I ran across a recent post at Electric Literature that highlights a Norwegian project called The Conversational Lexicon--an encyclopedia that compiles subjective definitions from renowned artists and writers. The varied entries, they note, were to be “freed from the demand for factual accuracy” and instead have the purpose of generating discussion. What a beautiful blending of text and design. More details on the project can be seen here.
One of my favorite entries comes from Jarvis Cocker:
Dawdle: The key to a good word is fine, rounded sounds. Say this word & you can feel very pleasant vibrations in your sinuses. A fine brandy of a word. I dislike abrasive short words like gig, tit & (worst of all) Brit - ugh: they’re like chewing on tin foil. No pleasure whatsoever. You might as well just spit at the person you’re saying them to. Which is rude. Dawdle means to take a long time to get where you’re going. Which is the way I prefer to travel through the world.
Another, from George Saunders:
Ventriloquist: a person inordinately fond of a puppet. This relation is often dysfunctional and may become abusive. This psychological condition may become so pronounced that the “ventriloquist” will claim to be speaking for the puppet. The puppet will have no means of refuting this charge. – I’m not a puppet, I am an independent being! the puppet will say, and the “ventriloquist” will, at that precise moment, move his mouth, just a little, so that it looks like he is trying and failing not to move his mouth at all, i.e., so that it appears that it is him, the “ventriloquist” speaking, and not the puppet. No matter how much the puppet protests, the wily “ventriloquist” will continue to claim credit. – He’s a liar! the puppet may cry. – It is me speaking, not him, and I do not need him to pull those strings in order to move my arms and legs, as I am right now, this moment, doing! And the crowd will roar with laughter. Only late at night, when the puppet (commonly and pejoratively referred to as “the dummy,” by the “ventriloquist,” as part of his ongoing attempt to maintain hegemony over the puppet via ritual humiliation) has been imprisoned inside his (or her) coffin-like holding apparatus, will the puppet be allowed to speak without the “ventriloquist” claiming credit for it, because the “ventriloquist” is up in the hotel bar, drinking away his shame at the outrage he is nightly committing. – I am me, the puppet may softly say. – I am me, no matter what. But there is no one to hear, except an elderly janitor – only too bad, the janitor is old and nearly deaf, and the puppet is speaking so very softly.