The Devil’s Dictionary – Giving Words New Meanings

25 Definitions From The Devil’s Dictionary By Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce ph - Topham _ Cordon PressAmbrose Bierce (1842-1913?) was the cynic’s cynic. A writer and reporter of immense talent, Bierce served in the Union army during the American Civil War and was seriously wounded in the head. Bierce’s most famous work is the short war story “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.”

Satiric and biting in his verse, Bierce first published The Cynic’s Word Book in 1906 which contained uninhibited definitions of words from A-L. The second half of the work containing words from M-Z was published as The Devil’s Dictionary in 1911, which was the title Bierce preferred. It has been in print now for over 100 years and many of it’s tongue-in-cheek definitions are still quoted today. It is now in the public domain, so the book is available online for free and worth reading.

Bierce traveled to Mexico in 1913 to witness the Mexican Civil War and vanished without a trace.

Here are 25 of the best definitions from The Devil’s Dictionary:

APOLOGIZE, v.i.  To lay the foundation for a future offence.
BELLADONNA, n.  In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly
poison.  A striking example of the essential identity of the two
CAPITAL, n.  The seat of misgovernment.  That which provides the 
fire, the pot, the dinner, the table and the knife and fork for
the anarchist; the part of the repast that himself supplies is
the disgrace before meat.
CHRISTIAN, n.  One who believes that the New Testament is a 
divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of 
of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so  
far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
DIPLOMACY, n.  The patriotic art of lying for one's country.
FAITH, n.  Belief without evidence in what is told by one who
speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
FRIENDLESS, adj.  Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of 
fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.
HAPPINESS, n.  An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating
the misery of another.
IDIOT, n.  A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence
in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.  The 
Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought
or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole."  He has the  
last word in everything; his decision is unappealable.  He sets  
the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of   
speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.
IMPUNITY, n.  Wealth.
INSURANCE, n.  An ingenious modern game of chance in which the 
player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he 
is beating the man who keeps the table.
LAWYER, n.  One skilled in circumvention of the law.
LITIGATION, n.  A machine which you go into as a pig and come out
of as a sausage.
MAUSOLEUM, n.  The final and funniest folly of the rich.
NEPOTISM, n.  Appointing your grandmother to office for the good
of the party.
OVERWORK, n.  A dangerous disorder affecting high public 
functionaries who want to go fishing.
PEACE, n.  In international affairs, a period of cheating between 
two periods of fighting.
PIG, n.  An animal (Porcus omnivorus) closely allied to the 
human race by the splendor and vivacity of its appetite, 
which, however, is inferior in scope, for it sticks at pig.
POLITICS, n.  A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of
principles.  The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
POSITIVE, adj.  Mistaken at the top of one's voice.
PRAY, v.  To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in 
behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
PREHISTORIC, adj.  Belonging to an early period and a museum.
Antedating the art and practice of perpetuating falsehood.
SELF-ESTEEM, n.  An erroneous appraisement.
SELFISH, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of 
TAKE, v.t.  To acquire, frequently by force but preferably by 

4 thoughts on “The Devil’s Dictionary – Giving Words New Meanings

  1. Soren k

    Good stuff .mutual friend introduced me to the site. Btw. Your robot detector is flawed. 27 comes after 14 as well. As does 14.2.
    The question presupposes only one number comes after 14. Perhaps β€œwhat whole number (integer) is contiguous and proceeds 14?”

    Just being in the spirit of the post. Be well.

    1. B.P.

      Good point! I’ll re-word the spam quiz. If I put in “contiguous” or “integer” in the “quiz,” I’m afraid one quarter of Americans would be confused. Maybe that would be a good thing, it might cut down on inane comments.

  2. debb lavoie

    New to this blogging , and would love to follow you. I can’t find a way to enter your blog. Help πŸ™‚ Love your section on books. I am looking for tidbits about books.


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