The Devil’s Dictionary

Recent events at Providence College, where I work, led me to open a handbook that I came upon one day while I was waiting for a subway in the underparts of Washington. It had a sulfurous smell to it and was so sooty and well thumbed in places that I could hardly decipher it. I offer here a few of the entries for consideration.

Academic Freedom: That principle which, in its august impartiality, permits both liberals and conservatives to deride moral, religious, and intellectual systems many centuries old, without necessarily knowing anything about them.

Academic Responsibility: That other principle which, with similarly august impartiality, warns both liberals and conservatives against uttering criticisms against moral, religious, and intellectual fashions of the day, regardless of how deeply they may have considered them.

Association of American University Professors: A liberal political union that does part-time work fighting for better pay and lighter duties for professors, and higher tuition for students and their parents. Fairness, as defined in practice by the AAUP: “License for me; speech codes, sensitivity training, public censure, vindictive evaluations, cruel delays, loss of employment, and a ruined career for thee.”

Bigot: Someone who disagrees with the open-minded mob.

Catholics: Divisible into two groups, good and bad. The bad Catholic follows the teachings of the Church and of the popes with blind enthusiasm, while casting a cold eye on the ephemera of contemporary politics. The good Catholic attends Mass on Sunday and is otherwise blessedly indistinguishable from everybody else.

Collegiality: What professors who do not endorse the idée du jour never possess.

Equal Opportunity: A system that grants candidates equal chances for employment, after they have been nudged, up or down, according to various characteristics; as if a game of baseball were played with movable foul lines, and an expanding and contracting strike zone.

Free Discussion: What happens when a professor uses his classroom as a pulpit to browbeat his students with his own interpretation of current events, in response to which the students freely express their enthusiastic agreement, or freely remain silent, or freely express a tentative and hesitant disagreement, without suffering the slightest odium from their fellow students, or vengeance from the professor.

Jesus Christ: The man who was crucified for expressing progressive opinions, and who was also too timid to express progressive opinions, depending upon whether the date is odd or even.

LGBTQQIAA: A coded series of letters imparting secret information to devotees of a modern mystery cult known as “sexuality.”

Mao Zedong: A Chinese intellectual who may or may not have been responsible for a few deaths of his own people, by way of necessary modernization of his country.

Mockery: What neither Satan nor the academic can endure.

Multiculturalism: The study of people from various select groups, who wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, read the same newspapers, watch the same television, go to the same schools, and utter the same inanities. Thus: to read a book by a grouchy Chinese American woman living in a penthouse in San Francisco is multicultural; to learn Old Icelandic and to read the Laxdael Saga in the original is not.

Racism: The contemptible belief that we should judge a man by the content of his character, rather than by the color of his skin.

Religion: The cause of every war waged by man, with these insignificant exceptions: every war fought by Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, China, Japan, India, the Vikings, the Vandals, the Goths, the Celts, the Huns, the Mongols, the American Indians, the Aztecs, the Incas, and the Mayans; also, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War; the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Japanese War, the French and Indian War, and almost every other war in which Islam has played no part.

Separation of Church and State: The insulation of statists from any influence arising from any coherent moral code whatever, especially if the code was commonly held before the day before yesterday, whenever that day may be.

Sexism: An irrational belief, drawing an unwarranted conclusion from the observation of every species of mammal and from the testimony of every human culture, that there are noticeable and significant differences between men and women.

Shared Governance: The principle whereby your plumber tells you what pipes and fixtures you want, your builder tells you what house you are going to live in, and your babysitter tells you when your children are to go to bed.

Student-led protest: KP to KP4.

Tenure: What not even your congressman possesses. Tenure was initially instituted to protect professors, in their investigations into truth, from the vindictiveness of intellectual factions. It is now a means of protecting the most popular factions from challenge, while allowing professors belonging to those factions almost unlimited license to do as they please in the classroom.

United States of America: A massive lactating sow from which the professoriate feeds, while blaming her and her bloated flesh for every evil in the world, especially those which are far away from the professorial sight and smell.

Western Civilization: That wicked brew of Christianity and Greco-Roman civilization responsible for the atrocities of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, the Sacred Scriptures, Herodotus, Thucydides, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Palestrina, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Doctor Johnson, and Saint Francis; guilty of inventing the disciplines of philosophy, theology, political science, systematic mathematics, historiography, geology, logic, linguistics, and musical theory; plaguing the world with orphanages, monasteries, universities, hospitals, schools for the poor, hospices, trade guilds, museums, chapels, and cathedrals; burdening mankind, in its Christian manifestation, with the dread calls to faith, hope, and charity.


Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is Distinguished Professor at Thales College. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.