Friday, August 15, 2014

An Antidote

Funk and Wagnalls Logo


Bigotry has not the capacity.
Superstition the knowledge or discipline.
Fanatics have not the patience.
Intolerance the disposition.
                                                                      “To draw out and twist…
                                                                       To extrude…
                                                                       To whirl or cause to whirl rapidly…
                                                                       A downward spiral motion.”

                                                            Paraphrased definitions from a 1946 Funk and Wagnalls’ Dictionary

When definitions get out of hand --as they surely have these days--when public information becomes less and less so and you have a yearning to recall the sound of reality—as you should—I recommend you find yourself an old dictionary. They are so valuable at countering today’s corporate spin that if the spinmeisters were doing their jobs correctly—which, despite what they constantly tell you, they’re not—we would be bombarded with idiotic messages that old dictionaries are the seditious documents that they are. In fact, by merely taking a rough sampling of our cumulative public discourse and observing its general trajectory, I have no choice but to conclude that things will get so out of hand that our plutocrats and their hirelings will soon find it necessary to locate all remaining “hard copies” of this damning evidence and burn them. That's why I'm posting some of my favorite definitions ahead of time. You can't burn cyberspace...can you?

            I found my old Funk and Wagnalls set in the early eighties at the Missoula dump (as “sanitary landfills” were known in those far-off times). The old guy who leased his land to the city was still allowed to be there in those days, his portable shack stationed at the entrance of whatever fill site was currently being used. Everyone entering the dump was required to pass his inspection before they entered so that he could high-grade their pile of obsolete or broken consumer crap and pull out the still-useable nuggets, which he’d display on the dirt around the shack in the tradition of an open-air flea market, a moveable feast, now extinct.
I forget what I brought up that day—probably a small pile of unredeemable consumer crap--but I remember it was drizzling, and after the old guy gave my pile the nod I parked my van and perused the goodies like I always did when I visited the dump, and there, in the rain and dirt, I found my two-volume set of Funk and Wagnalls’ NEW PRACTICAL STANDARD DICTIONARY. They were still in pretty good condition and, after over thirty years of nearly constant use, they’re still in good enough shape for an old guy to pull out of someone’s unwanted pile of refuse and set aside for a another pass at Being Useful.
America’s Depression-era generation, which this Gatekeeper of Knowledge was a member of, was just emerging from World War Two in 1946 when the volumes were published, and the word “hubris” wasn’t in common use then, because it isn’t in my old Funk and Wagnalls. But it was hubris that put the volumes in the dirt and drizzle there for me to find, and subsequently to endlessly peruse and to cherish as I chased down an old-time thread of a word as though I were reading my grandparents’ minds--which I am. Isn’t it funny?
I sleuth Depression-era insights out of my volumes, along with their antonyms and synonyms which, if you give them enough time, put any e-thesaurus to shame. The lack of definitions for words like hubris only serves to speak volume about that over-serious word and about our over-serious selves. It’s no exaggeration to say that I have loved and used this two-volume set of old books more than any other hundred books in my personal library. They’ve helped shaped my thought. Why not? You gotta start somewhere, and I, for lack of a better imagination, am starting in 1946.
   Think about melting ice caps and the rare-earth minerals now available for exploitation below what by worldly rights should have remained the stomping grounds for polar bears and penguins. Think about Newspeak and the language-o-cide of our tweety techno-spin world we have created for ourselves and have forced our youth to come to terms with. Think about how they’re messing with words these days, horribly so. Isn't it important to draw a baseline in the sand before the whole English language, perhaps our only recourse to counter the P.R. gibberish emitting from a billion cyber-gizmos, gets washed out to sea with the rising shorelines?
An old dictionary is the antidote to the ballyhooing bastards. I rank an old dictionary on the top-tier among our most valuable, ubiquitous and readily-obtainable historical records of what our society used to think, rather than what some seabed-mining monster who bears a striking resemblance to Godzilla or a Koch brother wants you to believe they thought. An old dictionary is usually heavy enough to serve as an anchor, if nothing else. Try anchoring yourself to an “app”.
Anyone who makes their money selling souls by bastardizing language should fear an old dictionary. Think what you want but, please, think.

Note: It appears this website has deemed it proper or proprietary to make it difficult to post photos anymore, even ones I have taken myself. I suppose I'll have to figure it out, and maybe there's an innocent-enough techno-explanation. But don't you think this copyright mania has been carried to culture-killing extremes? The bastards...

No comments:

Post a Comment