Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of Modern Life

It’s a strange and spurious aspect of Twitter that it seems to evoke an unjustified sense of belonging amongst its motley following. So my original intention of introducing the above hilarious title by saying that it’s by “our very own @DrSamuelJohnson” has been set aside in the interests of realism, and in frank acknowledgement that the curmudgeonly bastard can’t even be arsed to follow me back.*

But with that poisonous jealousy directed at the 1,038 souls who have been so favoured by Dr Johnson out of my system, I turn to the volume itself. And very funny it is too. It’s the kind of book that tempts one either to bore all those within 30 feet of you when reading it with choice nuggets, or else to disturb them with barely suppressed guffaws. The temptation to the reviewer is to provide lots of quotations thus at one and the same time spoiling the author’s sales strategy whilst relieving said reviewer of the irksome task of making up his own words to pad out his review to a reasonable length. I shall resist that temptation with steely self-will, though probably not with 100% success.

It is, of course, a work of rich irony. All manner of modern affectations are held up to ridicule, and rightly so. Some of these ironies are more subtle than others. Those worn upon the book’s sleeve are within the pithy definitions themselves, and it would be here that I might most easily give in to the temptations referred to above. I will not.

But the more subtle ironies are those of which the book itself is a fine example. I restrict myself to pointing out but two. The book is written with a liberal, perhaps even leftish, sensibility in which the right is lampooned generally rather more robustly than the left, which is more gently chided. Quite right too, of course, but despite that, the vast majority of the definitions hinge on a mighty and wondrous contempt for the lower classes, especially the most youthful and tasteless members of the same. Which observation brings me to the greatest and most delicious of the book’s ironies. Its most acid entries are reserved for what might be termed “popular culture” and they brutally and hysterically demonstrate that the term is an oxymoron. And yet, in order to appreciate and properly savour these snippets of bile, one must first have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of Messrs Cowell and Doggy Dog, the Big Brother Charnel House, and all manner of other tabloid obsessions. I was going to buy a copy for my brother who’d appreciate the book’s caustic view of modern society. But then I realised that he’d never understand even a tenth part of the book’s references, cocooned as he is in his televisually deprived corner of the nation’s provinces. As for me, I am forced to admit that I have yet to find an entry that I did not possess sufficient knowledge of modern tomfoolery to appreciate in its fullness.

So, with my 100% resistance to quotation still intact, I urge you to buy the book immediately from Amazon which I defined to universal disinterest thus: “Amazon: didst once siGnifie MiGHTY river or Ladee WARRIOR but now delivereth book by @DrSamuelJohnson Provokinge Great Mirth.” Enjoy.

*I note with pride and gratitude that the good doctor has now put right his erstwhile indifference to my Twitter presence.


3 thoughts on “Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of Modern Life

  1. “siGnifie MiGHTY” etc — what’s with the random capital letters? And what on earth’s a Ladee??

    Twitter’s “Dr Johnson” is a great idea but his attempts at 18th-century English, like yours (with respect), are not always successful. A pity, when he could so easily have taken the trouble to get it right.

    • No respect required or expected! I cannot speak for Dr Johnson, but my attempt is hardly one designed to be a serious straining after an authentically anachronistic style. A point which I should have thought was too obvious to require making. With respect, of course.

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