TERRY PRONE: Let me be the Devil’s advocate and start ... by setting the agenda

A man named Ambrose Bierce once published a volume called The Devil’s Dictionary, filled with unorthodox definitions of terms common to late 19th century America, writes Terry Prone.

Arguing that there is a case for an Irish Devil’s Dictionary, I offer the following as a start.


A contents list dreamed up five minutes before a meeting, designed to persuade all participants that, at the end of an essentially random chat, they have achieved something by covering all of the items listed. This is never the case, but has led to a widely held myth that once you have an agenda, you will have a good meeting. Which is roughly the same as believing that once you have a dead cow, you will have a good dinner.


An intelligent response to being broke, breaking up with a partner, or being canned from your job. Now medicalised and subject to the administration of medication.

Birthday party:

A ritual somewhere between a sacrament and a statutory obligation, with unseen penalty points for failure to invite the right children, provide them with the correct entertainment, or requisite goody-bags. Counter-obligations are laid upon the parents of the under-aged guests at these events. Both sides claim to resent these impositions but neither has the guts to put an end to them.


What’s left when someone dies, or passes (see below.) Often replaced with the repulsive “remains”.

Bog-standard home:

One with a swimming pool, tennis court, view of the sea, and copious accommodation within which to plan continued occupation by a family convinced of their modest lifestyle despite owing banks upwards of €70m.


Eddie Hobbs. Or then again, maybe not. Perhaps. Who knows?

Climate change:

Something we all care about. Passionately. It ranks in 16 place as one of the things about which we care — passionately — and will do something about sometime.


A governance system so virtuous that nations who have it browbeat those who don’t want it in tropical camps where one of the basics of democracy, the principle of innocent until proven guilty, doesn’t apply. Reminiscent of Voltaire’s definition of an important profession: “Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.”


An archaic term no longer used. Once used to describe expensive passing fancies such as bulletproof coffee and food intolerance tests (see below).

Food intolerance tests:

An expensive fad (see above) aimed at hypochondriacs and designed to establish that what supposedly ails them is caused by an undigested something or other. Investors are encouraged to buy equity in the testing companies, because their market grows exponentially. Or, as Barnum would have put it: “There’s one born every minute.”


Euphemism that covers punching an Irishman while calling him a series of seriously abusive terms. This euphemism is uniquely applied to Jeremy Clarkson, who personifies a moral challenge to the BBC. Either he’s too profits-generative to be fired, or they have a duty of care to the people they employ —the ordinary blokes who get punched and shouted at in public. The Beeb may decide to vindicate their duty of care, in which case the moral challenge moves on to other TV networks, which either grab Clarkson and put him on their prime time schedule to earn loadsa money, or decide that money and ratings are not that important.

And if you think any network will choose the moral end of that continuum, go look up the words ‘naive’ and ‘idealistic’ and apply them to yourself.


A body paid by the State to find other state bodies out when they fail to meet standards they could meet if the State gave them enough money in the first place.


The term the road safety people use to replace the old, perfectly serviceable word ‘accident’. The plain people of Ireland talk about traffic accidents. The RSA and the AA talk about incidents. This, we presume, is to make it clear that there ain’t no such thing as a blameless collision. If you suggest that the pile-up that rear-ended your car, leaving you a bit creaky in the neck, was an accident, this implies it was random, whereas someone must be found responsible. Benefit of the doubt is so yesterday. It’s the prospect of penalty points that make us consider our responsibilities, slow down, and drive sober.


The cases routinely loaded onto aircraft before Ryanair arrived.

Negative equity:

What happens when the economy turns your dream home into an unsaleable nightmare. But one of these days you’ll wake up and the economy will have put back the positive equity and you can compete with all the other newly solvent home-owners to sell it.

NCT test:

A vile and pointless imposition on motorists, sold on the basis that it makes cars more roadworthy, ergo less dangerous, when in fact they fail on a range of trivia, only a tiny percentage of which relate to the roadworthiness of the vehicle. Enforced by the levying of punitive penalty points. Costly to the driver, not only in money, but in time wasted. However, lucrative to the State.

Opinion polls:

Devices dreamed up by newspapers allowing them to fill their pages with the transient views of a thousand different headbangers each month. This gets the papers great secondary coverage from radio and TV programmes and has the added advantage of terrifying and irritating politicians of all hues on different weeks.

Pass away:

A cringing euphemism derived from national denial of the fact that everybody dies. And that’s what they actually do. Die.


An invention from Satan, designed to flatten the brainwaves of any audience as they realise they can ask for the slides later, while turning the presenter into a bad newsreader. And the jokey ones? Don’t get me started.

Penalty points:

The things that make drivers behave. Never mind the advertising. Penalty points focus the driver and may yet eliminate texting behind the wheel.

Snooze button:

Method used by masochists to avoid embracing life while driving their bedmates nuts.


Electronic equivalent of the door in a male public toilet. Allows for free expression.


The most frequently employed descriptor of the free expression used on Twitter by victims of same.

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