This article was originally published on Humorality, on May 17, 2010.
Lenders Threaten to Foreclose on the Letter ‘Q’
Merriam-Webster, producers of books with the world’s most uninventive storylines, announced today an update to the definition for “poverty.” The current dictionary entry defines the word as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” Today’s revision corrects the language to the more inclusive, “the state of one receiving government support.”
“Language is always changing, and we regularly update the words in our dictionary products based on those changes. But this time, it seems we just messed up,” said Benjamin Abcedghik, Director of Words and Stuff for the company. “The word ‘poverty’ has had a consistent definition for hundreds of years. But problems with that definition have been debated among our scholars as far back as The Great Depression.”
At issue is how the United States government defines the poverty level, an imaginary financial income line below which are found the poor, the wretched, the registered Democrats, and the destitute. Since the passage of Lyndon Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, part of his Great Society plan, the percentage of those falling below the poverty line has hovered close to thirteen percent.
“And that was our problem,” said Abcedghik. “All of those billions and trillions of dollars going to bring people out of poverty, and still the numbers hadn’t budged in nearly fifty years. Inconceivable! That’s when we figured out the word didn’t mean what we thought it meant.”
The editorial board at Merriam-Webster convened six months ago to discuss possible changes to the official definition of words like “poverty,” “poor,” and “Jimmy Carter.” What they discovered astounded them. “We decided to leave ‘Jimmy Carter’ as it was. But ‘poverty’ had to change because almost everyone and everything in America is poor. And with the federal government handing out money to struggling banks and automobile companies, funding student loans to millions of middle-class and upper-class students, and sponsoring PBS tributes to Peter, Paul, and Mary, people are getting poorer all the time.”
The company plans to issue a wave of revised dictionaries later this year. “Words like ‘poverty’ will make it in, but we don’t have time to correct other big-concept words,” said Mr. Abcedghik, pausing to release a heartfelt sigh. “And until we come up with an accurate definition, we’ve decided to pull the word ‘freedom’ completely out of the unabridged volume.”