Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was a wickedly funny guy. I suspect that one of the main reasons for his sharp wit was that his middle name was Gwinnett, but that is mere conjecture on my part. Ambrose enjoyed a successful if not terribly lucrative writing career as an editor, short story writer, journalist, and satirist. The Devil’s Dictionary was begun in a weekly paper in 1881, and was revived sporadically until 1906. In 1911, he put it all together for the first time in its final form. The Devil’s Dictionary has long been a favorite of mine, and I was reminded of it this morning. Since I then spent my ferry ride reading entries from the DD and cracking up (skipping the all-important ferry nap), it is a shoe-in for today’s Beautiful Thing.
The website is very bare bones, but very functional. Like all dictionaries, it’s divided alphabetically. I’ve started you off with a few highlights, but I recommend you peruse it all at your leisure. It employs some fairly lofty vocabulary words (I’d keep an actual dictionary handy), but it’s clever as hell. An adamant cynic, Ambrose reviles everyone equally and makes fun of men and women, of politics, of religions, of wealth and of poverty. I think (I hope) it’s impossible to be offended reading him because everyone gets the same harsh treatment.
I’ve listed below only the tiniest selection of definitions because I really want you to explore on your own. And feel free to post your faves in the comments below!
ADAM’S APPLE, n. A protuberance on the throat of a man, thoughtfully provided by Nature to keep the rope in place.
BORE, n.: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
BRIDE, n. – A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her
CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
HERS, pron. His.
INFANCY, n. The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, “Heaven lies about us.” The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward.
POSITIVE, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one’s voice.
SELFISH, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.
SWEATER, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.
TWICE, adv. Once too often.
YEAR, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.
If you prefer to absorb him a little at a time like I do, the free e-book can be gotten here.