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The Devil's Dictionary

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 hope 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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A Must Read For Ambrose Bierce Fans

If there is one book that fans of "Bitter" Bierce MUST NOT miss, it is his cynical THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY. Chock full of laughs, poetry, and Bierce's philosophy on life, it's entertainment at its best. And sometimes the old cynic perhaps is close enough to the true meaning of a word to make the reader say "Ouch!". Dragon out. :lol:

The Devil's Dictionary

Contrary to what many people think on first glance, The Devil's Dictionary (a.k.a. The Cynic's Word Book) by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) has no affiliation with the devil or Satanism. I purchased this book years ago, introduced to me first by a former English instructor, but I still retrieve it now and then from my bookshelf for a few hearty pessimistic laughs. Additionally, I should also mention its availability on this site: Please, feel free to share some of your favorite "definitions." A few of mine: 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. Forgetfulness, n. A gift of God bestowed upon debtors in compensation for their destitution of conscience. Future, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured. Grave, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student. Circus, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool. Birth, n. The first and direst of all disasters. As to the nature of it there appears to be no uniformity. Castor and Pollux were born from the egg. Pallas came out of a skull. Galatea was once a block of stone. Peresilis, who wrote in the tenth century, avers that he grew up out of the ground where a priest had spilled holy water. It is known that Arimaxus was derived from a hole in the earth, made by a stroke of lightning. Leucomedon was the son of a cavern in Mount Ætna, and I have myself seen a man come out of a wine cellar. Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work. Pedestrian, n. The variable (and audible) part of the roadway for an automobile. President, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom – and of whom only – it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President. Slang, n. The grunt of the human hog (Pignoramus intolerabilis) with an audible memory. The speech of one who utters with his tongue what he thinks with his ear, and feels the pride of a creator in accomplishing the feat of a parrot. A means (under Providence) of setting up as a wit without a capital of sense.


I live in Stocholm Sweden and is very
interested in satiric writers.

I like to know more about the history of
Ambrose Bierce.
Can you contribute some interesting information?

John Kvarnstrom

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