This was my main writing exercise last night, when I had a block of time to do a few of them. I like this exercise a lot. It makes me think about what words mean, what they mean in different contexts, and what they don’t mean.
The cynicism of these aside, there’s also generally a pattern to what Bierce did and what I try to do when I write these. Not quite a formula. Anyway.
Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link, where older entries have been placed. Nobody’s taken me up on that, but perhaps offering what nobody wants is the sort of against the grain thinking Bierce might have liked.
achievement A statement of adequacy most notable for prolonging the use of paper.
annexation A means of keeping one’s rivals close.
attraction In the fields of entertainment and matrimony, the power that ultimately results in butts in seats.
bard A singer of the traditional art, compliance.
base The center of man, largely comprised of the digestive organs and resultant substances.
beggar A friend, indeed.
borrower A generous soul who invest in others.
commentator An ass trained to emit the usual sounds at a greater volume.
confidence man A mathematician who teaches other men their value.
essay A thesis in so many words.
graft A most dependable oiler deployed as a support to the flotilla of commerce.
grift The most common transaction in a bull market.
hiccup An echo of swallowed resolve.
homily The dust that comes off when old words are shaken.
innocence In the American justice system, one maintains this until they are proven.
mustache An ingenious device that can be grown by its wearer to catch mucus when the skull becomes full.
proponent The principal heir to a disputed outcome.
reverence A silent demonstration that allows one’s dream to displace another’s sense.
salute A sign of respect shown to the superior officer and an acknowledgement that another is wearing his hat.
sentence At best, a means of doing justice to men and words.
suspicion The most potent spell cast by reason.
theft The highest form of flattery.
versatility The ability to have a hand in multiple pockets.
vote In America, by a certain age, each man or woman is entrusted with multiples of one; sadly, this was not always the case.
wallet Where scruples of varying denominations are corralled.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Another batch of emulations of entries in The Devil’s Dictionary. Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link, where older entries have been placed. I try to come up with a couple of these before I start my writing or homework. Sometimes they get the juices flowing. Other times are other times.
bank The arena in which money conspires against its owner, pending withdrawal.
buttock A special paddock where unsolicited advice grazes and runs among its kind.
capital 1. Where the best ideas of a republic are heaped until the ones on the bottom and in the middle can no longer move. 2. The blood of the republic, regarded for its ability to clot only in select locations.
darkness A vast blanket that warms all ambition.
foot soldier In any army, a tankless job.
heel1. The weakest part of an ancient warrior. 2. The most electable part of a modern society.
invasion A great quest announced by one great trumpet and concluded in many little pockets.
mortgage A means of buying today what will be lost tomorrow.
politician A practitioner of situational idealism, the best of whom give displeased constituents directions to their neighbors’ houses.
politics 1. A chief means of monetizing duty. 2. An arena in which both contestants wear the same uniform. 3. An elaborate employment program providing for the second cousin of greatness.
privacy The chamber into which a man withdraws from his friends for the purpose of devising their undoing.
robe What a judge wears to hide his or her intentions.
rope A tether fitted at birth, length to be determined.
scuffle A conversation expressed by hand.
veilAn item worn once per marriage.
werewolf A foolish myth with no basis in reality; rather, men grow more devilish at the new moon, when it is slightly harder to be seen.*
* Bierce’s definition: WEREWOLF, n. A wolf that was once, or is sometimes, a man. All werewolves are of evil disposition, having assumed a bestial form to gratify a beastial appetite, but some, transformed by sorcery, are as humane and is consistent with an acquired taste for human flesh. Some Bavarian peasants having caught a wolf one evening, tied it to a post by the tail and went to bed. The next morning nothing was there! Greatly perplexed, they consulted the local priest, who told them that their captive was undoubtedly a werewolf and had resumed its human for during the night. “The next time that you take a wolf,” the good man said, “see that you chain it by the leg, and in the morning you will find a Lutheran.”
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Another batch of emulations of entries in The Devil’s Dictionary. Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link. I try to come up with a couple of these before I start my writing or homework. Sometimes they get the juices flowing. Other times are other times.
action What one takes only when they are taken.
bounty An investment in collection plates.
children An endearment applied by men to progeny and peers.
conspiracy Any endeavor from which you are excluded.
fairly How I say what you should say.
fold The orderly form into which men are brought before they are shelved.
gift The loan with the highest interest.
jury A temporary means of ensuring a dozen citizens harm no more than one of their peers.
kitchen 1. The courthouse in which too many cooks judge themselves. 2. Where the takeout is quietly plated.
musical A play in which performers tunefully say the usual lies.
musical chairs A game that teaches children about governance.
offense The only thing left to take when logic has been removed.
property When you have what I’ll have.
reality What television says is on.
scrutiny 1. Applied to you, a consideration of possibility. 2. Applied by you, the certainty to be considered.
slogan Any phrase coined in the pursuit of coin.
subdivision The latest development in agricultural science.
subpoena The means by which the commonwealth comes to recognize individuality.
truth In any given tongue, the currency of the speaker whose father coined it.
The following post isn't really about Ted Danson, but it is kind of/sort of, and people seem to like looking at the man, so here is a picture of him. Photo by John Doucette.
This post is about priorities, if you bear with it.
As both who read this blog know, the actor and activist Ted Danson and Norfolk, Va., author Mike D’Orso recently spoke and signed books at Prince Books. The talk was moved across the street from Prince to the Selden Arcade in downtown Norfolk due to anticipate demand. Good thing. Nice turnout.
I’m not really going to get into the talk here, but I want to share two experiences – one I had, and one someone else had – the day Danson and D’Orso spoke.
In one case, a guy did not understand the concept of a line for the book signing.
By the line, I mean a formation of human being as a mutually agreed-to organizing principle amid a common activity. This is the third most important thing that distinguishes us from the beasts. The first two most important things are (1) language and (2) counting. And let me just list them with a couple other priorities for perspective:
This is not to say language and counting are all that superior than the line. An argument could be made that we have language and counting mostly to tell people what number they are in the line. A sad, sad argument.
But say a line jumper gets snippy, you give them the thumbs as a way of demonstrating where they should be in the line. That’s a benefit of thumbs. I’m not about to get into doorknobs here, but certainly thumbs matter there. Also getting a pickle out of a jar. And so you have something to sit on during business meetings. Thumbs: another topic for another day.
The Isabella Rossellini thing is just and oh-by-the-way. Maybe you show them a picture of her to try to calm them down. I don’t know how the lady works, but she works.
So back to the guy and the line.
Lucy Couch, who works at Prince Books and is married to my fellow Old Dominion University Creative Writing MFA-er Ian Couch, apparently had to deal with a disgruntled gentleman with an implied past military affiliation, and an aversion to waiting his turn.
As I understand it, Lucy used language and indicated counting, but the guy wouldn’t have it. Dude just wanted a moment with Ted Danson. Right then. So if this disgruntled guy really had a past military affiliation, I’m amazed he couldn’t out-wait a little line or, say, buy a book maybe on account of it being a book signing at what is a book store, not some subsidized program to bring a bit more Danson to the masses.
This line simply was not some soul-crushing thing. When I was in the service, I’m pretty sure I waited in longer lines to eat chow more than once. And if I tried to jump the chow line? Out came language and thumbs.
Overall, this was a really cool line, with more folks seemingly interested in the environment than they were in how Danson used to be on a TV show called Cheers. Even the guy who asked about a Cheers reunion didn’t belabor it. Much. And some of us were there for D’Orso. This is Norfolk. He’s our guy.
So some guy was a jerk, and Lucy had to deal with it. Lucy held her ground, and he split.
Boo some guy.
That’s the part that happened to someone else. Next is what happened to me.
Earlier, I’d ducked into a business. Through the mutual application of language, two seasoned gents learned where I was going and promptly busted Ted Danson’s chops for a prediction or statement he made many years ago about the oceans’ future – one Danson addresses in the book, by the way. And the men, as though channeling the talk radio drones that ripped into Danson at the time, had a nice laugh.
Though, to be fair, they liked him on Cheers. And Damages.
Now, look: if you’re from Hampton Roads, you know that encountering the reader comments at Pilotonline.com should only be done in a cautionary way, to remind one to drive defensively.
Some of those people own cars.
But it also reminded me that there are a lot of people who seem to exist only to belittle ideas.
To some people, your words are useless and they don’t want to see the math. They don’t give a damn about lines, whether they exist for a reason, right or wrong. They want what they want when they want it, and they don’t care where it comes from, how it was gotten, and what it costs in the long term for short-term gain. You can point them to reality and they’ll say you don’t have the right to give them the thumbs.
What’s left? Help us, Isabella Rossellini – you’re our only hope?
I don’t know that a book changes how some folks are, no more than a silly blog post. I’ll read what Danson and D’Orso wrote, and so will some others, but I already make decisions about my seafood and where I shop and so forth. Maybe I’ll make better ones. Maybe not.
But I’ll try to keep an open mind. I wish more people would try. Ignorance, as it has been said, is not a sustainable position.
Some won’t consider that there’s any value to regulating overfishing by commercial fleets and protecting coastal environments and what have you because, well, they just won’t. At that point, they’re not in a conversation but in a bunker.
I’m kidding around when I say some actress is one of the key things that separates us from the beasts, and my list above, admittedly, is 99 percent bunk. But I’m convinced that language is the key to our humanity, both the written and spoken words. How we add to the pile of existing language defines us.
Part of that is listening. We need to understand the disagreement and the common ground before we speak and write. If we aren’t willing to listen to others, if we always put ourselves first, we can’t communicate. That means we’re incapable of collaboration and compromise for the common good.
That’s inhuman, and it’s scary that any of us find that condition acceptable. It’s even scarier that we sometimes don’t even realize we are actively refusing to hear truths that challenge our own.
P.S. Why can’t we count on Isabella Rossellini alone? She’s busy with um, specific topics, and the following video is (a) nutty and (b) probably not safe for work.