The Devil's Dictionary


The Devil's Dictionary
The Devil's Dictionary  
Cynics Word Book.jpg
The Cynic's Word Book
Author(s) Ambrose Bierce
Genre(s) Reference, satire
Publisher Neale Publishing Co.
Publication date 1911
Pages 272
ISBN 9780554353920

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.

Contents

History

Origins

The origins of the Devil's Dictionary can be traced to when Ambrose Bierce was a columnist in the San Francisco-based News Letter, a small weekly financial magazine which had been founded by Frederick Marriott in the late 1850s. The News Letter, although a serious magazine aimed at businessmen, contained a page set aside for informal satirical content, entitled The Town Crier. Bierce was hired as this page's editor in December 1868, writing with satire, irreverence and a lack of inhibition, thus becoming known as the 'laughing devil' of San Francisco.

Although the origins of the Devil's Dictionary are normally placed in 1881 (the point at which Bierce himself said it began) the idea started in August 1869 when Bierce, short of topics to write about and having recently bought a new copy of Webster's Unabridged dictionary, suggested the possibility of writing a "Comic Dictionary". He quoted the entry from Webster's for Vicegerents and italicised the section,

Kings are sometimes called God's vicegerents. It is to be wished they would always deserve the appellation

He then suggested how Noah Webster might have used his talent in a comic form and it was here that the idea of a Comic Dictionary was born.

The idea manifested itself in 1875 when Bierce, who had resigned at the Town Crier and had spent three years in London, returned to San Francisco in the hope of regaining his earlier journalistic post in the News Letter. He sent two submissions to the editor of the News Letter, both written under aliases, one of which was entitled The Demon's Dictionary and contained 48 words with new definitions in Bierce's trademark style of acerbic wit. Although forgotten by Ambrose Bierce in his compiling of the Devil's Dictionary, these entries were made available in the Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, which was first published in 1967.

Early development

The Devil's Dictionary did not reappear in Bierce's next column ("Prattle," in the magazine The Argonaut, of which he had become an editor in March 1877). Nevertheless, he used the idea of comic definitions in his columns dated November 17, 1877, and September 14, 1878.

It was in early 1881 that Bierce first used the title, The Devil's Dictionary, while editor-in-chief of another weekly San Francisco magazine, The Wasp. The "dictionary" proved popular, and during his time in this post (1881–86) he included 88 installments, each of 15-20 new definitions.

In 1887 Bierce became an editor in The Examiner and featured "The Cynic's Dictionary," which was to be the last of his "dictionary" columns until they reappeared in 1904, when they continued erratically before finishing in July 1906.

A number of the definitions are accompanied by satiric verses, many of which are signed with comic pseudonyms such as Salder Bupp and Orm Pludge; the most frequently appearing "contributor" is "that learned and ingenious cleric, Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J., whose lines bear his initials".

Publication

What had started as a newspaper serialization was first reproduced in book form in 1906 under the dubious title The Cynic's Word Book. Published by Doubleday, Page and Company, this contained definitions of 500 words in the first half of the alphabet (A-L). A further 500 words (M-Z) were published in 1911 in Volume 7 of The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, this time under the name of The Devil's Dictionary. This was a name much preferred by Bierce and he claimed the earlier 'more reverent' title had been forced upon him by the religious scruples of his previous employer.

In 1967, an expanded version of The Devil's Dictionary was published, following extensive research by Ernest J. Hopkins. This version included the definitions which had been left out by Bierce when his Collected Works were compiled, due to the fact that he was compiling it in Washington, D.C. but many of the entries were in San Francisco and unavailable following the earthquake of 1906. This updated version adds 851 definitions to the 1,000 which appeared in versions published in Bierce's lifetime; in particular, it includes the words preceding "Abasement" which were originally defined in the Demon's Dictionary.

Various editions are currently in print including ISBN 0-19-512627-0, by Oxford University Press, and ISBN 0-8203-2401-9. It is also available online through Project Gutenberg as well as through Wiktionary, a freely editable dictionary. The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary is in print in the Penguin Classics series, as ISBN 0-14-118592-9.

In 2000, S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz published The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary (ISBN 0-8203-2196-6), including previously uncollected, unpublished and alternative entries, restoring definitions dropped from previous editions and removing almost 200 wrongly attributed to Bierce. 14 Dec 2009 this work was brought out in paperback.

Examples

Conservative 
(n.) A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.[1]
Cynic 
(n.) A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.[2]
Gas meter
(n.) The family liar in the basement.
Lawyer 
(n.) One skilled in circumvention of the law.[3]
Marriage 
(n.) A household consisting of a husband, a wife, and two slaves, making in all, two.
Youth 
(n.) The Period of Possibility, when Archimedes finds a fulcrum, Cassandra has a following and seven cities compete for the honor of endowing a living Homer.
Youth is the true Saturnian Reign, the Golden Age on earth again, when figs are grown on thistles, and pigs betailed with whistles and, wearing silken bristles, live ever in clover, and cows fly over, delivering milk at every door, and Justice is never heard to snore, and every assassin is made a ghost and, howling, is cast into Baltimost!Polydore Smith[4]

Other dictionaries in the style of Bierce

Since Bierce's publication of the Devil's Dictionary, it has created a legacy in that a number of modernized variants have appeared. Inspired by Bierce, they both update and extend the collection of satirical definitions. In chronological order, these include:

The Wickedicionary explicitly marks the 100th anniversary of Bierce's 1911 title The Devil's Dictionary. Both the Chamber's Gigglossary and the Wickedictionary have the additional feature that reader contributions are included.

References

External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Devil's Dictionary — Des Teufels Wörterbuch (teils auch Aus dem Wörterbuch des Teufels; Original: The Devil s Dictionary) ist ein satirisches Buch von Ambrose Bierce aus dem Jahre 1911. Es definiert rund 1000 Wörter durch Aphorismen, die oft schwarzen Humor und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • The Devil is in the details — The idiom the devil is in the details refers to a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details.[1] Contents 1 Origin 2 Variants 3 References …   Wikipedia

  • The Devil's Heart — The Devil’s Heart is the title of a non canon Star Trek: The Next Generation novel by Carmen Carter, and the name of a legendary object of unsurpassed power and mystery which appears in that novel.[1] Contents 1 Plot summary 2 Object 2.1 …   Wikipedia

  • The Devil in Miss Jones — Not to be confused with 1941 comedy film The Devil and Miss Jones. The Devil in Miss Jones Theatrical release poster Directed by …   Wikipedia

  • Christian teaching about the Devil — For the Islamic devil, see Devil (Islam). See Satan for the Jewish view or see Devil for the devil in other religions, the term devil and the concept influenced by Christianity in general. See also Satan in literature and Satan in popular culture …   Wikipedia

  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea — is an idiom meaning a dilemma i.e., to choose between two undesirable situations (equivalent to between a rock and a hard place ). Its original meaning may be that of a nautical reference citing the deep blue sea and a devil a seam (where two… …   Wikipedia

  • between the devil and the deep blue sea —    If you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, you are in a dilemma; a difficult choice.   (Dorking School Dictionary)    ***    If you are between the devil and the deep blue sea, you are in a situation where there are two equally …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • better the devil you know —    This is the shortened form of the full idiom, better the devil you know than the devil you don t , and means that it is often better to deal with someone or something you are familiar with and know, even if they are not ideal, than take a risk …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • let the devil take the hindmost —    This idiom means that you should think of yourself and not be concerned about other people; look after yourself and let the devil take the hindmost.   (Dorking School Dictionary) …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • speak of the devil! —    If you are talking about someone and they happen to walk in, you can use this idiom as a way of letting them know you were talking about them.   (Dorking School Dictionary)    ***    This is said to refer to a person who appears just when… …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.