Toward a Modern Dictionary Experience

Ambrose Bierce wrote the Devil’s Dictionary. We’ve had lexicographers who have determined themselves to be masters of language; Bierce was one of them. However, the truth is that lexicographers are not creators but compilers who reflect common language usage, and they are generally slow to make changes in their dictionaries. Reflection is one phenomenon of “enlightenment”, running after trends another matter altogether. In these 21st C days, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need another type of dictionary experience. As I’ve already stated, lexicographers are not masters but reflectors; conversely, the same must be true of dictionaries. They are not the masters your English teacher made you think they were. They merely served to demonstrate how out of touch with common usage and reality you happened to be at any given time in your life when you misused a word; or likewise how you desired to illicit a response from your teacher…and, unless your teacher wasn’t hot, it was an entirely discrete experience.

Positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged phonemes.

Positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged phonemes.

To take this a step further, what is needed is a dictionary that is a better reflector. Definitions in these days change very quickly. Not only do they change due to the onslaught of media everywhere you look, but they change based off what the user of language is feeling/thinking from one moment to the next. What are words but stacked phonemes? There is no reason why phonemes should remain static. In fact, according to the atomic model, they clearly aren’t. I would suggest, then, an algorithm that determines the meaning of a given word based off these factors (given in order from least to most important): A. common usage B. the politics of the day C. the group a user belongs to D. the individual feelings/thoughts of a user and E. the statistical likelihood of triggering someone within hearing/reading range of the user.

Although this product is still currently in the development stage, I’ve launched a GoFundMe campaign to bring it more swiftly to market than the usual multiple years it would take to pore over and rewrite a dictionary. At the rate at which technology and media change, there is a small window I have to toss this out there. If you would like to donate to my project, go to Humpty-Dumpty Media App, GoFundMe But Don’t Break My Damn Shell.


The Post-Post-Modern Flat Earth Society

I love the word denialism — don’t you? It’s classic rhetoric and so obviously manipulative that I can’t believe there are people out there who have been trained to use it seriously. But tools will be tools. I mention this only in connection with the Modern Flat Earth Societies, which are either composed of postmoderns attempting irony, or they are composed of science denialists. That was my postmodern attempt at irony, using denialists ironically to prove I’m not a tool when I clearly am because I…oh, never mind. As Flat Earth isn’t much of a relevant controversy, I’m not sure how the term denialism could be used in any way other than irony, but then, there I go again.

What is seriously post-postmodern, in an uber-hip unironic way, is that there is actually a Wiki entry on the term, which begins, “In human behavior, denialism is exhibited by individuals choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth.[1]” And the article goes on from there, telling us all about the uncomfortable truths of modern times, such as AIDS and the Holocaust and Global Warming — even Evolution! You know, all the uncomfortable truths brought to us by the 20th C, when reality was filtered through a postmodern vision rather than a 21st C post-postmodern reality that completely lacks irony. The section headed with “Prescriptive and Polemic” is especially delightful.

It isn’t even remotely surprising to me that Flat Earth Societies were products of the 20th C, that glorious age of irony. I was originally inspired to write this article as I was perusing an interview, in which the interviewee quite seriously claimed to have spent most of his life invested in logic, reason, and science before coming to the conclusion that science was not providing him with answers — it might have been helpful if we knew what his questions were, but in typical fashion, he didn’t provide them — and that structuring a life off of “knowledge”, which might very well be debunked in a few hundred or a thousand years, was absurd. A “joke” he called it.* Then he went on to give the classic modern, rather than postmodern, joke about how humans used to believe in a Flat Earth.

Except that he wasn’t joking and didn’t seem to have the a sense of irony wagging at his tongue. But what do I know? Humans is a very broad term. I suspect that prior to the 3rd C or thereabouts, humans did exist who believed the Earth was flat. There might have been a scientific consensus of Flat Eartherism philosophy. There might have even been humans living in those days who didn’t care what shape the Earth took, so long as they got paid at the end of the day. How is a man to buy his wine and debauch himself with prostitutes if people with money waste their time staring at the night sky, then at the horizon, and then begin waxing philosophic about the shape of the Earth? Just give me your money, for Aristarchus’s heliocentric heaven’s sake (used unironically), since I spent my day mucking out your stables! The Earth is clearly flat, as I observed in an Aristotelian manner last night when I didn’t slide off the hussy I purchased at the tavern, despite my severely inebriated state…

There is always a necessary rhetoric attached to propaganda in order for it to be effective. We’re living in an age now, in which the post-post modern propaganda seems to lack any sense of irony. Diss on postmodernists all you want, but at least they had a splendid sense of absurdity –  of even their own absurdity. They could and did produce the likes of the Modern Flat Earth Societies. They heard the propaganda, that humans, or, er, Europeans of the Medieval Ages, were scientific fools — especially Catholics — who believed they would fall off the edge of the Flat Earth if they sailed over the middle distance, and they responded with the classic ironic and/or absrudist idyll of developing “societies”. Nowadays, it’s not a matter of trying to guess who has a straight face and who is being ironic. It’s a matter of trying to figure out how I and the rest of culture found ourselves down the rabbit hole (or didn’t find ourselves at all, as we didn’t bother to notice the labyrinthine dirt tunnels surrounding us), without the slightest hint of a sneer for such organizations as the Center for the Study of Existential Risk.

It seems we’ve come full circle to a time when we actually do believe we’re going to fall off the edge of the Earth, straight-faced, unironic, no apologies. We’re doomed. And I didn’t even raise the corners of my mouth when I wrote that. We’re doomed! Meanwhile, would anybody like to go for a sail with me?

*For the record, I think this man’s response/awakening is both intelligent and reasonable. His comment about flat earth just sent me spinning off into the irony of choosing that particular “science belief of the past”.


The man in the high castle

I will probably have to read this book again at some point. This is not a reread for me; this was one of Dick’s books I’d not previously read. Sadly, I chose it at a time when focus was not my best game, which is rather sad, as hyper focus is one of my few skills. I’m certainly no multi-tasker, but perhaps that’s the point. I came at this book when my focus was elsewhere. Because of that, much of this work slipped through my mind until the end. And then I snapped to. Here’s why:

Then what other sense might apprehend mystery? Hearing of no use, evidently. Mr. Tagomi shut his eyes and began fingering every bit of surface on the item. Not touch; his fingers told him nothing. Smell. He put the silver close to his nose and inhaled. Metallic faint odor, but it conveyed no meaning. Taste. Opening his mouth he sneaked the silver triangle within, popped it in like a cracker, but of course refrained from chewing. No meaning, only bitter hard cold thing.

Let me put this passage into context for you. The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history novel, exploring the world of the US as if we had lost World War II to Japan and Germany. American ingenuity of the past is so highly valued that there’s a black market for creating false relics. Innovation, however, has no market. There is a constant reworking of the American glory days through icons such as Mickey Mouse watches and Colt .44 revolvers. These relics are especially popular among the wealthy Japanese elite, who will do nothing without first looking to the I Ching. In fact, the entire country constantly seeks answers in the I Ching; a country without direction, devoid of its original soul, is grasping at straws.

Mr. Tagomi, in a fit of spontaneity, purchases a piece of modern jewelry wrought by a living, breathing artist. I must have had the phrase “grasping at straws” planted in my mind by this book. Backing up to the moment of spontaneity, Mr. Tagomi says,

“I will buy one of those [pieces of jewelry], whichever you select. I have no faith, but I am currently grasping at straws.” He followed Mr. Childan through the store once more, to the glass case. “I do not believe. I will carry it about with me, looking at it at regular intervals. Once every other day, for instance. After two months if I do not see–”

When Mr. Tagomi first examines the jewelry, he’s unable to see its value. It’s interesting, but that is all. But he makes a threshold type of decision by purchasing it. He decides to try to understand. He hopes to understand something new, in this culture that has gone terribly wrong for him (for more context, you will have to read the book). However, he doesn’t know how to understand it. He has no context for it.

So, at first, he waits for it to speak to him as the I Ching would. He expects it to be a kind of fortuneteller, or to be hiding a miniature pop deity in its whirls of metal. Of course, that doesn’t work, and he proceeds to the Aristotelian, or the scientific understanding. But that, too, fails him. He moves on to the Greek scale of priority, and on and on he goes, attempting to understand that which he can’t fathom. It has caught him, snared him on its hook, and he can’t stop searching it for answers. He goes round and round his wheel of philosophy, feeling that he will never be released and set free from the only cycle he knows…

The piece of jewelry is a simple triangle. A triage of lines. A trinity wrought from metal. If this isn’t an exploration of art, then it is an exploration of truth. Read this book if you haven’t already. Just read it.


I and I

Yesterday, I coined the term “obtusing” because that’s the way I am when I’m obsessing over a concept, an idea, or a problem that needs to be worked out. Then the lyrics to I and I  ran through my head. I don’t think they answered my problem, but they did express very succinctly what I was pondering. And I really don’t have anything else to say, as I haven’t written my own poetry in…years. (But don’t worry; I’m rather stoic about the whole thing.)

I and I
In creation where one’s nature neither honors nor forgives
I and I
One say to the other, no man sees my face and lives.

Took an untrodden path once, where the swift don’t win the race
It goes to the worthy, who can divide the word of truth
Took a stranger to teach me, to look into justice’s beautiful face
And to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

–Bob Dylan

What am I “obtusing” about? It’s not really necessary to know; I’d bore you to tears. However, if you haven’t heard this song, go forth and find it.


Book Excerpt of (Working Title) “The Future Instinct”

I was tagged in one of those “post the 7th paragraph on page 7″ dealios. The only problem is the 7th paragraph on page 7 is rather insubstantial, so I’m going to post a 1500 word excerpt surrounding page 7 because you actually do want to read that much. It’s from the book I wrote last summer and am currently editing. So, yeah, it’s pretty much a done deal. If I ever publish anything ever again, it will certainly be this book:

After sifting through the pamphlets, many of which were yellowed with age — why print new ones when there were hundreds of old ones still in boxes? — Oso discovered the most hideous 3-D face he’d ever seen, molded to the top of a box, and with eyes that shifted and followed Oso’s movements once he’d uncovered it (her?). She blew the last pamphlet from off her mouth.

“What is this hideous creature?” Oso asked Gillilander. “I thought you quit the chimeras years ago.”

“She’s not a chimera. She’s a face with a mind for money.”

“I always found that to be true of the world, but generally the face directed others’ minds with its beauty. This face is…grotesque.” Indeed, it had a pair of fat lips covered in orange lipsticks, round cheeks falling from age, deep circles under eyes that bore an expression of self-satisfied intellectualism. Oso shuddered.

“Grotesque, maybe. Her face reflects her ideas, which are grotesque. See what happens when you feed her mouth with money.”

“What? I’m not feeding her mouth with money. She eats money?”

“Sure, she eats money. She prefers hundred dollar bills. She tends to spit out the ones. I’ve tried to train her to give charitably to those who only have ones, but she still spits them out.”

“What does she give?”

“Advice. Usually pretty sordid. Meet Helen Freud. Dr. Helen Freud.”

“Dr. Helen Freud? Don’t tell me she spouts psychoanalysis for cash.”

Dr. Gillilander glared at Oso, whose mockery he should have been used to after all these years. “She does. It’s exactly what people want and expect. She won’t even speak unless you feed her enough money. She’s either the perfect woman, or the most vile. I haven’t decided. Here, come closer, I want to tell you a secret.”

Oso humored his old friend and lowered his head.

“I feed her counterfeit bills. She doesn’t know the difference.”

“Does she analyze you for counterfeit cash?” Oso couldn’t help it; he laughed out loud.

“Shh. Keep quiet. She can hear everything. Her ears never stop functioning.”

“All right. So what advice has she given you?”

“It isn’t advice, per se. She begins by arguing with me. Then she interprets what I say, and then she accuses me. The last time, we argued about why I can’t bring myself to take the garbage out. It’s filthy and full of diseases, I tell her. I can’t bring myself to touch it. If I keep adding to the garbage in the house, I’ll do the opposite, she tells me. I’ll spread disease. That’s even if I organize it before it promulgates disease. That’s what I try to do; I organize the garbage. What is garbage? she asks. How does it represent my lack of self-actualization? According to her, it represents my vision of masculinity, of which I’m afraid. Finally, she accuses me of being garbage myself, spreading my disease and filth in society. I should organize myself, not the old sandwich wrappers.”

“That sounds…useful.”

“As a matter of fact, not really,” Gillilander chuckled a little too wildly. “I hire someone.”

Oso narrowed his eyes to slits. He was never quite sure about his crackpot friend. “To do?”

“Take out the garbage! I hire a maid. She also does the laundry.”

Gillilander was wearing a particularly rumpled and stained shirt; it was a lavender button-down and a decent offering in the way of clothes — Oso had an aesthetic for clothes — but it didn’t demonstrate the skill of a trained laundress.

“Has this laundress washed your clothes recently?”

“She doesn’t travel with me. She did pack the bags, though. She folds things very nicely in the suitcase, just as I like them.”

Oso reached out his finger and scraped at a crusted egg yolk on Gillilander’s lavender shirt. It was a shame. The egg grease would probably leave a stain.

“I got caught up working and forgot to change my shirt.” Gillilander sniffed under his arms. “I may have slept in it last night.”

“You haven’t changed a bit, my old friend.”

Gililander laughed again, but it rang with a nervous trill this time. “You have. You’ve changed a lot.”

“I had to.” He noticed his lavender-shirted friend didn’t agree with this declaration, barely affirming it with what appeared to be a slight nod before he turned his attention back to whatever he was reading. What was it? Something called Space out of Time.

“You have any of these counterfeit bills?” Oso asked.

Gillilander lowered his book, a smile back on his face. He handed Oso a stack of twenties.

“Where do you get these? You don’t make them, Gilly, old buddy?”

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. In all this changing you’ve had to do, you haven’t turned into a law and order type, have you? Please tell me you haven’t.”

“Only when my own conscience is stricken. Which it’s not in the case of counterfeit bills. Not that I would make them myself.”

“Ah, that old rhetorical trick,” Gilly said. “You wouldn’t do it yourself, but you’re not going to tell anybody else they shouldn’t?”

Oso clapped his hand on his friend’s back a second time. This time, Gillilander was ready and kept himself rigid.

“I don’t believe in such silly tricks of rhetoric, if you could call it that. A better term for it would be the words of the weak. No, I don’t give a rat’s behind if you crank out bills, as that’s exactly what the Federal Reserve does on a much grander scale than you could achieve in your garage. In light of that, your bills are a raindrop in the ocean.”

“That’s very poetic of you. I like the thought of being a raindrop in the ocean. Now, will you feed the useless piece of paper to my dear analyst? She’s looking hungry.”

Oso stuck a bill between the clinched lips of the face. She opened enough to suck the rest of the bill in. She narrowed her eyes.

“Problems, darlin’?” Oso asked her.

“I would assume you were the one with the problem,” the mouth spoke, her voice mechanical.

“Whoa, tsk, tsk. Watch the attitude, hon.”

“Have you ever heard the question, ‘Watch your privilege?’”

“No. Because it isn’t a question. See, I was married to a writer for about forty years. A writer of mostly erotic fiction, but that changes nothing. She corrected my grammar nearly every day. Oh, also, for the record, I’m a POC, so no privilege here.”

“Have you ever had difficulty finding a job?” the mouth asked, completely nonplussed, no signs of emotions on her face at all.

“No, never, but that’s because I’m tall and handsome. Not to mention a real charmer. But I’m the kind of man who creates jobs, so what do you have to say to that?”

“Have you ever experienced sexual harassment in the workplace?”

At that, Oso snorted. “Nearly every day before I retired. Good times, good times.”

“Have you ever been called a bitch for your aggressive behavior?”

“Lady, you need to shut up. You sound like the twentieth century.”

Still, the face revealed no emotions. Her eyes darted back and forth for a few minutes as though processing the latest information. “How many sexual partners have you had? More than twenty, I would guess. Does that statistic bother you?”

“That depends on where you got the statistic. Okay, I’m done. Can you shut her down, Gilly?”

Gillilander shook his head and pushed up his glasses. “No, she won’t shut up until the end of the session, which will probably be in about thirty seconds since you only fed her one twenty.”

Oso turned his back on the face, even though it kept repeating nonsense questions for another five minutes: Have you ever been careless with your financial affairs? Do you know what it’s like to have your flaws projected onto everybody in your gender?

In the sea of people who moved around him, her voice dimmed to almost nothing. Gillilander seemed to find the analyst hilarious, though. Oso sighed. Sometimes, his friend’s sense of humor was tedious. Speaking of tedious, he spied a lovely head of dark hair bouncing in the crowd. He smiled; he couldn’t help himself. “Heads up, here comes the Great Gonzo.”

“The Great Gonzo?” Gillilander asked.

“You know, my thoroughly obnoxious granddaughter, Stephanie Gonzalez. She’s the one with the big behind.”

“Just like her grandma,” Gillilander mumbled. “I didn’t mean that.”

“Yeah, you meant it. Berna had a big behind. Why would I deny the truth when it’s verified generation to generation? They all have those big Bambi eyes, too.”

He crossed his arms as she approached, a short rather attractive woman in a sea of tech types. Her professional attire was an almost-but-not-quite. She was a member of the Free Press Guild, and as such, she had a steady but low-paying job as a journalist working for the Albuquerque Journal in the old-fashioned way. That is, she had to hit the streets and get her evidence herself. The members of the Free Press Guild took a vow not to use the government controlled streamers.

“Hello, Stephanie,” he said in a long, dry drawl. “What favors do you want today?”

“Grandad!” She rose up on the balls of her feet and hugged him, also giving him a peck on his cheek.