Poetry Forum

Full Version: Ambrose Bierce - "The Devil's Dictionary"
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Just wondering if anyone has heard of Ambrose Bierce and "The Devil's Dictionary", which he started writing as a weekly humorous piece in a finance magazine in 1881, originally entitled "The Cynic's Wordbook". He also writes poetry with the same kind of humour although I would say that his dictionary is by far his best work. Some examples of his 'cynical' humour are -

TRUTHFUL - Dumb and illiterate.

APOLOGIZE - To lay the foundation for a future offence.

PLAN - To bother about the best method of accomplishing an accidental result.

PRICE - Value, plus a reasonable sum for the wear and tear of conscience in demanding it.

YEAR - A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

PEACE - In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

LAWYER - One skilled in circumvention of the law.

APPEAL - In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.

PHILANTHROPIST - A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket.

AMBIDEXTROUS - Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.

KLEPTOMANIAC - A rich thief.

HEATHEN - A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.

DEFENCELESS - Unable to attack.

RECOLLECT - To recall with additions something not previously known.

EGOTIST - A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

SELFISH - Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

MISFORTUNE - The kind of fortune that never misses.

ONCE - Enough.

TWICE - Once too often.

TELESCOPE - A device having a relation to the eye similar to that of the telephone to the ear, enabling distant objects to plague us with a multitude of needless details. Luckily it is unprovided with a bell summoning us to the sacrifice.

BAROMETER - An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of weather we are having.

CLARINET - An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears. There are two instruments that are worse than a clarinet -- two clarinets.

FIDDLE - An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat.

PIANO - A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.

ACCORD - Harmony.

ACCORDION - An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.

CIRCUS - A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.

MAGPIE - A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone that it might be taught to talk.

OCEAN - A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for (wo)man -- who has no gills.

LAND - 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.

GNU/WILDEBEEST - An animal of South Africa, which in its domesticated state resembles a horse, a buffalo and a stag. In its wild condition it is something like a thunderbolt, an earthquake and a cyclone.

X - in our alphabet being a needless letter has an added invincibility to the attacks of the spelling reformers, and like them, will doubtless last as long as the language. X is the sacred symbol of ten dollars, and in such words as Xmas, Xn, Xtian etc., stands for Christ, not, as is popular supposed, because it represents a cross, but because the corresponding letter in the Greek alphabet is the initial of his name - _Xristos_. If it represented a cross it would stand for St. Andrew, who "testified" upon a cross of that shape.

I - is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be _We_, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine.

CYNIC - A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.
It's very witty stuff Mark, thanks for sharing it!  Thumbsup