Read The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs by Ambrose Bierce Free Online
Book Title: The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs|
ISBN: No data
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The author of the book: Ambrose Bierce
Edition: The Library of America
Date of issue: April 25th 2012
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 575 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.3
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Ambrose Bierce was an American cynic (A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be) and wit (The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out). This, his most famous (Conspicuously miserable) and enduring work, started as a weekly newspaper column in 1881, was initially published in 1906 as “The Cynic's Word Book”, and then in 1911 as “The Devil's Dictionary”. I think the earlier title is more apt, though the final choice was probably more provocative at the time.
Bierce wasn’t a lexicographer (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, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods), and this isn’t a conventional dictionary (A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic). Instead, he immodestly (Having a strong sense of one's own merit, coupled with a feeble conception of worth in others) describes it as “a most useful work”.
You will find aphorisms (Predigested wisdom) aplenty, along with poems and quotes from other writers. Many of the entries reflect his views on politics (A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage), on religion (A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable) and lawyers (One skilled in circumvention of the law). The political ones are still remarkably relevant today.
There are also oddly prosaic words like kilt (A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland) and dentist (A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket) and custard (A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook).
Below, I've listed a few more of my favourite quotations (The act of repeating erroneously the words of another), but not all are quoted in full:
VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
ELECTOR, n. One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man's choice.
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
OVERWORK, n. A dangerous disorder affecting high public functionaries who want to go golfing fishing.
DICTATOR, n. The chief of a nation that prefers the pestilence of despotism to the plague of anarchy.
PATRIOTISM, n. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.
INVASION, n. The patriot's most approved method of attesting his love of his country.
PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
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.
FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
INNOCENCE, n. The state or condition of a criminal whose counsel has fixed the jury.
DICE, n. Small polka-dotted cubes of ivory, constructed like a lawyer to lie on any side, but commonly on the wrong one.
JUDGE, n. A person who is always interfering in disputes in which he has no personal interest. An official whose functions, as a great legal luminary recently informed a body of local law-students, very closely resemble those of God.
KANGAROO, n. An unconventional kind of animal which in shape is farther than any other from being the square of its base. It is assisted in jumping by its tail (which makes very good soup).
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.
ALONE, adj. In bad company.
CENSOR, n. An officer of certain governments, employed to suppress the works of genius. Among the Romans the censor was an inspector of public morals, but the public morals of modern nations will not bear inspection.
LIBERTINE, n. Literally a freedman; hence, one who is in bondage to his passions.
LIBERTY, n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions.
ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder… It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.
WHITE, adj. and n. Black.
ELOQUENCE, n. [1.] The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be.
OPTIMIST, n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.
OPTIMISM, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong… It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.
BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters.
CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth — two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.
Source and Imitator
You can access the whole thing here: www.thedevilsdictionary.com
It is of its time, so a few of the definitions do not sit comfortably with modern sensibilities.
There is also Rick Bayan's 1994 The Cynic's Dictionary, which I reviewed HERE.
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Read information about the authorAmbrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842-1914) 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 embraces an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, the theme of war, and impossible events.
Bierce disappeared in December 1913. He is believed to have traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution.
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