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The Future Dictionary of America

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Problem: In the midst of a heated election season, when the citizens of the nation are deeply divided and there are almost no undecided voters, any attempt at publishing a polemic against the Bush administration is simply preaching to the choir.

Solution: Assemble a collection of satirical pieces by a sampling of today’s best writers and artists, and market it directly to the Choir. Also, throw in a compilation CD from America’s best and hippest musical acts. Get everyone involved to work for free, and donate all the proceeds from the book to progressive causes.

That’s what Dave Eggers and his friends and McSweeney’s Quarterly have done with The Future Dictionary of America. The project is framed as an artifact from a future society, from which the legacy of the Bush administration has long faded. The book is assembled like an authentic dictionary, with writers submitting definitions for invented and redefined words that reflect the America of our own times, and the change that (hopefully) is to come.

If all this sounds artsy-fartsy and unrealistically idealistic, that’s because it is. The contributions themselves vary from geeky linguistic humor, to hopelessly (or hopefully) optimistic, to scathingly satirical, to self-deprecatingly funny. Here’s one of my favorite linguistic gags:

Awesome [aah’-sum] adj. 1. inspiring awe, as in feelings of wonder or reverence before the sacred or sublime. 2. [now rare] excellent, admirable, super, impressive, groovy, etc. A boomerang word, i.e., one that is given a loose or in some cases unrelated definition and thrown around a lot for a certain period of time before returning to its original meaning. Cf. brilliant, dude.

–Sigrid Nunez

Here’s some priceless social satire:

Atkins Plan [at’-kins plann] n. doctrine of U.S. foreign policy early in the 21st century that disguised decadent indulgence as sacrifice and privation. Under the Atkins Plan, the U.S. consumed what it always wanted and still felt virtuous.

–Christ Bachelder

Not all the satire is directed at the Bush administration, or even political conservatives in general (just most of it). Here’s one that is more self-directed.

seven dollar socialist [$7 soh’-shul-ist] n. an activist, usually found in wealthy, liberal cities like San Francisco, whose high tax bracket income affords him or her the luxury of their rabid, liberal views. Ex: an Ipod-carrying, Jetta-driving, organic-tomato-eating protestor waving a placard reading Socialism Now while waiting in line to buy a $7 sandwich at Bi-Rite.

–Noah Hawley

As with most satire, the best examples are those that poke fun at American culture in general, while the most grating excerpts are attacks on individuals, typically making up words derived from their names (such as bushwhack or condoleesy). Given the range of writers involved, any given excerpt is hit-or-miss, but the sum of them all makes The Future Dictionary of America into a fun critique on current events and culture, and fills members of the choir with hope for coming years.

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About Kyle S

  • Eric Olsen

    very clean, well-written, interesting review Kyle – thanks and welcome!

  • Good review, Kyle. A new member of Blogcritics who know what he is doing and actually has a blog. An excellent contrast to Andy Marsh.

  • Thanks for the warm welcome. This is a great site, and I’m glad I can contribute to it.

  • I saw Eggers speak right after the RNC (he and another writer performed the Bush twins speech verbatim) and he said the CD was doing well and they could raise up to $500,000 for groups working to get out the vote.

  • Claire

    Kyle, an interesting and well written review. I look forward to reading more of your work.