Future Reference

Newsday's review of The Future Dictionary of America is very favorable.

An excerpt:

"The Future Dictionary of America" enters the pantheon of satirical dictionaries like Flaubert's and Bierce's with a notable distinction: It is jam-packed with winningly offbeat suggestions for making the world a better place. Its jaundiced eye is interconnected to both a brain and a heart, not to mention a first aid kit, a hammer and a tiny vial of fingernail polish in a color called Burnt Icicle.

Published by Dave Eggers' press, McSweeney's Books, this new dictionary is meant to look like a dictionary from the middle of this century. It consists of more than 150 of America's best writers' defining words - pre-existing or newly fashioned - in an effort to "voice their displeasure with the current political leadership, and to collectively imagine a brighter future." No writer or McSweeney's staff member received remuneration for their work, and all proceeds will go to progressive causes, such as Moveon.org. (The book also includes a CD with songs by David Byrne, R.E.M. and others.)

In a world in which everyone has an opinion but no one has any advice, this book is manna. Its advice, coming as it does from disparate sources, ranges greatly, from the utilitarian to the slightly loopy. On the former front, Katha Pollitt offers the "Icelandic system ... a practice, supposedly based on child- rearing methods in medieval Iceland, of sending teenagers to live with other families in order to learn adult skills and behavior from grown-ups they have not yet learned to manipulate and despise." Jim Shepard proposes the advent of a "No 'There' There Kid": a sixth-grader, chosen from a national competition who monitors all White House press conferences and rings an electronic bell when questions have been left unanswered.

More off-kilter, if no less needed and well-imagined, are entries like Sarah Vowell's "garden for disappointed politicians," which, named after Alexander Hamilton's belief that a garden is a helpful refuge for a disappointed politician, would see the creation of a farmable plot "'outside the Beltway' - way outside - in Portland, Oregon."

I am proud to be among the many contributors to The Future Dictionary. Here are my definitions:

errorgance (er´ur guns), n. a feeling of smug superiority over those who do not share one's own erroneous or misguided convictions: The president's errorgance alienated most of the Western world.

non-America (non uh mer´i kuh), n. the world outside the United States. Today, thanks to improved geography education and the unprecedented ease and popularity of world travel, Americans know and love non-America nearly as much as they know and love their own country, but it was not so very long ago that most Americans were only vaguely aware that non-America even existed. In a 2009 study, only 13 percent of Americans could find non-America on a map, and, of those, 85 percent admitted it was "just a lucky guess." In a similar study conducted two years later, Americans were asked to name any country in non-America: 89 percent couldn't name one, 2 percent said "Canada Dry," and everyone else said either Narnia or the Moon.

science (sy´uns), n. systematic knowledge of the material world as obtained through rigorous observation and experimentation in accordance with the scientific method. Though responsible for the greatest technological innovations of modern times, it was inexplicably shunned by American policymakers early in the twenty-first century. This abandonment of science led inevitably to the Great Horribleness of 2010, which, in turn, set the stage for the Calamity of 2012. In the painful aftermath of these disasters, Americans realized the error of their ways and, ever since, have embraced science for what it is: a lens through which the blurry world can be seen much more clearly.