TERRY PRONE: Updated Devil’s Dictionary sorely needed to redefine modern Ireland

A WRITER named Ambrose Bierce, some considerable time back, published a wry reference book entitled The Devil’s Dictionary.

It was filled with unorthodox, tetchy and occasionally funny definitions of words and phrases in common use at the time. One example? His definition of “polygamy” as “too much of a good thing.” He was less than kind to politics and politicians. He irritated polite society, which is never a bad thing. He then went to Mexico and disappeared, which was thoughtless of him, because we need an updated Irish version of his book. In his absence, what follows is a suggested re-definition of terms popular throughout the last ten years, many of which we could do without. Suggested additions to this short list will be gratefully received.

ANGER: An emotion which came into its own at the end of the decade, particularly as a marketing device to ensure bestseller status for non-fiction books by male writers. The market proved insatiable. The best sellers by women at the same period were escapist stories which rarely, if ever, included politicians, economists or bankers among the characters. Which goes to prove that old saw about different strokes suiting different folks.

“AS YOU DO”: Phrase meant to serve as a witty cap to an account of an outrageous action. Never works.

APPS: Short for “Applications,” these are engaging little time-wasters on your iPhone, the use of which while driving will get you points on your drivers’ license, courtesy of the RSA (see below).

BORES: People who discover Apps and become missionaries dedicated to spreading the faith for free. They don’t even have to be paid, whereas those who discover Sky and persuade friends to sign up for it get shopping vouchers. Pushing apps is the new religion. He/she who dies with the most apps wins.

BUT FIRST: A negative sell used even more frequently in broadcasting than the other pointless utterance, “One voice at a time, please.”

CELEB: Any moron prepared to eat worms on TV.

B-LIST CELEB: Any moron eating worms on TV whose name you can’t remember.

C-LIST CELEB: Any moron eating worms on TV whose name you don’t even want to try to remember.

CLOSURE: A state or condition of perfect happiness promised without evidence to the traumatised and never delivered upon.

DÉJÀ VU: Expression in constant (wrong) use throughout the decade to indicate the repetitiveness of political life. Most frequently heard as: “But it’s déjà vu all over again, isn’t it?” Most frequently used by commentators who also say: “The proof is in the pudding.”

EFF OFF: Popular on all fronts throughout the decade, but reached its apotheosis when used in Leinster House, reviving interest in Emmet Stagg and making its user predictably popular among the youthful disaffected. Such popularity comes with an electoral health warning, however. The youthful disaffected talk and twitter. They don’t vote.

FASCINATOR: Worn at the Galway Races (see below) a fascinator is a lively accident made up of flowers, wires, ribbons and coils attached to the side of a woman’s head with no visible means of support.

GALWAY TENT: A temporary structure co-incident with the Galway Races. Reputedly the location of choice for conspiracy, covert policy making and copious nods and winks during the Bertie era. Also location for mutually-competitive wearing of Fascinators. (See above). Being seen in the Galway Tent was the summer equivalent of being seen in the VIP section of Reynards with the added advantage that you might be richer in the morning. The rise of denial about the Galway tent since Brian Cowen pulled the pegs out from under it is frequently characterised by the phrase: “I was never a Galway Tent type.” This permits deniers to have physically been there, excused by a mental reservation.

GOING FORWARD: A verbal tic characteristic of Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Everybody has such verbal tics. It was fortunate, for mimics and comedians, that Cowen had something distinctive about his communication, because, absent the Bertie-isms of the previous few years, it looked as if political discourse might become clear, understandable and just a bit dull.

ICON: Any celeb whose fame lasted longer than fifteen minutes and didn’t involve worm-ingestion.

ICONIC BRAND: During the first eight socially unsure years of the decade, names which proved you were a person of substance because you had the substance with which to buy them. Included were Ferrari, Vuitton, Prada and Laboutin. In the last two years of the decade the iconic brands became Lidl and Aldi.

INTERN: Someone working for free because the Master’s Degree they killed themselves to get is two a penny on the market right now.

POINTS: An irritant dreamed up by the Road Safety Authority, whose chairman, Gay Byrne, scandalised the nation before Christmas 2009 by suggesting – repeatedly – on radio that high visibility vests would make a good Christmas present. (Vests of any kind are the quintessential lousy Christmas present, whether designed to protect you from cold or oncoming trucks).

Neither he nor CEO Noel Brett were at all reasonable when decent lads like Mattie McGrath wanted drivers to be allowed to take the edge off their terror behind the wheel by means of a few scoops of good whiskey. The only one of that crew that sounds half decent is their guy on the radio, Brian Farrell, but he’s probably just the acceptable face of the RSA, a tediously relentless bunch of humourless nags whose existence is justified by them saving lives.

Which they do infuriatingly well, bringing road deaths, at the end of the decade, to the lowest level since records began. It is, however, worth pointing out that the gardaí, speed cameras, changes in societal attitudes and political action may have contributed. At least as much as high-viz vests.

POLITICS: A means of livelihood affected by the more degraded of our criminal classes. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. (OK. I stole that one from Ambrose Bierce, who coined it more than a hundred years ago.)

SPECIFIC ASIANS: An interesting one, this, happening in advertisements for an item of household improvement, which, the voice-over artist enthusiastically promises, “will be made to your specific Asians”. Takes a minute for the listener to work out that perhaps “specifications” is intended. Great advertising. Makes the listener work, ergo renders ad memorable.

TRAGIC CELEB: Moron, post-worm-ingestion, caught snorting coke upstairs while their kids play downstairs. Or dying while being filmed for a posthumous TV programme. (In the case of Farrah Fawcett, the programme makers didn’t wait for their show to be posthumous. She was unconscious in death’s ante-room, so it was showtime.)

TV LICENCE INSPECTOR: An incorruptible, faultlessly civil public servant who should be exempt from the pension levy and all other cutbacks, because – as radio ads demonstrate – he is a hero of our time. Get that man into politics and put him sitting beside George Lee.

UNPAID LEAVE: A clever approach to money-saving by some employers who know that because great workers are never motivated by money, they’ll come in and do the job anyway. Unpaid.


Parkinson's: four unusual signs you may be at risk

Scene + Heard: Maradona set to be star player at Cannes

Jon Ronson's adventures in the porn industry

Decluttering? Top organiser Sarah Reynolds shows you how

More From The Irish Examiner