In the late 1880s, short story writer Ambrose Bierce penned a tongue-in-cheek lexicon for the Gilded Age. He called it The Devil’s Dictionary. In it, Bierce poked fun at society by defining common terms in the most cynical way possible; for example, he defined “man” as an animal “whose chief occupation is the extermination of other animals and his own species…”
Now, nearly 150 years later, it’s time for a new Devil’s Dictionary for a devilish new age. Ours is a time in which too many people define common terms based on what suits them, rather than on our shared experience. What were once universally agreed-upon associations, references, and meanings have fractured like a tree split by lightning.
Here, then, is an irreverent sampling of words whose meanings have mutated into something else entirely, and to the detriment of all.
Freedom, n., the absence of responsibility toward others and the recognition that my own needs, desires and beliefs are inherently closer to God than are the needs, desires and beliefs of others.
Social-Emotional Learning, n., a Communist plot to destroy America by teaching children to say: “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Are you OK? Do you need a hug?”
Climate Change, n., a hoax in which billions of animals, plants, oceans, rivers, icebergs and coral reefs pretend to mutate so that young people pretend to feel despair over nothing.
Pandemic, n., a hoax in which millions of people pretend to die so you’ll have to wear a mask.
Mask, n. a strangulating, development-stunting, personality-denying torture device forced on me by the government. (Archaic definition: A protective device worn, without complaint, for decades by doctors and nurses while caring for patients, and worn eagerly every October 31 by children trying to get out of doing their homework.)
U.S. Constitution, n., a once-honored document now deemed irrelevant.
Second Amendment, n., the only exception to the above.
Peaceful rally, n., a gathering in which self-appointed patriots use the American flag as a cudgel to hit U.S. Capitol Police officers over the head in order to prevent other Americans from enjoying the benefits of being American. (See, for comparison, the 1965 march across the Raymond Pettus Bridge by 600 peaceful activists who were attacked by police.)
Woke, adj., Vernacular for caring about someone other than oneself. Often used by hateful folks to mean whatever it is they hate.
Snowflake, n. Anyone who complains about my bad behavior. Also, an eight-sided frozen ice crystal that used to fall in buckets before climate change ruined winter.
Critical Race Theory, n., a graduate-level pedagogical lens used not to point out the factual connection between systemic racism and poverty, but rather, a plot to make white kids hate themselves.
Media, pl. n., a group of sinister busy-bodies who try to convince us our prejudices are wrong.
Research, v., to do a five-minute Google search and rely on whichever special interest has paid for Search Engine Optimization, instead of spending years examining evidence, undergoing peer review, and testing one’s results in professional conditions.
Librarians, n., quiet, eyeglass-wearing evil-doers whose mission is to replace your human child with a changeling.
Fake news, n., a term coined by a famously intellectual former president, whose deep reading of George Orwell taught him that objectivity is a highly overrated attribute.
Slavery, n., an unpleasant and inconvenient moment in the history of our country which should never be brought up again, lest white people pause and reflect.
Truth, n., an irrelevant relic of the past which has been replaced by my opinion, and, of course, TikTok.
Vote, v. and n., an exercise in futility in which non-partisan, professional registrars and poll monitors spontaneously use an invisible handshake to rig the outcome of every election (municipal, state and national); unless my guy wins, in which case it was fair and square.
Supreme Court, n. a mechanism for regulating what consenting adults who have no impact on my life do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
Immigration, n., invasion of marauders from everywhere except Europe, where my people came from.
The Law, n., something that’s good when it protects me but bad when it protects somebody I dislike or is used to hold somebody I like accountable for their illegal actions.
The Real America, n., a group of people who look, sound, and think exactly like me, forced to tolerate hundreds of millions of others who mistakenly believe they, too, have every legal and historical right to be here.
Christine Palm is the state representative for the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam.