‘An Uncertain Future: Five Stories by the New Oxford American Dictionary with Rory Kennett-Lister’

Photograph by Till Niermann, via Wikimedia Commons. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Licence.

The short stories below are the result of a meeting of infallible machine and imperfect man: my computer and me. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound very different from how other stories are written—a connection between stumbling fingers and a dirty keyboard—but these have been more ‘put together’ than ‘written’.

With the exception of this introduction, every sentence here is sourced from the New Oxford American Dictionary as it appears on a 2010 MacBook. The spelling of certain words has been altered to conform to Australian English, and some punctuation has been added in order to link sentences. Apart from these minor changes, however, each sentence is as it appears in the MacBook dictionary.

What these stories leave behind is something beyond the usually parochial thoughts of my own mind: a harbinger of societal decay.

Of course, to renounce all agency is a cop-out. But if these are not my ideas, where do they come from? Is this a distillation of our collective psyche? An illustration of an innately pessimistic language? Maybe these sentences are a cipher, clues to the Oxford American Dictionary’s worldview. Maybe some subversive programmer inserted them into my Mac’s peachy, bright-eyed, life-is-beautiful operating system to rattle Apple Inc’s foundations. Maybe I’ve been reading the dictionary for too long.

Whatever the case, the message is clear: worry about the future.

An uncertain future

He was an untiring advocate of economic reform. He was rebuilding a solid economic base for the country’s future.

His campaign did not go well.

The country was gripped by recession. He looked around the bleak little room in despair.

The years of stagnation did a lot of harm to the younger generation.

A careful consideration of the facts

“11,500 jobs are due to go by next year.

“That’s the trouble with capitalism; the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Every day the gap between the rich and the poor widens. Thousands of families are living in abject poverty.

“The church is a ruin now. The country’s going from bad to worse.

“An armed uprising; need I say more?”

“Easier said than done; the security forces have been keeping a close watch on our activities. Your movements and telephone conversations are recorded.”

A failed writer

The universities were forced to cut staff. The strain of supporting the family was beginning to tell on him.

He was a man of impulse, not premeditation; he tried, with three others, to rob a bank.

It’s not my idea of a happy ending

The main aim of a commercial organisation is to make money. Unemployment due to automation will grow.

Class shame is a function of social power. The war has finished but nothing has changed. Elitism is rearing its ugly head again.

If only the peasantry would rise up against the established order.

POSTSCRIPT: Romantic novels should present an escape from the dreary realities of life.

His voice was infuriatingly smooth. She raked her hair back with her fingers. The dress was too tight for her.

The situation was slipping out of her control. He was leading her by the hand. She grabbed him by the shirt collar. They grasped at each other with numbed fingers. A passionate kiss. The sheet of muscle between abdomen and chest. Her heart was hammering in her breast.

She worked fast, conscious of the time factor. She lowered her head to touch his fingers with her lips. A knot of muscle at the side of his jaw pulsed.

Sandra felt a flutter in the pit of her stomach.

She’d never been blessed with a vivid imagination. She longed for a little more excitement. A shaft of inspiration – shaped like a torpedo, long and thin.

“Oh God!”

The smile on her face told him everything.

He zipped himself up.

The New Oxford American Dictionary is a single-volume dictionary of American English compiled by American editors at the Oxford University Press.

Rory Kennett-Lister writes.