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The Devil's Dictionary  
Author Ambrose Bierce
Genre(s) Dictionary, satire
Publication date 1911


The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, is a satirical book published in 1911. It offers reinterpretations of terms in the English language, lampooning cant and political doublespeak.

Contents

History

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Origins

The origins of the Devil's Dictionary can be traced to when Ambrose Bierce was a columnist in the San Francisco-based News Letter, a small weekly financial magazine which had been founded by Frederick Marriott in the late 1850s. The News Letter, although a serious magazine aimed at businessmen, contained a page set aside for informal satirical content, entitled The Town Crier. Bierce was hired as this page's editor in December 1868, writing with satire, irreverence and a lack of inhibition, thus becoming known as the 'laughing devil' of San Francisco.

Although the origins of the Devil's Dictionary are normally placed in 1881 (the point at which Bierce himself said it began) the idea started in August 1869 when Bierce, short of topics to write about and having recently bought a new copy of Webster's Unabridged dictionary, suggested the possibility of writing a "Comic Dictionary". He quoted the entry from Webster's for Vicegerents and italicised the section,

Kings are sometimes called God's vicegerents. It is to be wished they would always deserve the appellation

He then suggested how Noah Webster might have used his talent in a comic form and it was here that the idea of a Comic Dictionary was born.

The idea manifested itself in 1875 when Bierce, who had resigned as the Town Crier and had spent three years in London, returned to San Francisco in the hope of regaining his earlier journalistic post in the News Letter. He sent two submissions to the editor of the News Letter, both written under aliases, one of which was entitled The Demon's Dictionary and contained 48 words with new definitions in Bierce's trademark style of acerbic wit. Although forgotten by Ambrose Bierce in his compiling of the Devil's Dictionary, these entries were made available in the Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, which was first published in 1967.

Early development

The Devil's Dictionary did not reappear in Bierce's next column ("Prattle," in the magazine The Argonaut, of which he had become an editor in March 1877). Nevertheless, he used the idea of comic definitions in his columns dated November 17, 1877, and September 14, 1878.

It was in early 1881 that Bierce first used the title, The Devil's Dictionary, while editor-in-chief of another weekly San Francisco magazine, Wasp. The "dictionary" proved popular, and during his time in this post (1881-86) he included 88 installments, each of 15-20 new definitions.

In 1887 Bierce became an editor in The Examiner and featured "The Cynic's Dictionary," which was to be the last of his "dictionary" columns until they reappeared in 1904, when they continued erratically before finishing in July 1906.

A number of the definitions are accompanied by satiric verses, many of which are signed with comic pseudonyms such as Salder Bupp and Orm Pludge; the most frequently appearing "contributor" is "that learned and ingenious cleric, Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J., whose lines bear his initials".

Publication

What had started as a newspaper serialization was first reproduced in book form in 1906 under the dubious title Cynic's Word Book. Published by Doubleday, Page and Company, this contained definitions of 500 words in the first half of the alphabet (A-L). A further 500 words (M-Z) were published in 1911 in Volume 7 of The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, this time under the name of The Devil's Dictionary. This was a name much preferred by Bierce and he claimed the earlier 'more reverent' title had been forced upon him by the religious scruples of his previous employer.

In 1967, an expanded version of The Devil's Dictionary was published, following extensive research by Ernest J Hopkins. This version included the definitions which had been missed out by Bierce when his Collected Works were compiled, due to the fact that he was compiling it in Washington, DC but many of the entries were in San Francisco and unavailable following the earthquake of 1906. This updated version adds 851 definitions to the 1,000 which appeared in versions published in Bierce's lifetime; in particular, it includes the words preceding "Abasement" which were originally defined in the Demon's Dictionary.

Various editions are currently in print including ISBN 0-19-512627-0, by Oxford University Press, and ISBN 0-8203-2401-9. It is also available online through Project Gutenberg as well as through Wiktionary, a freely editable dictionary. The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary is in print in the Penguin Classics series, as ISBN 0-14-118592-9.

In 2000, S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz published The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary (ISBN 0820321966), including previously uncollected, unpublished and alternative entries, restoring definitions dropped from previous editions and removing almost 200 wrongly attributed to Bierce. 14 Dec 2009 this work was brought out in paperback.

Examples

Conservative 
(noun) A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.[1]
Lawyer 
(noun) One skilled in circumvention of the law.[2]
Youth 
(noun) The Period of Possibility, when Archimedes finds a fulcrum, Cassandra has a following and seven cities compete for the honor of endowing a living Homer.
Youth is the true Saturnian Reign, the Golden Age on earth again, when figs are grown on thistles, and pigs betailed with whistles and, wearing silken bristles, live ever in clover, and cows fly over, delivering milk at every door, and Justice is never heard to snore, and every assassin is made a ghost and, howling, is cast into Baltimost!Polydore Smith[3]

References

External links


Ambrose Bierce
File:Abierce
Ambrose Bierce, ca. 1866
Born June 24, 1842(1842-06-24)
Meigs County, Ohio, United States
Died disappeared 1913,[1]
last seen in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico
Occupation Journalist, Writer
Genres Satire
Literary movement Realism
Notable work(s) "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", The Devil's Dictionary, "Chickamauga"



Signature File:Bierce Ambrose, sig, clean and moderately

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842[2] – after 1913[1]) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and his satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary.

The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work — along with his vehemence as a critic, with his motto "nothing matters" — earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce." Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. This style often includes a cold open, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, the theme of war, and impossible events.

In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace.

Contents

Early life and military career

File:Ambrose
Ambrose Bierce. Portrait by J.H.E. Partington.

Bierce was born at Horse Cave Creek in Meigs County, Ohio to Marcus Aurelius Bierce (1799–1876) and Laura Sherwood Bierce.[2] His mother was a descendant of William Bradford. His parents were a poor but literary couple who instilled in him a deep love for books and writing.[2] He grew up in Kosciusko County, Indiana, attending high school at the county seat, Warsaw. He was the tenth of 13 children whose father gave all of them names beginning with the letter "A". In order of birth, the Bierce siblings were Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Ambrose, Arthur, Adelia, and Aurelia. He left home at age fifteen to become a "printer's devil" at a small Ohio newspaper.[2]

At the outset of the American Civil War, Bierce enlisted in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. He participated in the Operations in Western Virginia campaign (1861), was present at the "first battle" at Philippi and received newspaper attention for his daring rescue, under fire, of a gravely wounded comrade at the Battle of Rich Mountain. In February 1862 he was commissioned First Lieutenant, and served on the staff of General William Babcock Hazen as a topographical engineer, making maps of likely battlefields. Bierce fought at the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), a terrifying experience that became a source for several later short stories and the memoir, "What I Saw of Shiloh". In June 1864, he sustained a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain[3], and spent the rest of the summer on furlough, returning to active duty in September. He was discharged from the army in January 1865. His military career resumed, however, when in mid-1866 he rejoined General Hazen as part of the latter's expedition to inspect military outposts across the Great Plains. The expedition proceeded by horseback and wagon from Omaha, Nebraska, arriving toward year's end in San Francisco, California.

Personal life

Bierce married Mary Ellen ("Mollie") Day on Christmas Day 1871. They had three children; two sons, Day (1872–1889[4]) and Leigh (1874–1901[4]), and a daughter, Helen (1875–1940). Both of Bierce's sons died before him: Day was shot in a brawl over a woman,[4] and Leigh died of pneumonia related to alcoholism.[4] Bierce separated from his wife in 1888 after discovering compromising letters to her from an admirer, and the couple finally divorced in 1904.[4] Mollie Day Bierce died the following year.

Bierce suffered from lifelong asthma[4][5] as well as complications arising from his war wounds.[1]

Journalism

In San Francisco, Bierce received the rank of brevet major before resigning from the Army. He remained in San Francisco for many years, eventually becoming famous as a contributor and/or editor for a number of local newspapers and periodicals, including The San Francisco News Letter, The Argonaut, the Overland Monthly, The Californian and The Wasp. A selection of his crime reporting from The San Francisco News Letter was included in The Library of America anthology True Crime.

Bierce lived and wrote in England from 1872 to 1875, contributing to Fun magazine. His first book, The Fiend's Delight, a compilation of his articles, was published in London in 1873 by John Camden Hotten under the pseudonym "Dod Grile".[6][7] Returning to the United States, he again took up residence in San Francisco. From 1879 to 1880, he travelled to Rockerville and Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, to try his hand as local manager for a New York mining company, but when the company failed he returned to San Francisco and resumed his career in journalism.

In 1887, he published a column called "Prattle" and became one of the first regular columnists and editorialists to be employed on William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner,[2] eventually becoming one of the most prominent and influential among the writers and journalists of the West Coast. He remained associated with Hearst Newspapers until 1906.

Railroad Refinancing Bill

File:NE corner of Logan
Bierce's former residence (right) in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies had received large loans from the U.S. government to build the First Transcontinental Railroad—on gentle terms, but Collis P. Huntington persuaded a friendly member of Congress to introduce a bill excusing the companies from repaying the money, amounting to $130 million (nearly $3 billion in 2007 money).

In January 1896 Hearst dispatched Bierce to Washington, D.C. to foil this attempt. The essence of the plot was secrecy; the railroads' advocates hoped to get the bill through Congress without any public notice or hearings. When the angered Huntington confronted Bierce on the steps of the Capitol and told Bierce to name his price, Bierce's answer ended up in newspapers nationwide: "My price is one hundred thirty million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States".[8] Bierce's coverage and diatribes on the subject aroused such public wrath that the bill was defeated. Bierce returned to California in November.

McKinley accusation

Because of his penchant for biting social criticism and satire, Bierce's long newspaper career was often steeped in controversy. On several occasions his columns stirred up a storm of hostile reaction which created difficulties for Hearst. One of the most notable of these incidents occurred following the assassination of President William McKinley when Hearst's opponents turned a poem Bierce had written about the assassination of Governor Goebel in 1900 into a cause célèbre.

Bierce meant his poem, written on the occasion of the assassination of Governor William Goebel of Kentucky, to express a national mood of dismay and fear, but after McKinley was shot in 1901 it seemed to foreshadow the crime:

"The bullet that pierced Goebel's breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier."

Hearst was thereby accused by rival newspapers—and by then Secretary of State Elihu Root—of having called for McKinley's assassination. Despite a national uproar that ended his ambitions for the presidency (and even his membership in the Bohemian Club), Hearst neither revealed Bierce as the author of the poem, nor fired him.[9]

Literary works

File:Ambrose Bierce
Bierce in 1892

Bierce was considered a master of "Pure" English by his contemporaries, and virtually everything that came from his pen was notable for its judicious wording and economy of style. He wrote in a variety of literary genres.

His short stories are held among the best of the 19th century, providing a popular following based on his roots. He wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in such stories as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "The Boarded Window", "Killed at Resaca", and "Chickamauga".

In addition to his ghost and war stories, he also published several volumes of poetry. His Fantastic Fables anticipated the ironic style of grotesquerie that became a more common genre in the 20th century.

One of Bierce's most famous works is his much-quoted book, The Devil's Dictionary, originally an occasional newspaper item which was first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book. It consists of satirical definitions of English words which lampoon cant and political double-talk.

Under the entry "leonine", meaning a single line of poetry with an internal rhyming scheme, he included an apocryphal couplet written by the fictitious "Bella Peeler Silcox" (i.e. Ella Wheeler Wilcox) in which an internal rhyme is achieved in both lines only by mispronouncing the rhyming words:

The electric light invades the dunnest deep of Hades.
Cries Pluto, 'twixt his snores: "O tempora! O mores!"

Bierce's twelve-volume Collected Works were published in 1909, the seventh volume of which consists solely of The Devil's Dictionary, the title Bierce himself preferred to The Cynic's Word Book.

Disappearance

In October 1913 Bierce, then in his seventies, departed Washington, D.C., for a tour of his old Civil War battlefields. By December he had proceeded through Louisiana and Texas, crossing by way of El Paso into Mexico, which was in the throes of revolution. In Ciudad Juárez he joined Pancho Villa's army as an observer, and in that role he witnessed the Battle of Tierra Blanca.

Bierce is known to have accompanied Villa's army as far as the city of Chihuahua. After a last letter to Blanche Partington, a close friend, dated December 26, 1913,[10][11] he vanished without a trace, becoming one of the most famous disappearances in American literary history.

Oral tradition in Sierra Mojada, Coahuila, documented by the priest James Lienert, states that Bierce was executed by a firing squad in the town cemetery there.[12] However, all investigations into his fate have proven fruitless, and despite an abundance of theories his end remains shrouded in mystery.

Legacy and influence

At least three films have been made of Bierce's story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. A silent film version, The Bridge was made in 1929. A French version called La Rivière du Hibou, directed by Robert Enrico, was released in 1962. This black-and-white film faithfully recounts the original narrative using voice-over. Another version, directed by Brian James Egen, was released in 2005.

The French version was aired in 1964 as an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. A copy of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge appeared in the ABC television series Lost (The Long Con, airdate February 8, 2006). Prior to The Twilight Zone, the story had been adapted as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Another notable film adaptation was made of Bierce's story "Eyes of the Panther". To date at least 2 versions of this story exist on screen. One version was developed for Shelley Duvall's Nightmare Classics series and was released in 1990. This version runs about 60 mins. and is widely criticized for being too loosely adapted. Another, shorter, version was released in 2006 by Dir. Michael Barton, and runs about 23 mins.

American composer Rodney Waschka II composed an opera, Saint Ambrose, based on Bierce's life.[13]

Bierce's disappearance has also been a popular topic. Carlos Fuentes's novel The Old Gringo is a fictionalized account of Bierce's disappearance which was later adapted into the film Old Gringo (1989), starring Gregory Peck in the title role.[14] Bierce's disappearance and trip to Mexico provide the background for the vampire horror film From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000), in which Bierce's character plays a central role. Bierce's fate is the subject of Gerald Kersh's The Oxoxoco Bottle [“The Secret of the Bottle”], which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on December 7, 1957 and was reprinted in the anthology Men Without Bones.

The short film Ah! Silenciosa (1999), starring Jim Beaver as Bierce, weaves elements of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge into a speculation on Bierce's disappearance.

Biographer Richard O'Conner wrote that war unleashed the howling demons lurking in the pit of Bierce's soul:

"War was the making of Bierce as a man and a writer. [From his grim experience, he became] truly capable of transferring the bloody, headless bodies and boar-eaten corpses of the battlefield onto paper."[2]

Noted essayist Clifton Fadiman observed about Bierce:

"Bierce was never a great writer. He has painful faults of vulgarity and cheapness of imagination. But...his style, for one thing, will preserve him; and the purity of his misanthropy, too, will help to keep him alive."[2]

Author Alan Gullette argues that Bierce's war tales may be the best writing on war, outranking his contemporary Stephen Crane (author of The Red Badge of Courage) and even Ernest Hemingway.[2]

Author Kurt Vonnegut once stated that he considered "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" the greatest American short story, and a work of flawless American genius.

Bibliography

Books

Short stories

  • The Time the Moon Fought Back (1911)

  • Beyond the Wall (1909)
  • A Diagnosis of Death (1909)
  • A Jug of Syrup (1909)
  • Moxon's Master (1909)
  • Staley Fleming's Hallucination (1909)
  • The Stranger (1909)
  • The Way of Ghosts (1909)
  • The Affair at Coulter's Notch
  • An Affair of Outposts
  • The Applicant
  • An Arrest
  • The Baptism of Dobsho
  • A Bottomless Grave
  • The City of the Gone Away
  • The Coup de Grace
  • The Crime at Pickett's Mill (1888)
  • Curried Cow
  • The Failure of Hope and Wandel
  • George Thurston
  • A Holy Terror
  • A Horseman in the Sky
  • The Hypnotist
  • An Imperfect Conflagration
  • The Ingenious Patriot
  • John Mortonson's Funeral
  • Jupiter Doke, Brigadier-General
  • Killed at Resaca
  • A Lady from Redhorse

  • The Little Story
  • The Major's Tale
  • The Man Out of the Nose
  • The Middle Toe of the Right Foot
  • The Mocking-Bird
  • The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter
  • Three and One are One
  • Mr Swiddler's Flip-Flap
  • My Favourite Murder
  • Mysterious Disappearances
  • Oil of Dog
  • One Kind of Officer
  • One of Twins
  • One Officer, One Man
  • One Summer Night
  • Parker Adderson, Philosopher
  • Perry Chumly's Eclipse
  • A Providential Intimation
  • The Race at Left Bower
  • A Resumed Identity
  • Revenge
  • A Revolt of the Gods
  • Some Haunted Houses
  • A Son of the Gods
  • The Story of a Conscience
  • The Tail of the Sphinx
  • Visions of the Night
  • The Widower Turmore

See also

Biography portal
American Civil War portal
United States Army portal

References

  1. ^ a b c Ambrose Bierce - Biography and Works, at The Literature Network
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Floyd, E. Randall (1999). The Good, the Bad, and the Mad: Some Weird People in American History. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7607-6600-2. 
  3. ^ Ambrose Bierce Timeline. 1861-1867. The Civil War, at The Ambrose Bierce Project
  4. ^ a b c d e f Floyd, p. 19
  5. ^ Floyd, p. 20
  6. ^ Selected Letters, p.8
  7. ^ Morris (1999), p.143
  8. ^ Ambrose Bierce, mon amour
  9. ^ Morris (1999), p. 237.
  10. ^ Starrett, Vincent. Ambrose Bierce. W.M. Hill, 1920. p. 39
  11. ^ Selected Letters, pp 244+.
  12. ^ See The Ambrose Bierce Site for photograph of a monument in the Sierra Mojada cemetery, erected by Father Lienert in 2004, with inscription stating that Bierce was shot there.
  13. ^ Waschka II, Rodney. Capstone Records, Saint Ambrose
  14. ^ Fuentes, Carlos, Gringo Viejo (Planeta, 2004) ISBN 968-6941-67-3
  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 32, 147. 
  • De Castro, Adolphe (1929). Portrait of Ambrose Bierce (New York and London: Century).
  • McWilliams, Carey (1929; reprinted 1967). Ambrose Bierce: A Biography, Archon Books.
  • O'Conner, Richard (1967). Ambrose Bierce: a Biography, with illustrations, Boston, Little, Brown and Company.
  • Bierce, Amrose; Joshi, S.T.; Shultz, David E. A Much Misunderstood Man: Selected Letters of Ambrose Bierce. Ohio State University Press, 2003.
  • Morris, Roy. Ambrose Bierce: alone in bad company. Oxford University Press US, 1999. ISBN 0-19-512628-9.

Research resources

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Ambrose Bierce article)

From Wikiquote

Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842-06-24 – date of death uncertain; probably December 1913 or early 1914) was an American satirist, critic, short story writer, editor and journalist. He is perhaps most famous for his serialized mock lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary, in which, over the years, he scathed American culture and accepted wisdom by pointing out alternate, more practical definitions for common words.

Contents

Sourced

Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.
  • Mark how my fame rings out from zone to zone:
    A thousand critics shouting: "He's unknown!"
    • Couplet
  • Peyton Fahrquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.

The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

First published for letters A-L as The Cynic's Word Book (1906)
Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.
Zeus, n. The chief of Grecian gods, adored by the Romans as Jupiter and by the modern Americans as God, Gold, Mob and Dog. Some explorers who have touched upon the shores of America, and one who professes to have penetrated a considerable distance to the interior, have thought that these four names stand for as many distinct deities, but in his monumental work on Surviving Faiths, Frumpp insists that the natives are monotheists, each having no other god than himself, whom he worships under many sacred names.
  • Absent, adj. Peculiarly exposed to the tooth of detraction; vilifed; hopelessly in the wrong; superseded in the consideration and affection of another.
  • To men a man is but a mind. Who cares
    What face he carries or what form he wears?
    But woman's body is the woman. O,
    Stay thou, my sweetheart, and do never go,
    But heed the warning words the sage hath said:
    A woman absent is a woman dead.
  • Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.
  • Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.
  • Accord, n. Harmony.
  • Accordion, n. An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.
  • Acquaintance, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous
  • Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.
  • Advice, n. The smallest current coin.
  • Alone, adj. In bad company.
  • Apologize, v. To lay the foundation for a future offense.
  • Bacchus, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.
  • Back, n. That part of your friend which it is your privilege to contemplate in your adversity.
  • Barometer, n. An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of weather we are having.
  • Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
  • Brain, n. An apparatus with which we think that we think.
  • Bride, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
  • Cabbage, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head.
  • Callous, adj. Gifted with great fortitude to bear the evils afflicting another.
  • Cannon, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries.
  • Cat, n. A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle.
  • Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ so long as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
  • Circus, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.
  • Clarionet, n. An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears. There are two instruments that are worse than a clarionet -- two clarionets.
  • Congratulation, n. The civility of envy.
  • Conservative, n. A statesman enamored of existing evils, as opposed to a Liberal, who wants to replace them with others.
  • Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
  • Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.
  • Dawn, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh.
  • Defenceless, adj. Unable to attack.
  • Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
  • Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
  • Electricity, n. The cause of all natural phenomena not known to be caused by something else. It is the same thing as lightning, and its famous attempt to strike Dr. Franklin is one of the most picturesque incidents in that great and good man's career.
  • Erudition, n. Dust shaken out of a book into an empty skull.
  • Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
  • Freebooter, n. A conqueror in a small way of business, whose annexations lack of the sanctifying merit of magnitude.
  • Freemason, n. An order with secret rites, grotesque ceremonies and fantastic costumes, which, originating in the reign of Charles II, among working artisans of London, has been joined successively by the dead of past centuries in unbroken retrogression until now it embraces all the generations of man on the hither side of Adam and is drumming up distinguished recruits among the pre-Creational inhabitants of Chaos and Formless Void. The order was founded at different times by Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Cyrus, Solomon, Zoroaster, Confucius, Thothmes|, and Buddha.
  • Friendless, adj. Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.
  • Generous, adj. Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons. It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest.
  • Genealogy, n. An account of one's descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own.
  • Happiness, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.
  • Heaven, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
  • Helpmate, n. A wife, or bitter half.
  • Hers, pron. His.
  • Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.
  • Incompossible, adj. Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both — as Walt Whitman's poetry and God's mercy to man.
  • Infancy, n. The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, 'Heaven lies about us.' The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward.
  • In'ards, n. pl. The stomach, heart, soul, and other bowels.
  • Insurrection, n. An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection's failure to substitute misrule for bad government.
  • Justice, n. A commodity which in a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service.
  • Kilt, n. A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen [sic] in America and Americans in Scotland.
  • Land, n. A part of the earth's surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B and C, there will be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.
  • Laughter, n. An interior convulsion, producing a distortion of the features and accompanied by inarticulate noises. It is infectious and, though intermittent, incurable.
  • Learning, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
  • Liberty, n. One of imagination's most precious possessions.
  • Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.
  • Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.
  • Mad, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech, and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that they themselves are sane.
  • Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
  • Mayonnaise, n. One of the sauces that serve the French in place of a state religion.
  • Monday, n. In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.
  • Neighbor, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
  • Non-combatant, n. A dead Quaker.
  • Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.
  • Once, adj. Enough.
  • Opportunity, n. A favorable occasion for grasping a disappointment.
  • Opposition, n. In politics the party that prevents the Government from running amok by hamstringing it.
  • Optimist, n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.
  • Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.
  • Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.
  • Pig, n. An animal (Porcus omnivorus) closely allied to the human race by the splendor and vivacity of its appetite, which, however, is inferior in scope, for it sticks at pig.
  • Politeness , n. The most acceptable hypocrisy.
  • Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
  • Positive, adj. Mistaken at the top of one's voice.
  • Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
  • Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.
  • Rational, adj. Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
  • Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
  • Resign, v. To renounce an honor for an advantage. To renounce an advantage for a greater advantage.
  • Revelation, n. A famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing.
  • Road, n. A strip of land along which one may pass from where it is too tiresome to be to where it is futile to go.
  • Sabbath, n. A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh.
  • Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
  • Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.
  • Success, n. The one unpardonable sin against one's fellows.
  • Twice, adv. Once too often.
  • Un-American, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.
  • Virtues, n. pl. Certain abstentions.
  • Vote, v. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
  • White, adj. and n. Black.
  • Witch, n. (1) An ugly and repulsive old woman, in a wicked league with the devil. (2) A beautiful and attractive young woman, in wickedness a league beyond the devil.
  • Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.
  • Youth, n. The Period of Possibility, when Archimedes finds a fulcrum, Cassandra has a following and seven cities compete for the honor of endowing a living Homer.
  • Zeal, n. A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced. A passion that goeth before a sprawl.
  • Zeus, n. The chief of Grecian gods, adored by the Romans as Jupiter and by the modern Americans as God, Gold, Mob and Dog. Some explorers who have touched upon the shores of America, and one who professes to have penetrated a considerable distance to the interior, have thought that these four names stand for as many distinct deities, but in his monumental work on Surviving Faiths, Frumpp insists that the natives are monotheists, each having no other god than himself, whom he worships under many sacred names.

Epigrams

  • Woman would be more charming if one could fall into her arms without falling into her hands.
  • You are not permitted to kill a woman who has wronged you, but nothing forbids you to reflect that she is growing older every minute. You are avenged 1440 times a day.
  • Self-denial is indulgence of a propensity to forgo.

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Devil's Dictionary
by Ambrose Bierce

Author's Preface

The Devil's Dictionary was begun in a weekly paper in 1881, and was continued in a desultory way at long intervals until 1906. In that year a large part of it was published in covers with the title The Cynic's Word Book, a name which the author had not the power to reject or happiness to approve. To quote the publishers of the present work:

"This more reverent title had previously been forced upon him by the religious scruples of the last newspaper in which a part of the work had appeared, with the natural consequence that when it came out in covers the country already had been flooded by its imitators with a score of 'cynic' books -- The Cynic's This, The Cynic's That, and The Cynic's t'Other. Most of these books were merely stupid, though some of them added the distinction of silliness. Among them, they brought the word 'cynic' into disfavor so deep that any book bearing it was discredited in advance of publication."

Meantime, too, some of the enterprising humorists of the country had helped themselves to such parts of the work as served their needs, and many of its definitions, anecdotes, phrases and so forth, had become more or less current in popular speech. This explanation is made, not with any pride of priority in trifles, but in simple denial of possible charges of plagiarism, which is no trifle. In merely resuming his own the author hopes to be held guiltless by those to whom the work is addressed -- enlightened souls who prefer dry wines to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humor and clean English to slang.

A conspicuous, and it is hoped not unpleasant, feature of the book is its abundant illustrative quotations from eminent poets, chief of whom is that learned and ingenius cleric, Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J., whose lines bear his initials. To Father Jape's kindly encouragement and assistance the author of the prose text is greatly indebted. — A.B.

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Ambrose Bierce (1906) The Devil's Dictionary

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PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1914, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.


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