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The Devil's Dictionaries
The Best of The Devil's Dictionary and The American Heretic's Dictionary
By Ambrose Bierce, Chaz Bufe, J.R. Swanson
See Sharp PressCopyright © 2004 Charles Q. Bufe
All rights reserved.
The Best of The Devil's Dictionary
Abnormal, adj. Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested....
Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure....
Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.
Accident, n. An inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable natural laws.
Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.
Adore, v. t. To venerate expectantly.
Alderman, n. An ingenious criminal who covers his secret thieving with a pretence of open marauding.
Alliance, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pocket that they cannot separately plunder a third.
Alone, adj. In bad company.
Altar, n. The place whereon the priest formerly raveled out the small intestine of the sacrificial victim for purposes of divination and cooked its flesh for the gods. The word is now seldom used, except with reference to the sacrifice of their liberty and peace by a male and a female fool.
Appeal v.t. In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.
Benefactor n. One who makes heavy purchases of ingratitude, without, however, materially affecting the price, which is still within the means of all.
Bigany, n. A mistake in taste for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called trigamy.
Birth, n. The first and direst of all disasters....
Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
Bride, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
Brute, n. See "Husband."
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....
Capital, n. The seat of misgovernment....
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 in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
Clairvoyant, n. A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron — namely, that he is a blockhead.
Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
Consult, v. t. To seek another's approval of a course already decided on.
Coproration, 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....
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. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it.
Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent....
Debt, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver.
Defenceless, adj. Unable to attack.
Delegation, n. In American politics, an article of merchandise that comes in sets.
Deliberation, n. The act of examining one's bread to determine which side it is buttered on.
Destiny, n. A tyrant's authority for crime and a fool's excuse for failure.
Diaphragm, n. A muscular partition separating disorders of the chest from disorders of the bowels.
Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country. Discussion, n. A method of confirming others in their errors.
Disobedience, n. The silver lining to the cloud of servitude.
Distance, n. The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep.
Divination, n. The art of nosing out the occult. Divination is of as many kinds as there are fruit-bearing varieties of the flowering dunce and the early fool.
Eccentricity, n. A method of distinction so cheap that fools employ it to accentuate their incapacity.
Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Epitaph, n. An inscription on a tomb, showing that virtues acquired by death have a retroactive effect. Following is a touching example:
Here lie the bones of Parson Platt,
Wise, pious, humble and all that,
Who showed us life as all should live it,
Let that be said — and God forgive it!
Eulogy, n. Praise of a person who has either the advantages of wealth and power, or the consideration to be dead.
Evangelist, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.
Everlasting, adj. Lasting forever....
Exception, n. A thing which takes the liberty to differ from other things of its class, as an honest man, a truthful woman, etc. "The exception proves the rule" is an expression constantly upon the lips of the ignorant, who parrot it from one another with never a thought of its absurdity. In the Latin, "Exceptio probat regulam" means that the exception tests the rule, puts it to the proof, not confirms it. The malefactor who drew the meaning from this excellent dictum and substituted a contrary one of his own exerted an evil power which appears to be immortal.
Exile, n. One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador.
Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
Feast, n. A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness....
Flag, n. A colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees on vacant lots in London — "Rubbish may be shot here."
Fly-speck, n. The prototype of punctuation. It is observed by Garvinus that the systems of punctuation in use by the various literary nations depended originally upon the social habits and general diet of the flies infesting the several countries. These creatures, which have always been distinguished for a neighborly and companionable familiarity with authors, liberally or niggardly embellish the manuscripts in process of growth under the pen, according to their bodily habit, bringing out the sense of the work by a species of interpretation superior to, and independent of, the writer's powers.... Fully to understand the important services that flies perform to literature, it is only necessary to lay a page of some popular novelist alongside a saucer of cream-and-molasses in a sunny room and observe "how the wit brightens and the style refines" in accurate proportion to the duration of exposure.
Forefinger, n. The finger commonly used in pointing out two malefactors.
Forgetfulness, n. A gift of God bestowed upon debtors in compensation for their destitution of conscience.
Freebooter, n. A conqueror in a small way of business, whose annexations lack the sanctifying merit of magnitude.
Freedom, n. Exemption from the stress of authority in a beggarly half dozen of restraint's infinite multitude of methods. A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly. Liberty. The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known; naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either.
Friendless, n. Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.
Friendship, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.
Funeral, n. A pageant whereby we attest our respect for the dead by enriching the undertaker, and strengthen our grief by an expenditure that deepens our groans and doubles our tears.
Future, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness assured.
Glutton, n. A person who escapes the evils of moderation by committing dyspepsia.
Gout, n. A physician's name for the rheumatism of a rich patient.
Grave, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student.
Habeas Corpus, n. A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime.
Hag, n. An elderly lady whom you do not happen to like ...
Happiness, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.
Hearse, n. Death's baby carriage.
Heathen, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel....
History, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
Immigrant, n. An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.
Immortal, adj. Inexpedient....
Impartial, adj. Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy or adopting either of two conflicting opinions.
Impostor, n. A rival aspirant to public honors.
Impunity, n. Wealth.
Incompatibility, n. In matrimony, a similarity of tastes, particularly the taste for domination. Incompatibility may, however, consist of a meek-eyed matron living just around the corner. It has even been known to wear a moustache.
Indigestion, n. A disease which the patient and his friends frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the salvation of mankind. As the simple Red Man of the western wild put it, with, it must be confessed, a certain force: "Plenty well, no pray; big bellyache, heap God."
Inexpedient, adj. Not calculated to advance one's interests.
Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does....
Ink, n. A villainous compound of tanno-gallate of iron, gum arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime....
Insurrection, n. An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection's failure to substitute misrule for bad government.
Jealous, adj. Unduly concerned about the preservation of that which can be lost only if not worth keeping.
Kleptomaniac, n. A rich thief.
Koran, n. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to Holy Scriptures.
Labor, n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.
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.
Lawful, adj. Compatible with the will of a judge having jurisdiction.
Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
Lexicographer, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth....
Liberty, n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions.
Lickspittle, n. A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper....
Litigation, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.
Lock-and-Key, n. The distinguishing device of civilization and enlightenment.
Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basis of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion — thus:
Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.
Minor Premise: One man can dig a post-hole in sixty seconds; therefore —
Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a post-hole in one second.
This many be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed.
Longevity, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death.
Loquacity, n. A disorder which renders the sufferer unable to curb his tongue when you wish to talk.
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, like caries and many other ailments, 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.
Machination, n. The method employed by one's opponents in baffling one's open and honorable efforts to do the right thing.
Magic, n. The art of converting superstition into coin. There are other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them.
Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
Miss, n. A title with which we brand unmarried women to indicate that they are in the market.
Monument, n. A structure intended to commemorate something which either needs no commemoration or cannot be commemorated.... The monument custom has its reductiones ad absurdum in monuments "to the unknown dead" — that is to say, monuments to perpetuate the memory of those who have left no memory.
Nepotism, n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.
Nose, n. The extreme outpost of the face. From the circumstance that great conquerors have great noses, Getius, whose writings antedate the age of humor, calls the nose the organ of quell. It has been observed that one's nose is never so happy as when thrust into the affairs of another, from which some physiologists have drawn the inference that the nose is devoid of the sense of smell.
Novel, n. A short story padded....
Obsolete, adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words. A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer's attiattitude toward "obsolete" words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader.
Occasional, adj. Afflicting us with greater or less frequency. That, however, is not the sense in which the word is used in the phrase "occasional verses," which are verses written for an "occasion," such as an anniversary, a celebration or other event. True, they afflict us a little worse than other sorts of verse, but their name has no reference to irregular occurrence.
Occident, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful subtribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.
Excerpted from The Devil's Dictionaries by Ambrose Bierce, Chaz Bufe, J.R. Swanson. Copyright © 2004 Charles Q. Bufe. Excerpted by permission of See Sharp Press.
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