May 18, 2007
Beware the Bogus Dictionary Entry
While I was editing Stanley Grenz and Jay Smith’s Pocket Dictionary of Ethics, I had a moment of inspiration and crafted a bogus article that I called “comfortism.” I think I had heard the phrase “I’m comfortable with that” one time too many. I emailed the definition to Stan, he buffed it up, and into the dictionary it went. Today you can find it in the “Cs” of that little reference book. The Preface warns readers that there is one “tongue-in-cheek” definition in the book, but it’s up to them to find it. Consider it our contribution to fostering critical readers (though if you're reading this, you won't benefit from our effort).
Honestly, if you fall for that one as a genuine movement in ethics, you have been inhaling the fumes of the spirit of this age and need to go through withdrawal. In fact, dictionary editors have been known to put bogus entries in their dictionaries just to catch plagiarists who create similar works by taking a free ride on their work. I’m keeping my eye out for “comfortism” to show up in a future published work. Maybe someone will even be inspired to write a monograph on it. It would be a wonderful tribute to Stan Grenz’s sense of humor.
When we published the Dictionary of Christianity in America, Martin Marty asked if we had included a bogus entry. We replied that we hadn’t (How could we?!), though I’ve since ferreted out some bogus “facts” in the DCA. Marty commented on our innocence of the ways of the world. I’ve always regretted our oversight. Of course, for my money there would have been no better subject for such an article than Franz Bibfeldt, a fictitious theologian Marty has largely been responsible for promoting to theological sainthood. You can read about Bibfeldt (and, among other things, his quest for the year zero) and get in on the joke here. Who says scholars lack a sense of humor?
And by the way, whatever did happen to the year zero? (I could tell a true dictionary story about a certain New Testament scholar who sought to account for it, but that would needlessly embarrass him and detract from his now well earned gravitas.)