The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce was published almost a century ago, but it makes for enjoyable reading. Bierce really merits a post of his own, for now just some excerpts from the DD at Project Gutenberg:
ABDICATION, n. An act whereby a sovereign attests his sense of the
high temperature of the throne:
Poor Isabella’s Dead, whose abdication
Set all tongues wagging in the Spanish nation.
For that performance ’twere unfair to scold her:
She wisely left a throne too hot to hold her.
To History she’ll be no royal riddle —
Merely a plain parched pea that jumped the griddle.
ABRIDGE, v.t. To shorten.
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for
people to abridge their king, a decent respect for the opinions of
mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel
them to the separation.
ADAMANT, n. A mineral frequently found beneath a corset. Soluble in
solicitate of gold.
APOSTATE, n. A leech who, having penetrated the shell of a turtle
only to find that the creature has long been dead, deems it expedient
to form a new attachment to a fresh turtle.
BACCHUS, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse
for getting drunk.
Is public worship, then, a sin,
That for devotions paid to Bacchus
The lictors dare to run us in,
And resolutely thump and whack us?
BEGGAR, n. One who has relied on the assistance of his friends.
BENEFACTOR, n. One who makes heavy purchases of ingratitude, without,
however, materially affecting the price, which is still within the
means of all.
BONDSMAN, n. A fool who, having property of his own, undertakes to
become responsible for that entrusted to another to a third.
Philippe of Orleans wishing to appoint one of his favorites, a
dissolute nobleman, to a high office, asked him what security he would
be able to give. “I need no bondsmen,” he replied, “for I can give
you my word of honor.” “And pray what may be the value of that?”
inquired the amused Regent. “Monsieur, it is worth its weight in gold.”
EPITAPH, n. An inscription on a tomb, showing that virtues acquired
by death have a retroactive effect. Following is a touching example:
Here lie the bones of Parson Platt,
Wise, pious, humble and all that,
Who showed us life as all should live it;
Let that be said — and God forgive it!
HAND, n. A singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and
commonly thrust into somebody’s pocket.
HARANGUE, n. A speech by an opponent, who is known as an harrangue-
HOURI, n. A comely female inhabiting the Mohammedan Paradise to make
things cheery for the good Mussulman, whose belief in her existence
marks a noble discontent with his earthly spouse, whom he denies a
soul. By that good lady the Houris are said to be held in deficient
OWE, v. To have (and to hold) a debt. The word formerly signified
not indebtedness, but possession; it meant “own,” and in the minds of
debtors there is still a good deal of confusion between assets and
PAINTING, n. The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and
exposing them to the critic.
Formerly, painting and sculpture were combined in the same work:
the ancients painted their statues. The only present alliance between
the two arts is that the modern painter chisels his patrons.
REDUNDANT, adj. Superfluous; needless; _de trop_.
The Sultan said: “There’s evidence abundant
To prove this unbelieving dog redundant.”
To whom the Grand Vizier, with mien impressive,
Replied: “His head, at least, appears excessive.”
Mr. Debs is a redundant citizen.