Selected excerpts from “Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce. Read the full Quill story on his intriguing life and death.
ALLIANCE, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.
BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
CONSUL, n. In American politics, a person who having failed to secure an office from the people is given one by the Administration on condition that he leave the country.
DAY, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent.
DICTATOR, n. The chief of a nation that prefers the pestilence of despotism to the plague of anarchy.
FRIENDSHIP, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.
GUILLOTINE, n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.
HEARSE, n. Death’s baby-carriage.
HEAVEN, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
HUSBAND, n. One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the plate.
IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.
IMMIGRANT, n. An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.
IMPUNITY, n. Wealth.
INFIDEL, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.
INK, n. A villainous compound of tannogallate of iron, gum-arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime.
INSURANCE, n. An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.
LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
LIAR, n. A lawyer with a roving commission.
LICKSPITTLE, n. A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper.
LIFE, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.
LITIGATION, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.
MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be.
MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
MISDEMEANOR, n. An infraction of the law having less dignity than a felony and constituting no claim to admittance into the best criminal society.
NEPOTISM, n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.
NOVEL, n. A short story padded.
ONCE, adv. Enough.
OPPOSITION, n. In politics the party that prevents the Government from running amuck by hamstringing it.
PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
PEACE, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
PLAGIARIZE, v. To take the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read.
POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.
PRESIDENCY, n. The greased pig in the field game of American politics.
QUILL, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by an ass.
REBEL, n. A proponent of a new misrule who has failed to establish it.
REPORTER, n. A writer who guesses his way to the truth and dispels it with a tempest of words.
REPRESENTATIVE, n. In national politics, a member of the Lower House in this world, and without discernible hope of promotion in the next.
RIOT, n. A popular entertainment given to the military by innocent bystanders.
RUMOR, n. A favorite weapon of the assassins of character.
SENATE, n. A body of elderly gentlemen charged with high duties and misdemeanors.
TWICE, adv. Once too often.
ULTIMATUM, n. In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.
VIRTUES, n.pl. Certain abstentions.
VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
WAR, n. A by-product of the arts of peace.
YEAR, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.
ZEAL, n. A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced.