When good words go bad

Morning, here’s yesterday’s Sunday Times. Definition: Hope you enjoy it. 




Did you know that there’s a parallel universe that runs alongside the Internet? I like to think of it as the subversive Internet, or the Subvernet. It consists of a bunch of websites that mimic the web as we know it, except with their pants around their ankles.

There’s Sickipedia, the best (so they claim) crowd-sourced collection of offensive, inappropriate and politically incorrect jokes. And Uncyclopaedia, a satirical website with over 30 000 pages of content comprising everything you never needed to know about nothing.

Booble is also big on the Subvernet. It’s like Google, except it’s a search engine for boobs. They even use boobs as the ‘O’s in their name, that’s real commitment to breasts.

And now there’s a new Wikipedia in town. It’s called TL;DR Wikipedia. Which is internet sla(n)g for ‘too long; didn’t read’. Basically we’re all in a hurry, so get to the point.

TL;DR Wikipedia looks like Wiki, acts like Wiki and operates like Wiki, except each subject has been whittled down to its most honest, sarcastic and hilarious description: ‘A Haiku is a poem that is seventeen syllables too long.’ ‘Ikea is a Swedish puzzle manufacturer.’ And ‘A Latte is a brewed beverage made by adding five dollars to a cup of coffee.’ And let’s not forget the clitoris; ‘… other than all of her feelings, the clitoris is the most sensitive part of a woman routinely ignored by men.’

But the Subvernet Wikipedia people weren’t the first to mess with the dictionary.

Sarcasm was invented thousands of years before Bill Gates. Journalist, Ambrose Bierce published his own Devil’s Dictionary back in 1869. Defining a dentist as, ‘A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.’ Brandy as ‘A cordial compound composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the-grave and four parts clarified Satan.’ A bride as, ‘A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.’ And dawn as ‘The time when men of reason go to bed.’

I love you Ambrose Gwinett Bierce, you beautiful, cynical bastard.I’d love to know what he’d make of Urban Dictionary, another interesting portal on today’s Subvernet. It’s where good words go when they turn bad.

Words are like teenagers. Every now and then one of them falls in with a bad crowd and you’ll find it smoking crack round the back of the garden shed. None-the-wiser most of us walk around continuing to use these words innocently, with no idea of how inappropriate we’re being.

Teabag for example. It’s no longer simply a bag with tealeaves in it that you dunk in hot water. It’s also a bizarre sexual act where a man drops his scrotum into another person’s mouth, either as a prank or for sexual enjoyment. I won’t be cadging a quick teabag off my neighbour, Drew again anytime soon.

Pocket is another. It’s no longer just where you keep your keys. It’s also a term for a woman’s downstairs private parts. Ladies, next time a guy asks if he can put something in your pocket, just check what he’s holding.

But it can go both ways (sorry, but the sexual innuendos here are unavoidable), there are also a handful of words that originally came from the wrong side of the tracks, but have made good. Words we use every day that we have no idea have a dirty history. For some reason most of them have something to do with testicles, it turns out the common nut offers us a rich stomping ground.

‘Orchid’ for example. At some point in history, a botanist looked at the shape of the roots and raised his eyebrows. Orchid comes from the Greek, orkhis, which means testicle. The word ‘Seminar’ comes from the Latin, ‘seminis’, which means semen. And avocado comes from the Aztec word for testicle. Call me nuts, but I’ve been having a ball in the sack my whole adult life, and never realised testicles were so handy.

So then, words, not as sweet and innocent as they look. The word ‘look’ is proof… now, thanks to Booble, two ‘o’s’ side by side will forever in my mind each contain a nipple.




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