In the tradition of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, Burton H. Wolfe creates a comprehensive dictionary that reflects how American culture has turned the English language into what is now known as the American language. This is an important distinction to make, since the American language is basically a butchered version of English and only vaguely resembles it. In order for the dictionary to make sense, Wolfe defines two terms for us that make the reading of the dictionary easier: "The Cultured" refers to the minority of Americans who have remained uncorrupted by the dumbing down of American culture. "The Booboisie" (a term coined by H.L. Mencken) are essentially those who make up the lowest common denominator, or, as Wolfe argues, the majority of Americans. He refers to these terms throughout the dictionary.
While this book may seem insulting, it's actually quite funny to people with a sense of humor. Granted, the humor is hardly politically correct, and at times is scatological. The words Wolfe defines can sometimes be considered vulgar, but there is a lot of thought put behind each definition; some of them are so funny and true that I laughed out loud. Many times, Wolfe discusses the word's original meaning, and explains what it means in current usage. Sometimes it's easy to figure out how the word made the transition from one meaning to another. Many times, it's not obvious at all.
Wolfe takes pot shots at the government, religion, and certain types of people, but it all seems to be relatively good natured and tongue-in-cheek (you might want to look up the definition for tongue in this dictionary…it's pretty amusing). While Lucifer's Dictionary is largely satire, it is also a learning tool. Wolfe's explanation of the Constitution and how it is currently misused is insightful, and he is adept at describing how Christian fundamentalists are actually anti-fundamentalists. He also gives the real definitions for terrorist, liberty, democracy, and other terms that are constantly being used in politics and the media. Frequently, he quotes Bierce, George Bernard Shaw, and other notables to help get his point across.
While Wolfe's book is an interesting and truthful commentary on current language usage, it will undoubtedly become a bit outdated as time wears on and the American language continues to evolve (or devolve, as the case may be). If you are easily offended, Lucifer's Dictionary might not be the book for you. But as long as you enjoy some ribald humor and have an interest in language, you will enjoy this book. This is a welcome addition to the other language books on my shelf.