The Kurt Vonnegut Dictionary of His Imagination

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Kurt Vonnegut was not the first author to complain about the way things are in the world — nor will he be the last — but he had the uncanny ability to tie a pedagogical lesson somewhere in with his melee of satire and witticisms. In honor of what would have been the Indiana-born novelist’s 88th birthday this week, we’ve compiled a truncated list of Vonnegutisms and illustrations so, if only for a moment, you can see the world as he did, from the eyes of Kilgore Trout to Vonnegut’s own in A Man Without A Country. In his wonderfully blunt, often impertinent off-the-cuff way, Vonnegut tells his readers exactly what is the what — from olfactory-inclined pervs to the secret ingredient in coal — leaving us with little uncertainty even in all his absurdity.

ON PEOPLE

Twerp: A guy who put a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs.

Snarf: A guy who sniffed the seats of girl’s bicycles

Nelson Rockefeller: The Governor of New York City. Because of peculiar laws in that part of the planet, he was allowed to own vast areas of Earth’s surface, and the petroleum and other valuable minerals underneath the surface, as well. He owned or controlled more of the planet than many nations. This had been his destiny since infancy. He had been born into that cockamamie proprietorship.

ON ANIMALS

Dinosaur: A reptile as big as a choo-choo train. Had two brains, one for its front end and one for its rear end. Extinct. Both brains combined were smaller than a pea.

Lamb: A young animal which was legendary for sleeping well on the planet Earth.

Shit-poo: A crossbreed; half French poodle and half Chinese Shih Tzu.

ON EDIBLES

Hamburger: The animal was killed and ground up into little bits, then shaped into patties and fried, and put between two pieces of bread.

Drano: A mixture of sodium hydroxide and aluminum flakes, which was meant to clear drains. (Dwayne Hoover’s wife) Celia became a small volcano, since she was composed of the same sorts of substances which commonly clogged the drains. Why? People take such awful chances with chemicals and their bodies because they wanted the qualities of their lives to improve. They didn’t own doodley-squat, so they couldn’t improve their surroundings.

Note: Doodley-squat: Nothing.

ON THINGS

Coal: Highly compressed mixture of rotten trees and flowers and bushes and grasses, and so on, and dinosaur excrement.

The Beetle: The mechanical beetle was made by Germans. The real beetle was made by the Creator of the Universe.

Pyramid: A sort of huge stone tomb which Egyptians had built thousands and thousands of years before. The Egyptians didn’t build them anymore. Tourists would come from far away to gaze at them. Name of fictitious trucking company, named such because the man liked “the sound of it,” even though pyramids haven’t moved an eighth of an inch since Christ was born.

ON ART

Jazz: Safe sex of the highest order.

Semicolons: Transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college.

Wide-Open Beaver: Photograph of a woman not wearing underpants, and with her legs far apart, so that the mouth of her vagina can be seen. First use: By photographers, who often got to see up women’s skirts at accidents and sporting events and from underneath fire escapes and so on. A code word to yell to other newsmen and friendly policemen and firemen and so on, to let them know what could be seen, in case they wanted to see it.

Note: Beaver: Actually a large rodent that loves water and built damns.

ON VIOLENCE

Gun: A tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings.

Body Bag: A large plastic envelope for a freshly killed American soldier. A new invention. Vonnegut is unaware who invented it.

The Vietnam anti-war movement: We might as well have been throwing cream pies.