The New British Devil's Dictionary

Christopher Fowler
Untitled In 1867 Ambrose Bierce,
American Civil War soldier, wit, and writer, began a
satirical dictionary consisting of darkly humorous definitions. The lexicon was written over three decades as a series of installments for magazines and newspapers. Bierce's observations were imitated for years before he gathered them into books, first as The Cynic's Word Book in 1906, and then in a bigger version as The Devil's Dictionary in 1911. Here's a typical example from the book;
Politics; A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principals.
The dictionary has been widely quoted, plagiarised, translated and imitated, earning a cult reputation. There was a 'New Devil's Dictionary' by Rhoda Koenig a few years back which perfectly replicated Bierce's sharp tone. The problem is that in such an endeavour you choose to be a modern replica or make it funny. There's no English equivalent I can think of (although one should probably count Samuel Johnson) so perhaps we should crowdsource one. So, as an interactive activity, I could start us off and you can feel free to add to it whenever the thought strikes you. London - An entire world condensed into a single city, and all of it standing on your northbound Oxford Circus tube platform. West End Theatre - A place where seventy year-old audiences pay to see sixty year-old shows. Brexit - A separation fantasy supported by all those who are against other countries doing the same thing. England - The only country in the world where climate change is awaited with excitement. Estate agent - Someone who advertises a flat using a photo of the balcony, hoping you won't notice that the 2nd bedroom is 10 feet long. You get the idea. Over to you.  


Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 14:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Years ago, comedian Terry Scott defined the new colour TV sets as "Something you pay £300 for so you can watch a black and white film that you paid 9d (old money!) to go and see in 1939.

Ken Mann (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 14:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Blitz Spirit - a Londoner overcoming any trivial obstacle is said to be exhibiting this.

David Ronaldson (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 15:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Soho — An area of London named after the traditional opening of a local business transaction

Boris Bike — See Sadiq Cycle, Kenny Farthing

Eastenders — TV soap set in a dystopian London of the future in which ethnic minorities have been virtually wiped out by a mysterious plague

Foreplay — Opening gambit employed socially by Men of Power, obviating the need for polite conversation

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 18:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Soap - TV 'real life' drama series where nobody tells each other jokes, repeats themselves, watches TV, goes to the toilet or appears to have a full time job.

Ant and Dec - Popular TV duo and unlikely mathematicians who have proven that 1 + 1 = less than zero.

News - A little knowledge which expands to fill copious hours of TV and pages of press until something else comes along.

Newsagent - A person who is not an agent but sells periodicals, sweets, cigarettes, random birthday cards, lottery tickets and milk.

Celebrity - Vapid individual (presumably human) who nobody knows, everybody thinks they know and sells newspapers.

Christopher Fowler Tue, 07/11/2017 - 18:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I say, this is fun. Give me another 300 and I'll flog it as a book and we'll split the proceeds! But where are the ladies?

Here's one;

Vape - Smoking for cowards

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 18:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brian Evans - under no circumstances can Terry Scott be considered a comedian. The attribution is to his scriptwriters.
Terry and June - oh calamity! You can't unremember it - or the theme tune.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 19:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

America - The only country that allows its citizens to buy military weapons but is tolerated as civilised by the rest of the world because of its huge amounts of money and general unpredictability.

Trump - 1) A winning card in innocent games. 2) A man who loves golf, loses at golf, buys the golf club, sacks the staff and throws out all of the members because THEY AREN'T PLAYING FAIR!

Oooh! You're gonna get trouble over this one!

Ian Luck (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 19:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'FRAGILE' A suggestion to a Postal worker that your parcel can be thrown with impunity.
'DESIRABLE LOCATION' A loft over a garage, with a view of Sellafield re-processing plant out of the window.
'GOOD SCHOOL' It's Approved.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 22:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Statue of Liberty - An enormous advertising sign no longer required.The plaque and explanation refers to historical concepts that have nothing to do with a modern society. 'Huddled Poor' and 'Weak' are no longer recognised as terms of acceptance int the great country that is America.

Brian Evans (not verified) Tue, 07/11/2017 - 22:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Peter Dixon-Fair enough, I take your point. Yes, I do remember Terry and June, and not favourably. And the theme tune....! Apparently, he was a very unpleasant man off stage. Various stories, and one I witnessed myself in a West End pub. Fortunately, it didn't involve me, but if it had I would have told him exactly where to go. He also agreed with Apartheid.

Ian Luck (not verified) Wed, 08/11/2017 - 07:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'CHELSEA TRACTOR' Huge, rolling roadblock, only seen on the road on school days.
'NETFLIX & CHILL' A dance of the horizontal kind.
'HIPSTER' Any one of thousands of identical berks who have convinced themselves that they are unique.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Wed, 08/11/2017 - 08:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Tax payer: one in a small fraction of society who, rather than waste their own money, trust governments to waste it for them. People who write to newspapers claim to be members of this category.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Wed, 08/11/2017 - 09:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hero: any Brit participating in any sporting event

Fiction: a genre of writing found in newspapers

Genre: pseudo-artistic word for category

Christopher Fowler Wed, 08/11/2017 - 16:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Genre' has become a catch-all for anything that isn't literary fiction. Odd, isn't it?

David Ronaldson (not verified) Wed, 08/11/2017 - 17:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hybrid Car - Vehicle which is 50% Automobile and 50% Geranium. Originally bred by the FBI to run over undesirables silently

Strictly Come Dancing - Dating Agency designed to pair up out-of-work Dancers with D-list Celebrities

Ian Luck (not verified) Thu, 09/11/2017 - 13:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'TERRY AND JUNE' : A partially successful BBC initiative to get people out of doors for at least thirty minutes once a week.

And a variation on one that isn't by any stretch of the imagination mine, although I wish to god it was.
'COUNTRYSIDE': 'The murder of (fill in the name of your least liked person here).
'DOGGING': The act of folding over the corners of book pages to enrage librarians.

Ian Luck (not verified) Fri, 10/11/2017 - 04:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'NIGEL FARAGE' : Europhobic Englishman with a German wife, and an obviously French surname, best known for his very convincing impression of a politician.
'TRUMP': Colloquial British expression for a noisy expulsion of foul air from the fundamental orifice. One is now President of the USA.
'BREXIT': An irrational longing by some, to take us back to those happy, carefree days of post-war, late 1940's Britain.

Ian Luck (not verified) Sat, 11/11/2017 - 07:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'EXTREMELY DESIRABLE LOCATION': A wooden shed next to Sellafield Nuclear Re-Processing Plant.

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 13/11/2017 - 23:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

great performance - Canadian athlete coming second (but our women tied with the US at footer this time out - a truly great performance)
snow plow - machine clearing snow from the next street over
ice hockey - euphemism for organised fighting which enables Canadians to maintain a reputation for politeness.
peace keeping - an effort to stop fighting by standing between two protagonists, enabling them to vent their spleen by shooting the peace keepers.
school - institution set up to enure young people to bullying thereby giving them strength to survive outside it.
coal - black material mined to produce power in areas where climate change does not apply.
polar bear - see canary in a coal mine

Is it possible females don't like sarcasm?

Ian Luck (not verified) Wed, 15/11/2017 - 15:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'SCOTTISH/WELSH/NORTHERN iRISH' : Title given to any losing competitor in a large sporting event. Should they win, however, then they are 'BRITISH'.
'OLYMPIC GAMES' : Two weeks of people showing off, which often results in financial ruin for the host nation.
'F.I.F.A.' : An organization favoured by teflon coated homophobic racists, who often carry large sums of cash in brown manilla envelopes. Has some distant relationship with football, so I'm led to believe.

Ian Luck (not verified) Wed, 15/11/2017 - 15:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I apologise for the lower-case 'i' in 'IRISH', above. My phone is being a contrary bastard at the moment, and I meant no disrespect.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Wed, 15/11/2017 - 19:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Must be an iPhone!

jPhone, jPad,...: next generation of Apple products

Ian Luck (not verified) Wed, 15/11/2017 - 23:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Peter, I would not have an i(diot)phone if you paid me. The screen touch setting on my HTC 10 is slightly temperamental. It might have been because I was washing up just before I put some doggerel down. (tuts) Technology!