The Devil's Dictionary is a satirical "reference" book written by Ambrose Bierce. The book offers reinterpretations of terms in the English language, lampooning cant and political doublespeak, as well as other aspects of human foolishness and frailty. It was originally published in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book before being retitled in 1911. Modern "unabridged" versions that include Bierce "definitions" that were for various reasons missed by earlier editions continue to be popular a century later.
ARCHITECT, n. One who drafts a plan of your house, and plans a draft of your money.
GARGOYLE, n. A rain-spout projecting from the eaves of mediaeval buildings, commonly fashioned into a grotesque caricature of some personal enemy of the architect or owner of the building. This was especially the case in churches and ecclesiastical structures generally, in which the gargoyles presented a perfect rogues' gallery of local heretics and controversialists. Sometimes when a new dean and chapter were installed the old gargoyles were removed and others substituted having a closer relation to the private animosities of the new incumbents.
ART, n. This word has no definition. Its origin is related as follows by the ingenious Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.
One day a wag—what would the wretch be at?— Shifted a letter of the cipher RAT, And said it was a god's name! Straight arose Fantastic priests and postulants (with shows, And mysteries, and mummeries, and hymns, And disputations dire that lamed their limbs) To serve his temple and maintain the fires, Expound the law, manipulate the wires. Amazed, the populace that rites attend, Believe whate'er they cannot comprehend, And, inly edified to learn that two Half-hairs joined so and so (as Art can do) Have sweeter values and a grace more fit Than Nature's hairs that never have been split, Bring cates and wines for sacrificial feasts, And sell their garments to support the priests.
BATH, n. A kind of mystic ceremony substituted for religious worship, with what spiritual efficacy has not been determined.
The man who taketh a steam bath He loseth all the skin he hath, And, for he's boiled a brilliant red, Thinketh to cleanliness he's wed, Forgetting that his lungs he's soiling With dirty vapors of the boiling.
GEOGRAPHER, n. A chap who can tell you offhand the difference between the outside of the world and the inside. Habeam, geographer of wide reknown, Native of Abu-Keber's ancient town, In passing thence along the river Zam To the adjacent village of Xelam, Bewildered by the multitude of roads, Got lost, lived long on migratory toads, Then from exposure miserably died, And grateful travelers bewailed their guide. Henry Haukhorn
HOUSE, n. A hollow edifice erected for the habitation of man, rat, mouse, beetle, cockroach, fly, mosquito, flea, bacillus and microbe. House of Correction, a place of reward for political and personal service, and for the detention of offenders and appropriations. House of God, a building with a steeple and a mortgage on it. House-dog, a pestilent beast kept on domestic premises to insult persons passing by and appal the hardy visitor. House-maid, a youngerly person of the opposing sex employed to be variously disagreeable and ingeniously unclean in the station in which it has pleased God to place her.
HOUSELESS, adj. Having paid all taxes on household goods.
LECTURER, n. One with his hand in your pocket, his tongue in your ear and his faith in your patience.
OUT-OF-DOORS, n. That part of one's environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes. Chiefly useful to inspire poets.
PAINTING, n. The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic. Formerly, painting and sculpture were combined in the same work: the ancients painted their statues. The only present alliance between the two arts is that the modern painter chisels his patrons.
New York. Its commonest expression is heard in the words, "I beg your pardon," and it is not consistent with disregard of the rights of others.
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