And that poor word is broken down in funk.
It’s often thought that rationality and morality can’t coexist under the same roof,
but it’s rationalization and morality that are incendiary roommates.
Mid-monsoon Kolkata, when torrents back up the lines, is as noisome as ever,
but far less noisy as people seek shelter and an incessant spatter shushes.
Everybody gets crapulous on Thanksgiving, but no one will admit as much
because it sounds like one is bragging about one’s dietary roughage.
I’d like to think that I’m generally combobulated, sheveled, and gruntled,
but who could I tell.
Like all dictionaries, it’s a collection of words and meanings, but this one is much more fun to read. Before it was compiled into a book, these entries were serialized in newspapers from 1881 to 1906. As might be expected, some of the definitions / jokes didn’t age well. However, a great many of them are as amusing as ever. In fact, because so many of the definitions revolve around people’s narcissism and self-serving biases, they may be more accurate and apropos than ever. (And lawyers and politicians continue to be fair game as the butt of a joke.)
Let me give a few examples of the aforementioned narcissism:
ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.
ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom one knows well enough to borrow from , but not well enough to lend to…
ADMIRATION, n. Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.
Not all of the definitions revolve around humanity’s narcissistic worldview. While subjects like politics, economics, and religion are widespread, the entries cover the wide range of subjects one might see in your regular dictionary. e.g.:
CLARIONET, n. An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears. There are two instruments that are worse than a clarionet—two clarionets.
CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
ECONOMY, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.
EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage…
TELEPHONE, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
Despite being a work of the 19th century, Bierce held a more rational and scientific outlook than typical, and this can be seen in many definitions–some of which were probably considered outlandishly irreverent in the day. This helps to keep “The Devil’s Dictionary” relevant. e.g.:
FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
FEAST, n. A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness.
GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.
MIND, n. A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature…
MONKEY, n. An arboreal animal which makes itself at home in genealogical trees.
MULATTO, n. A child of two races, ashamed of both.
OCEAN, n. A body of water occupying two-thirds of a world made for man—who has no gills.
PRAY, n. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
In addition to the definitions, there are many segments of verse or prose used to elaborate on the definitions. These excerpts are usually clever, humorous, or both. There are no graphics and so these snippets are the only use of examples and clarification provided. e.g.:
re: EPIGRAM: “In each human are a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity.”
I would highly recommend this book for those who like humor with language.
bunch your words up and throw ’em in a satchel
and see if they mean fuck all after you’ve ridden across the plains
pull the letters out one-by-one to see if words gel
or whether what spills out is a wicked mass of tangled confusion
tangles blurted like a Tourette’s sufferer with a machine gun stutter
I’m too happy to be crazy,
but the happy makes me lazy
Not lazy, but lacking focus.
Madness is a creative locus.
A sad gravity weighs one down,
as lip corners into a frown,
but in the pit resides a muse.
People pay to hear the blues.
If you could peer inside my mind,
you’d see stacks of rotting rinds.
The rinds pile up and they ferment.
Maybe to a soulful lament?
Or maybe they just start to sour,
becoming fouler by the hour.
Until you can’t believe the stink,
and every word is wasted ink.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Painted Word is a collection of interesting words with definitions, insight into each word’s origins and evolution, and interesting or humorous usages. These aren’t all GRE words (massive and mostly useless words that have little value beyond impressing admissions committees.) Many of the words will be familiar to readers without huge vocabularies. On the other hand, there will be words that are new to even New York Times crossword puzzle solvers.
As the title suggests, there’s a little bit of an art-related theme. However, I’m not sure I would have noticed this if it hadn’t been for the title. There are a number of colors included among the words—colors known mostly to interior decorators and not to most heterosexual men. There are also a few artistic styles (e.g. intimism.) However, the bulk of the words aren’t clearly related to the fine arts. Many of the entries are loan words, i.e. words that have been used in English literature or other English-language media but which are of foreign origin.
I’ll include a few of the words that captured my own interest:
Autologophagist: one who eats his / her own words
Bafflegab: language that misleads—intentionally or not
Cataphile: a lover of catacomb crawling
Inkhorn: an over-intellectualized word
Lambent: shining with soft light on the surface of something
Millihelen: the amount of beauty that would result in the launch of a single ship.
Monogashi [Japanese]: the sigh or sadness of things
Sonicky: A great sounding word—coined by Roy Blount Jr.
Phlug: belly-button lint
Snollygoster: a shrewd but corrupt politician
Ubantu [Bantu / Xhosa]: the interconnectedness of all things
This book is full of fun insights and statements. I learned that “hush puppies” were literally carried to throw to noisy dogs to get them to stop barking. There are many interesting and humorous quotes. For example, Brendan Behan said, “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.” Brief vignettes are used to help give depth of understanding to words. One such story is about a Luddite looking upon the operation of a steam shovel who said to his friend, “Were it not for that steam shovel, there would be work for hundreds of men with shovels…” to which his friend replied, “or thousands of men with teaspoons.”
I enjoyed this book. You don’t have to be fascinated by the minutiae of semantics to find it readable and interesting. It’s not as much like reading a dictionary as one might suspect.
I just finished a book on words, The Painted Word. It’s amazing what one can learn about oneself by expanding one’s vocabulary. I found out that I engage in sciamachy and omphaloskepsis on a regular basis. I now know that I’m a obsimath with a borderline case of abibliophobia and a full-blown case of dromomania.
What about you? Do you know your value in millihelens? If so, is said value jolie laide or conventional? Have you ever had gymnophoria? Do you groak? When you engage in omphaloskepsis, do you ever find a phlug?
Sciamachy = shadowboxing
Omphaloskepsis = navel gazing / deep introspection
Obsimath = like a polymath, but learning later in life
Abibliophobia = fear of running out of reading material
Dromomania = a crazed passion for travel
Millihelen = the beauty required to launch a single ship (re: Helen of Troy)
Jolie laide = unconventional beauty
Gymnophoria = queasy feeling someone is undressing you with their eyes
Groak = stare at some else’s food hoping to be offered some
Phlug = bellybutton lint
I get that nobody cares about the backside of a rodent. It’s clearly the toothy, gnawing front end that’s on people’s minds. So how is a “rat’s ass” synonymous with “flying fuck?” This isn’t a rhetorical question, people. I’d really like an answer.
So the fact that it’s preceded by “Who gives a…” makes me assume that a “flying fuck” isn’t anything that anyone much cares about. It’s like a rat’s ass, a goat’s gonads, or politician’s promise–no one cares. But wait. It seems to me that a flying fuck would be something that all parties concerned would take great interest in. Alright, I’m not hip to all the maneuvers of the Kama Sutra, but I imagine a flying fuck to be when a man with a woody gets a running start, leaps up in the air in a horizontal configuration, and comes down so as to impale his partner’s lady bits. That’s like throwing a javelin to land a whole-in-one in the cup on the green of the 9th hole.
Even if I was a thrill-seeker, unconcerned about the threat of a sprained penis (it’s a real thing, look it up), I think my wife would care enough to be firmly opposed. If people weren’t scared of the flying fuck, it’d be all the rage.
Alright, let’s assume I’ve misinterpreted the term. Let’s say that a “flying fuck” really refers to being a member of the Mile High Club. Everybody cares about that. The man wants to celebrate it. The woman doesn’t want to be caught in a slutwalk of shame back to her seat. You can be damn sure the guy who’s locked out of the lavatory after having eaten a vending machine tuna salad sandwich from Concourse B cares greatly. Everybody cares about the flying fuck.
I can’t even imagine what else a flying fuck could be, but whatever it is I have trouble believing that nobody cares.
It can’t just be the alliteration. Acrobat’s accountant, billionaire’s bunion, crooner’s cookie-jar, etc… are all alliterations that we care less about than a flying fuck.
So if you can shed some light, I’d be happy to hear an explanation. I do, truly, give a flying fuck.