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October 25th 2012 print

Humpty Dumpty’s dictionary

Words can now be made to mean whatever our Prime Minister and supporters want them to mean. And their former definitions? Down the memory hole with them!

I am tempted to ask the Lewis Carroll question, "Which is to be master?" when it comes to the meaning of "misogynist" and how the delightfully apolitical editors of the Macquarie Dictionary define it. Or rather, redefine it. Or rather, have chosen to redefine it in what to some poor, benighted fools might look like taking sides in the politics of the day and doing what you can to help your side of politics.

Remember the famous Humpty Dumpty quip that "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less." And that was followed by Humpty’s "The question is, which is to be master – that’s all."

So on that basis, and having a pretty good idea who the masters are, "misogynist" no longer means "one who hates all women". Come off it. That’s so yesterday. No, now it means whatever the Prime Minister and her Cabinet want it to mean. Just wait and the Macquarie editors might even be able to change it online by tomorrow, which would help with the next Q&A appearance on the ABC.

Of course all of us can in theory play this game. For instance, some of you might think this whole episode smacks of the worst sort of Orwellian excesses. But that’s only because you think "Orwellian" means "suggestive of the writings of George Orwell, and the totalitarian state he depicts in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four."

Wrong! That sort of definition might suggest negative connotations as far as our Prime Minister and this government she is leading are concerned. No self-respecting Australian dictionary editor can have that. So we need to redefine "Orwellian’" to mean something along the lines of "whatever Tony Abbott says or suggests or hints or implies." Ah, now that’s a better definition, surely? Any ABC host of one of the national broadcaster’s flagship political shows would surely agree. You know, that’s the same ABC whose radio news after the second US presidential debate ran a solid half hour of Obama-supporter-after-Obama-supporter without a pro-Romney person to be heard.

One wonders how the ABC will begin to explain a Romney election victory, should the current polls with Romney on top be borne out. Given the ABC’s coverage of the US election, that outcome will be totally and completely unfathomable to its listeners, such has been the incredibly biased coverage.

Oops! Sorry. There I went and used a word like "biased", assuming it meant something along the lines of what it used to mean. How silly of me. I should have realised that here in Australia our dictionary would now define "biased" to mean "any slant or coverage that is opposite to the ABC’s pro-left of centre coverage on everything, ever, always".

And for what it’s worth, Macquarie editors, I am claiming a copyright in that definition — so you can’t steal it, however much you might be tempted.

Of course, that’s a silly little joke.  I’m being facetious.   But then Lewis Carroll was being facetious too. He didn’t think anyone would be treating Humpty-Dumpty’s advice to Alice as a serious program of action.