Sunday, June 13, 2010


I have been browsing through a book I first discovered in high school: Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary (1911). I remember sitting in a living room after school with other adolescent guys reading its definitions gleefully to one another with great ensuing hilarity. Re-reading it today, I find some of it offensive and some—particularly the casual racism—completely unacceptable. But there is good stuff, too. Here are some of the shorter definitions I particularly like:
Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Dictator, n. The chief of a nation that prefers the pestilence of despotism to the plague of anarchy.

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.

Homicide, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another—the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.

Hypocrite, n. One who, professing virtues that he does not respect, secures the advantage of seeming to be what he despises.

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.

Self-esteem, n. An erroneous appraisement.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, Dover, 1958. (there are several editions available at Amazon)

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