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Words Ain’t What They Used To Be

Definitions dreamed up in a slow stretch at the column-writing factory:

APPLE: Once defined as a fruit varietal, now best known as a cyber-digital entity, and to a lesser extent as a recording label; see The Beatles. See also: Amazon, Chrome, Cookies, Tweet.

BITCOIN: Monetary unit whose intrinsic value isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on.

BOOK: Antiquated vessel of printed and pictorial information; primary purpose today being the exhibition of exterior spines upon shelves, suggesting owner’s intellectual superiority to visitors.

BULL MARKET: Brief period during which stock market roulette wheel is tilted in your favor.

CANCER: Illness too valuable to cure.

CAREER: A series of undesirable employment goals required by society, reached by misfortune, and endured until something worse comes along.

CATS: Ill-tempered freeloading ingrates fortunate to have achieved domestication half a generation ahead of raccoons.

CELEBRITIES: Artificialities manufactured by marketers with the assistance of agents to the delight of accountants, consumed by morons to the detriment of society.

DEATH: Journey to graveyard, date of arrival recorded in advance.

DOGS: Best friend to those who have no other, and whose loyalties are purchased via threat of starvation.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Institution whose value and worth are disputed by those whose cause it most recently failed to reward.

FACT-CHECKERS: News media grading its own papers.

FREE SPEECH: Reserved for favored groups advocating opinions approved by those groups. See also: Mass Media restrictions re: expression of acceptable opinions in contrast with previously acceptable opinions now deemed unacceptable.

HOMELESS: Funding unit for grant writers, human services administrators and social workers. Eller’s Law posits that any increase in the homeless population produces a corresponding increase in salaries of those working to reduce the homeless population, resulting in disincentives to achieve promised results.

INTERNET: A series of tubes delivering dubious information to credulous consumers who believe honest journalism is best achieved if provided free, and who cancel their magazine and newspaper subscriptions to prove it.

JOURNALIST: One who strives to deliver biased, dishonest information as if it were neither.

MARXISM: Political fad dividing citizens as workers or owners; failed in the face of Fordism, Carnegieism, etc. Revived, now dividing citizens by race and gender. Oft-shouted goal of equality to be attained when all citizens are equally impoverished.

MINORITIES: Provided month-long observations in America, as in Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Awareness Month and LGBTQ Celebration Month. Minor groups also honored in America via somewhat shorter (typically one day) commemoratives: War Veterans, Columbus Day (Italians) St. Patrick’s Day ( Irish) and U.S. Presidents.

PEN: Once-popular writing implement for transferring thoughts into sentences, then into personal letters and transported via the postal service, none of which today exist in meaningful numbers.

POET: Job title favored in lieu of being termed unemployed. See also: Laytonville carpenter, Los Angeles scriptwriter, community activist.

POLITICIAN: Takes money from Peter to pay Paul and Paula, betting he’ll get two-thirds of the vote next election.

PORNOGRAPHY: Displays of sexually explicit content defined a generation ago as having “No redeeming social value” but now freely available to anyone capable of operating a computer, i.e., everyone over age five. Once scourge of society, now defended as Free Speech by those who benefit financially.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Semi-effective means of delivering crowded groups from one unpleasant urban area to another as a means of punishing those who decline to use it.

SPORTS: Fierce competition between factions whose loyalties are determined by shirt colors.

SUPER BOWL: Annual event most closely representing a national holiday by generating the fewest number of activists protesting its existence.

TAROT: Card game at the conclusion of which the dealer explains your future in terms most favorable to her.

WALLET: Portable container transported by men to enable transfer of their wealth in exchange for transitory pleasures for the enrichment of those who keep them temporarily filled.

WRITING: Low art of communicating without having to look anyone in the eye.

(Tom Hine says definitions owe their inspiration and stylings to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, now more than 100 years old. Get your copy at the Mendocino Book Company. Ask for Stan. Tell ‘em TWK sent you. Demand a free bookmark.)


  1. Laura Cooskey October 31, 2022

    Very interesting but i scrolled right down to see what’s in the spot for “woman”– and nothing! Now if you can define that one, you will either awe or anger a whole generation. I can do it in three words, but that’s too simple.

  2. George Dorner October 31, 2022

    The Saigon Post used to run a definition a day from Bierce on the front page.

  3. Gary Smith October 31, 2022

    I’ll bet TWK was a big Andy Rooney fan. This piece is annoying on that same level.

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