Ambrose Bierce last produced a version of his masterwork, “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a century ago. That compendium of satirical, cynical, and ridiculous definitions exposed the harsh, hidden truths behind the commonplace, genteel words of the English Language.
Bierce’s book, coming at the beginning of the age of mass marketing, was a vital corrective to the serial abuse of our mother tongue. The century that followed was a linguistic riot. It has gotten so bad that people feel compelled to say “do you know what I’m saying?” after attempting, and mostly failing, to say what they’re saying.
Ambrose Bierce is gone, but his great project lives on. Herein, in no particular order, is my humble contribution to “The Devil’s Dictionary: The Digital Years.”
Diva: That personality resulting from the merger of inadequate talent with world-class attitude. The fraudulent theft of attention caused by the outrageous behavior of a failed artist.
Traditional: Nostalgia repurposed as a weapon of argument.
Natural: Any product created by a technology old enough to be taken for granted.
Foodie: A person whose tastes are too refined for eating.
Upscale: Overpriced. An item whose value is determined by its cost.
Downscale: Any tangible good or service utilized by those too poor or ignorant to feel the shame of doing so.
Sustainable: A process of work whereby one neither succeeds nor fails badly enough to stop. An endless, if harmless, search for mediocre results that never ends. Considered in some circles to be highly desirable, in others to be deeply detestable. That is an example of a sustainable argument.
Green: A chant, devoid of meaning, used to signify one’s purity. When spoken about Mother Earth, green is the secular equivalent of “amen.” Also: An adjective attached to a product used to justify its elevated cost.
Subversive: The laziest of all possible ways to be hip. Wearing mismatched socks is subversive, but only if done on purpose.
Consultant: When spoken of others, a personage whose specialty is purchased temporarily, for the purpose of covering one’s back. When spoken of oneself, unemployed.
Peer pressure: That circular reasoning that allows me to blame my poor decisions on you, while you blame your poor decisions on me. Always works in the negative, as opposed to…
Team player: One who yields to peer pressure when conformity is positively required.
Substance abuser: A junkie with money.
Self-medicating: See above.
Rehab: That time interval, more or less extended, between hangovers. A respectable alternative to jail for celebrities.
Thrill ride: When applied to amusement parks, a mechanical apparatus that produces feelings of joy and euphoria. When applied to movies, a series of chase scenes in search of a story.
Social media: A space where those determined to waste time can do so in the company of others. A financial alchemy where a billion people make one person a billionaire by using a free service.
Infidel: One whose absurd myths about the universe differs from your absurd myths about the universe.
Passionate: That character flaw which enables one to care more about something than it is worth.
Colon: Punctuation mark used to repair inadequate book titles.
Planet: Slang for earth, used by various tribes of the Caucasian upper middle class when discussing environmental issues.
Environment: Either an empty space where a noble entrepreneur creates wealth, or the petard upon which capitalism is hoist. An ill-defined space that is either developed or raped, depending upon one’s point of view.
Political conviction: That deeply felt ideology of a civil servant obtained from the results of yesterday’s focus group.
Hero: In moral terms, one whose unpopular beliefs are vindicated with time.
Denier: In moral terms, one who clings to unpopular beliefs far beyond the time allotted for their vindication.
Reality show: A medium where ordinary citizens demonstrate the lengths to which they will abuse reality in order to appear on television.
Sequel: The penalty imposed upon an artist for getting it right the first time.
Genius: Gifted with a towering intellect and transcendent talents. Also: A rap star with his own line of clothing.
Erectile dysfunction: An inability to perform one’s marital duties, due to the age of one’s spouse.
A New York Minute: The amount of time it takes for a New Yorker to dismiss anything that happens west of the Hudson River.
Domestic abuse: The damage done to hearth and home by a do-it-yourselfer.
Monetary policy: The one exception to the rule about honesty being the best.
Free speech: In politics, the actual worth of speech not amplified by money.
Unnamed sources: A journalist quoting himself. Generally understood to mean, “I made it up.”
Tabloid journalism: In the digital world, all that is left of journalism.
That was fun! Unless there is an uproar of popular revulsion, I may make this a periodic exercise. Feel free to email me your suggestions and become a partner in this crime.