parents. For my sister and me it was Norwegian. And some Chinese (my parents studied it thinking of doing missionary work in China, but the communists rose to power and nixed that plan).

        It was definitely their way of discussing things not for our ears. Sis and I did pick up a few words, but that was about all. (All four of my grandparents came from Norway, so both my parents grew up in Norwegian-speaking households.)

        “I’m sure you could do 2000 words on that easily.”

        Yeah, it could have been a whole grammar treatise, but I would have been out of my depth.

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