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The Devil's Dictionary



The Devil's Dictionary, by the misanthropic American journalist Ambrose Bierce, was first published in 1911, based on newspaper columns he had written between 1881 and 1906.

Originally entitled, The Cynic's Word Book, this notorious work was addressed to "enlightened souls who prefer dry wines to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humour and clean English to slang".

Some examples of Bierce's jaundiced definitions:

Acquaintance
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
Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.

Backbite
To speak of a man as you find him when he can't find you.

Belladonna
In Italian, a beautiful lady; in English, a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

Benevolence
Subscribing five dollars towards the relief of one's aged grandfather in the almshouse, and publishing it in the newspaper.

Bore
A person who talks when you wish him to listen.

Evangelist
A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbours.

History
An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

Monday
In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.

Opportunity
A favourable occasion for grasping a disappointment.

Pessimism
A philosophy forced upon the convictions of the observer by the disheartening prevalence of the optimist with his scarecrow hope and his unsightly smile.

Ponderous
British jokes.

Positive
Mistaken at the top of one's voice.

Zeal
A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced.


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