Thursday, January 15, 2015

Breaking the Spell of Enchantment

I have a slim volume titled Dictionary for the Disenchanted, written by Bernard Rosenberg published in 1972. The blurb on the book-jacket flap tells that the book is a "lexicographic landmark for those who see life as infinitely menacing (and amusing) in a world gone mad." The author died in 1996. Rosenberg was editor of Dissent magazine, "rumored to be a professor of sociology at the city University of New York". Had the good professor lived into the 21st century, there's no doubt at all that he could, and perhaps would, have written an updated and much expanded version of his dictionary - there's material aplenty in a world now gone even madder!

I've copied, below, a few of Prof. Rosenberg's definitions I found particularly apt or appealing. The book is nicely illustrated by Rob Powell. I've used a James Thurber cartoon to illustrate the post.

Apocalyptic Vision ~
A clear picture of impending doom best perceived by those who do their utmost to hasten its onset.

Credibility Gap ~
The gnawing suspicion that once in a while the Administration may not be lying.

Ecology ~
The panacea that, if zero population growth fails, may yet be a final solution to the human problem. Its practitioners are so far on the right track that they have already greatly improved the environment by helping to eliminate several merely dangerous pollutants in favour of those that are probably carcinogenic and certainly lethal.

Free Speech ~
1. A bourgeois affectation.
2. Interference with law 'n' order.
3. Further proof of how correct the French are when they assert that les extrêmes se touchent*.

(NOTE: * translates as extremes meet)

Futurologists ~
Twentieth-century astrologers handicapped by tunnel vision who, unable to apprehend the present, helpfully extrapolate it.

Generation Gap ~
A chasm, amorphously situated in time and space, that separates those who have grown up absurd from those who will, with luck, grow up absurd.

Like ~
In current usage, an all-purpose expletive. Along with "you know", "hopefully", "dig", "cool", and "man", it has so enriched American English that we can henceforth do without most of the remaining 600,000 words that still clutter last year's unabridged and out-of-date dictionaries.

Man ~
A biodegradable but non-recyclable animal blessed with opposable thumbs capable of grasping at straws.

Pessimist ~

Same as optimist but better informed.

Erroneously decoded by the late e.e. cummings as The Benighted States of Hysterica (E Pluribus Eunuch); actually, the United States of America, one of the few surviving republics where, if you do not first get killed, you can still make a killing.

Wisdom ~

The recognition that things are worse than they were but better than they are going to be.


mike said...

Rosenberg writes like a well-seasoned pessimist to me! I like his capitalism quote: "CAPITALISM
A socioeconomic system that, though no longer in existence, should nevertheless be abolished in favor of socialism. The distinction is important: capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, socialism is the exact opposite."

“Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth.” Jean-Paul Sartre

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes - I used that one, on capitalism, in a post once before. Coincidentally, I'm right now working on a post for the weekend that is kind of related to that very subject.