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  • Excerpts from ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ by Ambrose Bierce

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on February 2nd, 2008 (All posts by )

    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.

    Oliver Cromwell

    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.”

    Habeeb Suleiman

    Mr. Debs is a redundant citizen.

    Theodore Roosevelt


    One Response to “Excerpts from ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ by Ambrose Bierce”

    1. Tatyana Says:

      Ah, now it became clear why I experience shortage of adamants: I only have one corset!