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Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce

Publication Year: 2000

If we could only put aside our civil pose and say what we really thought, the world would be a lot like the one alluded to in The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary. There, a bore is “a person who talks when you wish him to listen,” and happiness is “an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.” This is the most comprehensive, authoritative edition ever of Ambrose Bierce's satiric masterpiece. It renders obsolete all other versions that have appeared in the book's ninety-year history.

A virtual onslaught of acerbic, confrontational wordplay, The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary offers some 1,600 wickedly clever definitions to the vocabulary of everyday life. Little is sacred and few are safe, for Bierce targets just about any pursuit, from matrimony to immortality, that allows our willful failings and excesses to shine forth.

This new edition is based on David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi's exhaustive investigation into the book's writing and publishing history. All of Bierce's known satiric definitions are here, including previously uncollected, unpublished, and alternative entries. Definitions dropped from previous editions have been restored while nearly two hundred wrongly attributed to Bierce have been excised. For dedicated Bierce readers, an introduction and notes are also included.

Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary is a classic that stands alongside the best work of satirists such as Twain, Mencken, and Thurber. This unabridged edition will be celebrated by humor fans and word lovers everywhere.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

CONTENTS

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pp. v-

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. vii-

We conducted most of our research at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University; Huntington Library and Art Gallery; Los Angeles Public Library; New York Public Library; New York University Library; Princeton University Library; San Francisco Public Library; and O. Meredith Wilson Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. ...

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INTRODUCTION

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pp. ix-xxix

Any writer of worth, no matter how large or varied his or her literary corpus, typically has a single work that encapsulates precisely his or her worldview and major themes or concerns. That piece may or may not be the writer's very best performance, but it is the one by which his or her essential thought can be most readily identified. Ambrose Bierce's "What I Saw of Shiloh" and "An Occurrence ...

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

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pp. xxxi-

The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

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A

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pp. 5-20

A. 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 ...

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B

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pp. 21-29

Baal, n. An old deity formerly much worshiped under various names. As Baal he was popular with the Phoenicians; as Belus or Bel he had the honor to be served by the priest Berosus, who wrote the famous account of the Deluge; as Babel he had a tower partly erected to his glory on the Plain of Shinar. From Babel comes our English word "babble." Under whatever name ...

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C

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pp. 30-47

Caaba, n. A large stone presented by the archangel Gabriel to the patriarch Abraham, and preserved at Mecca. The patriarch had perhaps asked the archangel for bread. Cab, n. A tormenting vehicle in which a pirate jolts you through devious ways to the wrong place, where he robs you. Cabbage, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a ...

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D

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pp. 48-61

Dad, n. A father whom his vulgar children do not respect. Dado, n. Anything decorative for which the aesthetes know no better name. Damn, v. A word formerly much used by the Paphlagonians, the meaning of which is lost. By the learned Dr. Dolabelly Gak it is believed to have been a term of satisfaction, implying the highest possible degree of mental tranquillity. ...

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E

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pp. 62-75

Eat, v.i. To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation and deglutition. "I was in the drawing-room, enjoying my dinner," said Brillat-Savarin, beginning an anecdote. "What!" interrupted Rochebriant; "eating dinner in a drawing-room?" "I must beg you to observe, monsieur," explained the

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F

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pp. 76-92

Fable, n. A brief lie intended to illustrate some important truth. A statue of Eve and the Apple was accosted by a hippopotamus on a show-bill. "Give me a bite of your apple," said the hippopotamus, "and see me smile." "I would," said Eve, making a rough estimate of the probable dimensions of the smile,

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G

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pp. 93-103

Gallows, n. A stage for the performance of miracle plays, in which the leading actor is translated to heaven. In this country the gallows is chiefly remarkable for the number of persons who escape it. Whether on the gallows high Or where blood flows the reddest, The noblest place for man to die— Is where he died the deadest.

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H

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pp. 104-115

Habeas Corpus, n. A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime. Habit, n. A shackle for the free. Hades, n. The lower world; the residence of departed spirits; the place where the dead live. Among the ancients the idea of Hades was not synonymous with our Hell, many of the most respectable men of antiquity residing there in a very

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I

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pp. 116-137

I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselves

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J

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pp. 138-140

J is a consonant in English, but some nations use it as a vowel—than which nothing could be more absurd. Its original form, which has been but slightly modified, was that of the tail of a subdued dog, and it was not a letter but a character, standing for a Latin verb, jacere, "to throw," because when a stone is thrown at a dog the dog's tail assumes that shape. This is the origin of the

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K

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pp. 141-144

K is a consonant that we get from the Greeks, but it can be traced away back beyond them to the Cerathians, a small commercial nation inhabiting the peninsula of Smero. In their tongue it was called Klatchy which means "destroyed." The form of the letter was originally precisely that of our H, but the erudite Dr. Snedeker explains that it was altered to its present shape to

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L

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pp. 145-156

Labor, n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B. Lace, n. A delicate and costly textile fabric with which the female soul is netted like a fish. Lacteal Fluid, n. (Reporterese.) Milk. Lady, n. A vulgarian's name for a woman. A Lieutenant-Governor of California and Warden of the State Prison once reported the number of prisoners under his care as "931 males and 27 ladies."

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M

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pp. 157-168

Ma, n. Mother, in the language of children. Contraction of mommer. Macaroni, n. An Italian food made in the form of a slender, hollow tube. It consists of two parts—the tubing and the hole, the latter being the part that digests. Mace, n. A staff of office signifying authority. Its form, that of a heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from dissent.

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N

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pp. 169-171

Namby-pamby, adj. Having the quality of magazine poetry. (See FLUMMERY. ) Nectar, n. A drink served at banquets of the Olympian deities. The secret of its preparation is lost, but the modern Kentuckians believe that they come pretty near to a knowledge of its chief ingredient. Juno drank a cup of nectar, But the draught did not affect her. Juno drank a cup of rye— Then she bade herself good-bye. ...

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O

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pp. 172-177

Oath, n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury. Oblivion, n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy

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P

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pp. 178-189

Pagan, n. A benighted person who prefers home-made deities and indigenous religious rites. Pain, n. An uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely mental, caused by the good fortune of another. Painting, n. The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing

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Q

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pp. 190-191

Queen, n. A woman by whom the realm is ruled when there is a king, and through whom it is ruled when there is not. Quill, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by an ass. This use of the quill is now obsolete, but its modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting Presence. Quiver, n. A portable sheath in which the ancient statesman and the aboriginal ...

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R

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pp. 192-204

Rabble, n. In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections. The rabble is like the sacred Simurgh, of Arabian fable—omnipotent on condition that it do nothing. (The word is Aristocratese, and has no exact equivalent in our tongue, but means, as nearly as may be, "soaring swine.") Rack, n. An argumentative implement formerly much used in persuading

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S

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pp. 205-222

Sabbath, n. A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh. Among the Jews observance of the day was enforced by a Commandment of which this is the Christian version: "Remember the seventh day to make thy neighbor keep it wholly." To the Creator it seemed fit and expedient that the Sabbath should ...

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T

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pp. 223-230

T, the twentieth letter of the English alphabet, was by the Greeks absurdly called tau. In the alphabet whence ours comes it had the form of the rude corkscrew of the period, and when it stood alone (which was more than the Phoenicians could always do) signified Tallegal, translated by the learned Dr. Brownrigg, "tanglefoot." Table d'Hôte, n. A caterer's thrifty concession ...

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U

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pp. 231-233

Ubiquity, n. The gift or power of being in all places at one time, but not in all places at all times, which is omnipresence, an attribute of God and the luminiferous ether only. This important distinction between ubiquity and omnipresence was not clear to the mediaeval Church and there was much bloodshed about it. Certain Lutherans, who affirmed the presence everywhere of

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V

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pp. 234-

Valor, n. A soldierly compound of vanity, duty and the gambler's hope. "Why have you halted?" roared the commander of a division at Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge; "move forward, sir, at once." "General," said the commander of the delinquent brigade, "I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into collision with the enemy." ...

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W

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pp. 235-240

Still, it is now thought by the learned that other agencies than the difference of the two alphabets may have been concerned in the decline of "the glory that was Greece" and the rise of "the grandeur that was Rome." There can be no doubt, however, that by simplifying the name of W (calling it "wow," for example) our civilization could be, if not promoted, at least better endured. ...

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X

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pp. 241-

X in our alphabet being a needless letter has an added invincibility to the attacks of the spelling reformers, and like them, will doubtless last as long as the language. X is the sacred symbol often dollars, and in such words as Xmas, Xn, etc., stands for Christ, not, as is popularly supposed, because it represents a cross, but because the corresponding letter in the Greek alphabet is

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Y

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pp. 242-243

Yankee, n. In Europe, an American. In the Northern States of our Union, a New Englander. In the Southern States the word is unknown. (See DAMYANK. ) Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments. Yesterday, n. The infancy of youth, the youth of manhood, the entire past of age. But yesterday I should have thought me blest To stand high-pinnacled upon the peak Of middle life and look adown the bleak ...

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Z

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pp. 244-246

Zany, n. A popular character in old Italian plays, who imitated with ludicrous incompetence the buffone, or clown, and was therefore the ape of an ape; for the clown himself imitated the serious characters of the play. The zany was progenitor to the specialist in humor, as we to-day have the unhappiness to know him. In the zany we see an example of creation; in the humorist, of

APPENDIX

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pp. 247-270

NOTES

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pp. 271-348

LIST OF APPEARANCES OF DEFINITIONS

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pp. 349-382

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 383-390

INDEX

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pp. 391-404


E-ISBN-13: 9780820326344
E-ISBN-10: 0820326348
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820321967
Print-ISBN-10: 0820321966

Page Count: 440
Publication Year: 2000

Edition: Unabridged