The Devil’s Dictionary meme applied to climate politics and to financial markets

Lynne Kiesling

Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary is a true literary gem. Also known as the “cynic’s word book”, it complies witty and biting definitions that Bierce contributed to magazines starting in the 1880s, with all of the bluntness and prejudices that you would expect (in other words, if Bierce were writing today he’d certainly offend many people). Bierce is one of my favorite late 19th-early 20th century witty authors, in my Bierce-Oscar Wilde-H. L. Mencken triumvirate. Wit in the face of people who take themselves too seriously is a good thing.

The Devil’s Dictionary was such a success that it has become a living meme. See, for example, this financial crisis devil’s dictionary from Matthew Rose at the Wall Street Journal. Some of my favorite entries:

BORROWERS, n. For liberals, the unwitting dupes of unscrupulous bankers and lenders whom one shouldn’t blame for the crisis. For conservatives, irresponsible graspers with a credit-busting taste for cathedral-ceilinged entryways and 70-inch flat-screen televisions whom one should absolutely blame for the crisis.

CREDIT-DEFAULT SWAP, n. loose translation from the original Latin “ubi mel ibi apes,” or “where there’s honey there are bees.” 1. A complex financial instrument vital to the functioning of a modern economy in the way it spreads risk among consenting parties. (Greenspan, A., pre-Sept. 2008.) 2. A complex financial instrument that nearly destroyed modern capitalism (Greenspan, A., post-Sept. 2008).

Another current devil’s dictionary on offer comes from Tunku Varadarajan, with application to climate science and climate politics:

Very nearly a hundred years ago, Ambrose Bierce compiled A Devil’s Dictionary, in which he sought to puncture the cultural cant of his time. Here is an attempt—at much shorter length—to prick a very contemporary kind of cant, that which has swollen the debate on climate change to ungovernable proportions.

I applaud efforts to puncture cultural cant, and if you have any sense of humor you will find Tunku’s definitions amusing regardless of your conclusions on climate science and policy. Some of my favorites:

D is for deniers. A mere notch above Holocaust deniers, these are the people who refuse to accept that climate change is largely man-induced. Heretics, they’d be burned at the stake if that were not such a bad thing for the ozone layer.

M is for Man, who, to quote Ambrose Bierce, is “an animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.” And then there’s methane, a greenhouse gas parped into the air 24/7 by bovine polluters across the globe; the Medieval Climate Optimum, a warm period from about the 10th to the 14th century which warmists (i) ignore and/or (iii) cannot explain; ManBearPig, South Park’s derisive nickname for global warming; and money (as in “Follow the…”; see Khosla Ventures, above).

If you have any financial or climate dictionary entries, feel free to offer them in the comments. Enjoy!


2 thoughts on “The Devil’s Dictionary meme applied to climate politics and to financial markets

  1. DATA: Instrumental readings which must be folded, bent, spindled and mutilated before becoming part of the “global temperature record”.

    GLOBAL CLIMATE MODEL: Computer software which projects a folded, bent, spindled and mutilated future from data which has been folded, bent, spindled and mutilated.

    GLOBAL CLIMATE MODELER: A modern day Rumpelstiltskin.

    CLIMATE TREATY: “…a system designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.” (Apologies to Herman Wouk.)

  2. A recent post on Zero Hedge announced a similar project. What was rather unique I thought is that the undertaking was in the form of embedding a new language named “Balance Sheet” into the Google Translate engine, so that one could point the service at any source of financial news available on the web and get a Balance Sheet-to-English translation as output. A couple of examples were provided.

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