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The Devil’s Dictionary

By Ambrose Bierce.

Table of Contents Titlepage Imprint Author’s Preface The Devil’s Dictionary A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Colophon Uncopyright Imprint The Standard Ebooks logo.

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Author’s Preface

The Devil’s Dictionary was begun in a weekly paper in 1881, and was continued in a desultory way at long intervals until 1906. In that year a large part of it was published in covers with the title The Cynic’s Word Book, a name which the author had not the power to reject or happiness to approve. To quote the publishers of the present work:

“This more reverent title had previously been forced upon him by the religious scruples of the last newspaper in which a part of the work had appeared, with the natural consequence that when it came out in covers the country already had been flooded by its imitators with a score of ‘cynic’ books⁠—The Cynic’s This, The Cynic’s That, and The Cynic’s t’Other. Most of these books were merely stupid, though some of them added the distinction of silliness. Among them, they brought the word ‘cynic’ into disfavor so deep that any book bearing it was discredited in advance of publication.”

Meantime, too, some of the enterprising humorists of the country had helped themselves to such parts of the work as served their needs, and many of its definitions, anecdotes, phrases and so forth, had become more or less current in popular speech. This explanation is made, not with any pride of priority in trifles, but in simple denial of possible charges of plagiarism, which is no trifle. In merely resuming his own 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.

A conspicuous, and it is hoped not unpleasant, feature of the book is its abundant illustrative quotations from eminent poets, chief of whom is that learned and ingenius cleric, Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J., whose lines bear his initials. To Father Jape’s kindly encouragement and assistance the author of the prose text is greatly indebted.

—A. B.

The Devil’s Dictionary A

A is the first letter in every properly constructed alphabet. It is the first natural utterance of the human vocal organs, and is variously sounded, according to the pleasure and convenience of the speaker. In logic, A asserts and B denies. Assertions being proverbially untrue, the presumption would be in favor of B’s innocence were it not that denials are notoriously false. In grammar, A is called the indefinite article, probably because, denoting a definite number, it is so obviously a numeral adjective.


A cap of state wrought into the shape of two crowns, formerly worn by kings. Very petty monarchs had it made in the form of three crowns.


One who steals a whole herd of cattle, as distinguished from the inferior actor who steals one animal at a time⁠—a superior stock actor, as it were.


In architecture, the upper part of a column, upon which, in all good architecture, sits the thoughtful stork pondering unutterable things.


An African animal having three horns, two on the head and one on the nape of the neck by which to hang up the carcass after the head has been removed. In those varieties that are not hunted by man, this third horn is imperfectly developed or wholly wanting.


A certain person who is much in society, but whom one does not meet. A bad one.


To correct an erring friend or admonish a needy one. Of women the word abandoned is used in the sense of indiscreet.


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


Embarrassing circumstances placed outside a fort in order to augment the coy reluctance of the enemy.

Rubbish in front of a fort, to prevent the rubbish outside from molesting the rubbish inside.


A place where cattle slaughter kine. It is commonly placed at some distance from the haunts of our species, in order that they who devour the flesh may not be hocked by the sight of the blood.


A sounding brass above a tinkling cymbal.


A father who has made a vow not to be a husband.


A female father.


Abderian 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.


The Muslim ceremony of inspiring water through the nose before expiring prayer from the stomach.


An act whereby a sovereign attests his sense of the high temperature of the throne. The surrender of a crown for a cowl, in order to compile the shinbones and toenails of saints. The voluntary renunciation of that of which one has previously been deprived by force.

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