The Devil's Dictionary 

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by Ambose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce wrote extensively of his experiences in the Civil War. He also wrote a great number of stories carried in numerous newspapers on the West Coast. One of these columns was collected and published as the Devil's Dictionary. In 1913, Bierce joined the revolutionary army of pancho Villa in Mexico's Revolution (click here), and died in the Ojinaga on January 11, 1914, at the age of 72.

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

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

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.

        G.J.


ABDOMEN, n.
The temple of the god Stomach, in whose worship, with sacrificial rights, all true men engage. From women this ancient faith commands but a stammering assent. They sometimes minister at the altar in a half-hearted and ineffective way, but true reverence for the one deity that men really adore they know not. If woman had a free hand in the world's marketing the race would become graminivorous.

ABILITY, n.
The natural equipment to accomplish some small part of the meaner ambitions distinguishing able men from dead ones. In the last analysis ability is commonly found to consist mainly in a high degree of solemnity. Perhaps, however, this impressive quality is rightly appraised; it is no easy task to be solemn.

ABNORMAL, adj.
Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested. Wherefore the lexicographer adviseth a striving toward the straiter [sic] resemblance of the Average Man than he hath to himself. Whoso attaineth thereto shall have peace, the prospect of death and the hope of Hell.

ABORIGINIES, n.
Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize.

ABRACADABRA.

By _Abracadabra_ we signify
An infinite number of things.
'Tis the answer to What? and How? and Why?
And Whence? and Whither? -- a word whereby
The Truth (with the comfort it brings)
Is open to all who grope in night,
Crying for Wisdom's holy light.

Whether the word is a verb or a noun
Is knowledge beyond my reach.
I only know that 'tis handed down.
From sage to sage,
From age to age --
An immortal part of speech!

Of an ancient man the tale is told
That he lived to be ten centuries old,
In a cave on a mountain side.
(True, he finally died.)
The fame of his wisdom filled the land,
For his head was bald, and you'll understand
His beard was long and white
And his eyes uncommonly bright.

Philosophers gathered from far and near
To sit at his feat and hear and hear,

Though he never was heard
To utter a word
But "_Abracadabra, abracadab_,
_Abracada, abracad_,
_Abraca, abrac, abra, ab!_"
'Twas all he had,
'Twas all they wanted to hear, and each
Made copious notes of the mystical speech,
Which they published next --
A trickle of text
In the meadow of commentary.
Mighty big books were these,
In a number, as leaves of trees;
In learning, remarkably -- very!

He's dead,
As I said,
And the books of the sages have perished,
But his wisdom is sacredly cherished.
In _Abracadabra_ it solemnly rings,
Like an ancient bell that forever swings.
O, I love to hear
That word make clear
Humanity's General Sense of Things.

        Jamrach Holobom

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

ABRUPT, adj.
Sudden, without ceremony, like the arrival of a cannon- shot and the departure of the soldier whose interests are most affected by it. Dr. Samuel Johnson beautifully said of another author's ideas that they were "concatenated without abruption."

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