portrait of BierceAmbrose Bierce

Devil's Dictionary

1906

 

(A list of words and witty definitions makes us laugh at how ridiculous and peculiar we humans can be.)

 
All text except quotations is copyright 2001 by David Lahti, and represents his views alone.
Thanks to Encarta for the portrait above.
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Satirical illustration of the quack doctorCONTENTS:

Summary and Reflection

Tidbits of Significance

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Summary and Reflection

 

Combine a keen eye for the idiotic and the hypocritical, with a deadly wit. Add an arresting command of the English language. Then take away inhibitions that would lead to polite circumlocution and the softening of insults. The result is Ambrose Bierce, a character of author we haven't had in America before or since-- and not because we don't need him. On the contrary, though his pill is a big fat one, we'll be the better for swallowing it. He called the prescribed medicine Devil's Dictionary, but even the title is ironic, and calculated to horrify and confuse the very people who need the medicine the most. In fact it is precisely a legendary flaw of Satan's that riles Bierce: the arrogant gall of pretending to be something better than one is. Rather than a dictionary a devil would prefer, this is a dictionary that reveals the devil in each of us.

 

Ready yourselves, liberals and conservatives, old and young! Ambrose Bierce has a hell of a time at your expense, all of you. His subjects of ridicule range from meat-eating (fork, fratricide, trichinosis) to moaning on behalf of world peace (peace, war). Although he spends many more pages on typically male vices, he by no means refrains from a dose of misogyny (belladonna, frisky, frying-pan, gum, helpmate, hostility, inconstancy, real, refusal, weaknesses, witch, woman). He is skeptical of the worth of science (e.g., magnet, magnetism, molecule, Newtonian, observatory), although a few of his definitions would be of interest or amusement to biologists (abada, ostrich, pre-Adamite, rouge, weather). In fact, his realization of the calculating selfishness in us is part of a perspective on humanity that gives due notice to that beastly nature which is part of our evolutionary heritage (e.g., benevolence, evangelist, guilt, hypocrite, immoral, impartial, lapidate, prehistoric, rouge, self). Similarly the philosophers receive his taunts and jests (e.g., Cartesian, conscience, esoteric, peripatetic, philosophy, reality, reason, self-evident, soul). In particular he focuses attention on the concept of free-will, and the eternal debate between that concept and fate or predestination (e.g., decide, free-will, infralapsarian, intention, predestination).  His social commentary is often insightful (e.g., the entries for Indian, land, lawful, lawyer, plutocracy, politics, representative, republic, riches).

 

Perhaps his favorite subject, however, is religion. Free thinking is obviously his most cherished trait, and he frequently elaborates on the hypocrisy, irrationality, superstition, and general silliness he sees in religious faith, and in Christianity specifically (Christian, Christmas, evangelist, extinction, faith, freethinker, halo, heart, infidel, inundation, irreligion, magic, manna, mythology, Occident, orthodox, palace, piety, priest, rack, religion, reliquary, reservation, right, ritualism, tedium, trinity, worship, Zeus). In a few cases he makes satirical comments on Christianity by pretending to scoff at other religions (Elysium, Jove, Koran, Krishna, scriptures).

 

Bierce could never be perceived, however, as a creased-brow, preachy critic. He is a rollicking humorist who won't hesitate to laugh, and make us laugh. Many of his definitions are hilarious (e.g., birth, botany, Cerberus, macaroni, mayonnaise, palmistry, procession). Often a humorous tidbit lies buried in a definition (as when he mentions "the whole habitable earth and Canada" (man)), or in one of his many poems or stories to go with them (e.g., out-of-doors, Satan). In other places he is downright goofy (e.g., brandy, family, sauce). He expounds a theory that the nations of the heaviest drinkers tend to gain the most power (tope), and proposes that we pronounce the letter "w" as "wow" for consistency. After one entry he admits he does not know the definition (chemise), and another word he claims to have none (hash).

 

Along with his humor comes his clever wittiness (e.g., money, monument, platitude, principle). A skunk produces "music for the deaf" (polecat), as noise is "a stench in the ear". We so rarely hear the singular for "dice" because of the saying "never say die". A few amusing “saws” and “stories” are listed under these two entries. A favorite and impressive witticism of Bierce's is his invention or modification of words. Men go in for "temporary insaniting" when accused of beating their wives. He talks of "humaniacs" instead of humanitarians, "Shebrews" with Hebrews, and "illiterature" as opposed to literature. He explains to us the meanings of "malthusiasm" and "harangue-outang", proposes that "tedium" may have derived from the Latin Te Deum, and talks of monkeys in our genealogical trees. A referendum is said to test the "nonsensus of public opinion". "RIP" stands for "Reductus in pulvis" ("reduced to dust”). Old talkative folks have entered their "anecdotage".

 

Despite his frequent levity, however, the author does not seem to have been a happy man. This is perhaps not surprising, given all of the absurdity and injustice he was able to see and criticize, together with his inability to rely on the existence of any better world beyond this one. Bierce seems to have been depressed (gloom, pleasure, self-esteem, year). One cannot help but think the author is speaking from the heart in the definition of "humorist": "Lo! The poor humorist, whose tortured mind / Sees jokes in crowds, though still to gloom inclined."

 

A note on the text: The Devil's Dictionary was originally published serially beginning in 1881. The first collection in book form was called The Cynic's Word-book because of his newspaper's desire to avoid insult to religious sensibilities. Many of the serial publications were unavailable to Bierce when he was collecting definitions for the book, and so the 1906 Devil's Dictionary only contained a little over half of the definitions he had actually written. Ernest Jerome Hopkins, however, collected the remainder of the definitions in the early 1960s. The complete Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, containing 1,851 definitions, was published for the first time in 1967. Be sure, when buying the book, that it is the Hopkins enlargement and not the original abridged version.

 

Here are a few more gems (italicized entries are from the enlargement):

 

-Abada and Adam's Apple (good examples of faulty (and funny) functionality in biology)

-Ostrich (a charming jibe at natural theologians)

-Australia (joke on the practical irrelevance of theoretical disputes)

-Cannibal (funny take on lovers talk that relates to eating)

-Cartesian (potent critique on Cogito ergo sum!)

-Cupid (the Cupid baby image inappropriate as a god of love)

-Freethinker (good example of Bierce's own view. No subtlety about it!)

-Free-trade ((bad) argument for it.)

-Ghost (a question: why do ghosts always supposedly appear with clothing? Good example of several arguments against superstitions and astrology. See also Palmistry, Astrology)

-Goose (a goofy one-- A quill's writing exhibits the thought of the goose!)

-Griffin (a subtle and insightful jab at Creationism lies in his statement that the mule and griffin owe nothing to the creator as they are mixed creatures)

-Inadmissible (a very interesting and sensible argument about hearsay evidence-- it is inadmissible, but we use it all the time! In fact it is what religion is based on.)

-Interview, and Man (excellent examples of how after more than a century society and human nature are so much the same!)

-Land (another serious argument, this one a poignant perspective on property rights)

-Lexicographer (a great criticism of dictionaries as stifling)

-Out-of-Doors (at the expense of poets: nature can inspire any sentiment you wish!)

-Principle (can be confused with interest, i.e., in life as in investments. Good word-play.)

 

 Top of Bierce's Devil's Dictionary

 

 

Tidbits of Significance (Entries in normal type are from the 1911 publication of the book; entries in italics are from the 1967 Hopkins enlargement)

 

"…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."

-"Sardonic Preface" to the 1911 edition.

 

"Abasement, n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth or power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when addressing an employer."

 

"Abderian, adj. Aberian laughter is idle and senseless laughter; so called because Democritus, an idle and senseless philosopher, is said to have been born at Abdera, whence the word was hardly worth importing."

 

"Abdication, n… The voluntary renunciation of that of which one has previously been deprived by force."

 

"Abdomen, n. The temple of the god Stomach, in whose worship, with sacrificial rights, all true men engage."

 

"If woman had a free hand in the world's marketing the race would become graminivorous."

-from Abdomen.

 

"Abominable, adj. The quality of another's opinions."

 

"Abroad, adj. At war with savages and idiots. To be a Frenchman abroad is to be miserable; to be an American abroad is to make others miserable."

 

"Absence of mind is the cerebral condition essential to success in popular preaching."

-from Absence.

 

"Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion."

 

"Accomplice, n. One associated with another in a crime, having guilty knowledge and complicity, as an attorney who defends a criminal, knowing him guilty. This view of the attorney's position in the matter has not hitherto commanded the assent of attorneys, no one having offered them a fee for assenting."

 

"Accuracy, n. A certain uninteresting quality carefully excluded from human statements."

 

"Adonis, n. A comely youth, remembered chiefly for his unkindness to Venus. He has been unjustly censured by those who forget that in his time goddesses were only ten cents a bunch."

 

"Affianced, p.p. Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain."

 

"Apologize, v.i. To lay the foundation for a future offence."

 

"Archbishop, n. An ecclesiastical dignitary one point holier than a bishop.

If I were a jolly archbishop,

On Fridays I'd eat all the fish up-

Salmon and flounders and smelts;

On other days everything else.

-Judo Rem"

 

"Arrest, v.t. Formally to detain one accused of unusualness."

 

"Asperse, v.t. Maliciously to ascribe to another vicious actions which one has not had the temptation and opportunity to commit."

 

"Astrology, n. The science of making the dupe see stars."

 

"Attorney, n. A person legally appointed to mismanage one's affairs which one has not himself the skill to rightly mismanage."

 

"Babe or Baby, n. A misshapen creature of no particular age, sex, or condition, chiefly remarkable for the violence of the sympathies and antipathies it excites in others".

 

"Ballot, n. A simple device by which a majority proves to a minority the folly of resistance."

 

"Barometer, n. An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of weather we are having."

 

"Barrack, n. A house in which soldiers enjoy a portion of that of which it is their business to deprive others."

 

"Beggar, n. A pest unkindly inflicted upon the suffering rich."

 

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

 

"Benevolence, n. Subscribing five dollars toward the relief of one's aged grandfather in the alms house, and publishing it in the newspaper."

 

"Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain."

 

"Biography, n. The literary tribute that a little man pays to a big one."

 

"Book-Learning, n. The dunce's derisive term for all knowledge that transcends his own impenitent ignorance."

 

"Boundary, n. In politics, the imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other."

 

"Brandy, n. A cordial composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the-grave, two parts clarified Satan and four parts holy Moses!".

 

"Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others."

-from Calamity.

 

"Cartesian, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum-- whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum-- 'I think that I think, therefore I think that I am'; as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made."

 

"Cerberus, n. The watch-dog of Hades, whose duty it was to guard the entrance-against whom or what does not clearly appear; everybody, sooner or later, had to go there, and nobody wanted to carry off the entrance. Cerberus is known to have had three heads, and some of the poets have credited him with as many as a hundred. Professor Graybill, whose clerkly erudition and profound knowledge of Greek give his opinion great weight, has averaged all the estimates, and makes the number twenty-seven-a judgment that would be entirely conclusive if Professor Graybill had known (a) something about dogs, and (b) something about arithmetic."

 

"Chemise, n. Don't know what it means."

 

"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."

 

"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."

 

"Church, n. A place where the parson worships God ad the women worship the parson."

 

"Circumlocution, n. A literary trick whereby the writer who has nothing to say breaks it gently to the reader."

 

"Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones."

 

"Connoisseur, n. A specialist who knows everything about something and nothing about everything else."

 

"Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."

 

"Conversation, n. A fair for the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor."

 

"Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

 

"Cribbage, n. A substitute for conversation among those to whom nature has denied ideas. See EUCHRE, PEDRO, SEVEN-UP, etc."

 

"Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be."

 

"Dawn, n. The time when men of reason go to bed."

 

"…the golden goal

Attained-and found to be a hole!"

-from Dead.

 

"A leaf was riven from a tree,

'I mean to fall to earth,' said he.

The west wind, rising, made him veer.

'Eastward,' said he, 'I now shall steer.'

The east wind rose with greater force.

Said he: ''Twere wise to change my course.'

With equal power they contend.

He said: 'My judgment I suspend.'

Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,

Cried: 'I've decided to fall straight.'

'First thoughts are best?' That's not the moral;

Just choose your own and we'll not quarrel.

Howe'er your choice may chance to fall,

You'll have no hand in it at all."

-from Decide.

 

"Destiny, n. A tyrant's authority for crime and a fool's excuse for failure."

 

"Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic."

 

"Die, n. The singular of 'dice.' We seldom hear the word, because there is a prohibitory proverb, 'Never say die.'"

 

"Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country."

 

"Discussion, n. A method of confirming others in their errors."

 

"Disenchant, v.t. To free the soul from the chains of illusion in order that the lash of truth may draw blood at a greater number of points."

 

"Distance, n. The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep."

 

"Duty, n. That which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along the line of desire."

 

"Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding."

 

"Emetic, n. A substance that causes the stomach to take a sudden and enthusiastic interest in outside affairs."

 

"Envy, n. Emulation adapted to the meanest capacity."

 

"Beauty in women and distinction in men are alike in this: they seem to the unthinking a kind of credibility."

-from Epigram.

 

"The ancient philosophies were of two kinds-- exoteric, those that the philosophers themselves could partly understand, and esoteric, those that nobody could understand. It is the latter that have the most profoundly affected modern thought and found greatest acceptance in our time."

-from Esoteric.

 

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

 

"Executive, n. An officer of the Government, whose duty is to enforce the wishes of the legislative power until such time as the judicial department shall be pleased to pronounce them invalid and of no effect."

 

"Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel."

 

"Fatigue, n. The condition of a philosopher after having considered human wisdom and virtue."

 

"Forbidden, p.p. Invested with a new and irresistible charm."

 

"Foreign, adj. Belonging to another and inferior country."

 

"Fragment, n. In literature, a composition which the author had not the skill to finish."

 

"Fraud, n. The life of commerce, the soul of religion, the bait of courtship and the basis of political power."

 

"Free-will, O mortals, is a dream:

Ye all are ships upon a stream."

-from Free-Will.

 

"Frontispiece, n. A protuberance of the human face, beginning between the eyes and terminating, as a rule, in somebody's business."

 

"Genesis, n. The first of the five sacred books written by Moses. The evidence of that great man's authorship of this book and the four others is of the most convincing character: he never disavowed them."

 

"Gold, n… The word was formerly spelled 'God'-- the l was inserted to distinguish it from the name of another and inferior deity."

 

"Government, n. A modern Chronos who devours his own children."

 

"Each reckons greatness to consist

In that in which he heads the list."

-from Great.

 

"Guilt, n. The condition of one who is known to have committed an indiscretion, as distinguished from the state of him who has covered his tracks."

 

"Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels."

-from Gunpowder.

 

"Drayton speaks of a 'beautiful hag, all smiles,' much as Shakespeare said, 'sweet wench.' It would not now be proper to call your sweetheart a hag-that compliment is reserved for the use of her grandchildren."

-from Hag.

 

"Hammer, n. An instrument for smashing the human thumb".

 

"Happiness, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another."

 

"Hash, x. There is no definition for this word-nobody knows what hash is."

 

"Hatred, n. A sentiment appropriate to the occasion of another's superiority."

 

"(See, also, my monograph, The Essential Identity of the Spiritual Affections and Certain Intestinal Gases Freed in Digestion-- 4to, 687pp.)"

-from Heart.

 

"Heaven, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own."

 

"Historian, n. A broad-gauge gossip."

 

"Home, n. The place of last resort-open all night."

 

"Lo! The poor humorist, whose tortured mind

Sees jokes in crowds, though still to gloom inclined".

-from Humorist.

 

"The 'pleasures of the chase' depend

On this, as you'll agree:

When I and tiger in speed contend,

If I'm ahead or he."

-from Hunt.

 

"Husband, n. One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the plate."

 

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

 

"Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary."

-from I.

 

"Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling."

 

"Idleness, n. A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices."

 

"No deity could fill any of our requirements if handicapped with existence."

-from Idol.

 

"Immoral, adj. Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral. If man's notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of expediency; if they originated, or could have originated, in any other way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from, and nowise dependent on, their consequences-- then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind."

 

"Hearsay evidence is inadmissible because the person quoted was unsworn and is not before the court for examination; yet most momentous actions, military, political, commercial and of every other kind, are daily undertaken on hearsay evidence. There is no religion in the world that has any other basis than hearsay evidence. Revelation is hearsay evidence; that the Scriptures are the word of God we have only the testimony of men long dead whose identity is not clearly established and who are not known to have been sworn in any sense. Under the rules of evidence as they now exist in this country, no single assertion in the Bible has in its support any evidence admissible in a court of law."

-from Inadmissable, adj.

 

"Incompatibility, n. In matrimony a similarity of tastes, particularly the taste for domination. Incompatibility may, however, consist of a meek-eyed matron living just around the corner."

 

"Incorporation, n. The act of uniting several persons into one fiction called a corporation, in order that they may be no longer responsible for their actions."

 

"Indigestion, n. A disease which the patient and his friends frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the salvation of mankind."

 

"Inhumanity, n. One of the signal and characteristic qualities of humanity."

 

"Insane, adj. Addicted to the conviction that others are insane."

 

"Interview, n. In journalism, a confessional where vulgar impudence bends an ear to the follies of vanity and ambition."

 

"Invasion, n. The patriot's most approved methods of attesting his love of his country."

 

"Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law."

 

"Learning, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious."

 

"Longevity, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death."

 

"Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage…"

 

"Mad, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual."

 

"Male, n. A member of the unconsidered, or negligible sex. The male of the human race is commonly known (to the female) as Mere Man. The genus has two varieties: good providers and bad providers."

 

"Mammon, n. the god of the world's leading religion. His chief temple is in the holy city of New York."

 

"Man, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada."

 

"Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two."

 

"A multitude is as wise as its wisest member if it obey him; if not, it is no wiser than its most foolish."

-from Multitude.

 

"Occident, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful sub-tribes of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call 'war' and 'commerce'. These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient."

 

"For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it."

-from Oleaginous.

 

"Out-of-Doors, n. That part of one's environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes."

 

"The pretence is not altogether false; character can really be read very accurately in this way, for the wrinkles in every hand submitted plainly spell the word 'dupe'. The imposture consists in not reading it aloud."

-from Palmistry.

 

"Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing."

 

"Piety, n. Reverence for the Supreme Being, based upon His supposed resemblance to man.

The pig is taught by sermons and epistles

To think the God of Swine has snout and bristles.

-Judibras"

 

"Plutocracy, n. A republican form of government deriving its powers fro the conceit of the governed-in thinking that they govern."

 

"Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy."

 

"Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

 

"Polygamy, n. Too much of a good thing."

 

"Prehistoric, adj… Antedating the art and practice of perpetuating falsehood."

 

"Presidency, n. The greased pig in the field game of American politics."

 

"Priest, n. A gentleman who claims to own the inside track on the road to Paradise, and wants to charge toll on the same."

 

"Primitive, adj. People who believe that 'honesty is the best policy.'"

 

"Principle, n. A thing which too many people confound with interest."

 

"Promiscuous, adj. San Francisco society."

 

"Prudent, adj. A man who believes ten per cent of what he hears, a quarter of what he reads, and half of what he sees."

 

"Pulpit, n. An elevated box, into which the person gets, for fear that people would not otherwise notice his superiority over his congregation."

 

"Reality, n. The dream of a mad philosopher."

 

"Reason, v.i. To weigh probabilities in the scales of desire."

 

"Redemption, n. Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin, through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned."

 

"Religion, n. A goodly tree, in which all the foul birds of the air have made their nests."

 

"Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable."

 

"Representative, n. In national politics, a member of the Lower House in this world, and without discernible hope of promotion in the next."

 

"Republic, n. A form of government in which equal justice is administered to all who can afford to pay for it."

 

"Responsibility, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one's neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star."

 

"Revelation, n. A famous book in which St John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing."

 

"A gift from Heaven signifying, 'This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.' -John D. Rockefeller."

-from Riches.

 

"Riddle, n. Who elects our rulers?"

 

"Rite, n. A religious or semi-religious ceremony fixed by law, precept or custom, with the essential oil of sincerity carefully squeezed out of it."

 

"Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers."

 

"God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh."

-from Sabbath.

 

"Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited."

 

"Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. 'There is one favor that I should like to ask,' said he.

'Name it.'

'Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws.'

'What, wretch! You his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul-you ask for the right to make his laws?'

'Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself.'

It was so ordered."

-from Satan.

 

"…although Americans are 'endowed by their Creator' with abundant vice and folly, it is not generally known that these are reprehensible qualities…"

-from Satire.

 

"A bad workman quarrels with the man who calls him that."

-from Saw.

 

"What is worth doing is worth the trouble of asking somebody to do it."

-from Saw.

 

"Where there's a will there's a won't."

-from Saw.

 

"Self-Esteem, n. An erroneous appraisement."

 

"Self-Evident, adj. Evident to one's self and to nobody else."

 

"Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others."

 

"Sorcery, n. The ancient prototype and forerunner of political influence."

 

"By female suffrage is meant the right of a woman to vote as some man tells her to."

-from Suffrage.

 

"True, I believe the only sinner

Is he that eats a shabby dinner.

You know how Adam with good reason,

For eating apples out of season,

Was 'cursed.' But that is all symbolic:

The truth is, Adam had the colic."

-from Symbolic.

 

"Tedium, n. Ennui, the state or condition of one that is bored. Many fanciful derivations of the word have been affirmed, but so high an authority as Father Jape says that it comes from a very obvious source-the first words of the ancient Latin Te Deum Laudamus. In this apparently natural derivation there is something that saddens."

 

"Ugliness, n. A gift of the gods to certain women, entailing virtue without humility."

 

"Un-American, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish."

 

"Let us have a little less of 'hands across the sea,' and a little more of that elemental distrust that is the security of nations. War loves to come like a thief in the night; professions of eternal amity provide the night."

-from War.

 

"Witch, n. (1) An ugly and repulsive old woman, in a wicked league with the devil. (2) A beautiful and attractive young woman, in wickedness a league beyond the devil."

 

"Woman, n. An animal usually living in the vicinity of Man, and having a rudimentary susceptibility to domestication… The woman is lithe and graceful in its movements, especially the American variety (Felis pugnans), is omnivorous and can be taught not to talk."

 

"Worship, n… A popular form of abjection, having an element of pride."

 

"…the natives are monotheists, each having no other god than himself, whom he worships under many sacred names."

-(on the nature of the deities of Americans), from Zeus.

 

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Ape horrified at Darwin for claiming him to be related to humans 

 

Read this when...

…you want a few pithy bullets of wit and criticism to provoke a little thought and smiles before bed; or, you are in danger of taking yourself and life too seriously.

 

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If you like this, you'd also like...

 

(for the satirist:)

-Juvenal, Satires (early 2nd century).

-Samuel Butler, Hudibras (1663-1680).

-Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub (1704).

-Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889).

 

(for the chewer on sayings, conventional and unconventional:)

-Martial, Epigrams (86-98).

-Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack (1733-1758).

-Blaise Pascal, Pensées (d.1662).

-William Blake, "Proverbs of Hell" (1790-1793).

-Charles Lamb, "Table Talk" (1834).

 

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