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The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary [Paperback]

Ambrose Bierce , David E. Schultz , S. T. Joshi

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Book Description

31 Dec 2001
"The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary" is a virtual onslaught of acerbic, confrontational wordplay, offering some 1,600 wickedly clever definitions to the vocabulary of everyday life. Little is sacred and few are safe, for Ambrose Bierce targets just about any pursuit, from matrimony to immortality, that allows our willful failings and excesses to shine forth. The "Unabridged Devil's Dictionary,"a satirical book first published in 1911, offers reinterpretations of terms in the English language which lampoon cant and political doublespeak. The Devil's Dictionary has inspired many imitations both in its day and more recently. Recent examples include The Computer Contradictionary. Ambrose Bierce was an iconoclastic literary genius and "The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary," a compilation of his satirical definitions, is a true American classic. Some may find Bierce sexist, nationalist and racist, but most readers will enjoy his malevolent skepticism and underlying rage against hypocrisy. Only two years after "The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary" was published in 1911, Ambrose Bierce disappeared after setting off for Mexico to join Pancho Villa's rebels against the corrupt dictatorial regime of Porfirio Diaz. His legacy is memorable.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; New edition edition (31 Dec 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820324019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820324012
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 14.5 x 2.6 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 918,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Ambrose Bierce (1842 -1914) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and his satirical dictionary, The Devil's Dictionary. The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work - along with his vehemence as a critic - earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce". Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. This style often includes a cold open, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, the theme of war, and impossible events. In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
70 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Satire on Society 22 Jun 2000
By Vishal Doshi - Published on
Ambrose Bierce, in this hilarious book, satirizes all aspects of human behavior. This lexicon that he has created provides often true insight in to the tacit meanings of otherwise benign words. For example, PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy. This book is a must-get.
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very strange dictionary 7 April 2005
By Dan - Published on
skep·tic also scep·tic (skptk)


1.One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally

accepted conclusions.

2.One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.


a.often Skeptic An adherent of a school of skepticism.

b.Skeptic A member of an ancient Greek school of skepticism, especially that of Pyrrho of

Elis (360?-272? B.C.).

[Latin Scepticus, disciple of Pyrrho of Elis, from Greek Skeptikos, from skeptesthai, to examine.

See spek- in Indo-European Roots.]

cyn·ic (snk)


1.A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.

2.A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.

3.Cynic A member of a sect of ancient Greek philosophers who believed virtue to be the only

good and self-control to be the only means of achieving virtue.

[Latin cynicus, Cynic philosopher, from Greek kunikos, from kun, kun-, dog. See kwon- in

Indo-European Roots.]

Such are the real dictionary definitions of the stance which Ambrose Bierce adopted in considering the world. Beginning in 1881 and continuing to 1906, he created a series of sardonic word definitions of his own. Many of these were collected and published as The Cynic's Word Book, which he later protested was "a name which the author had not the power to reject or happiness to approve." So in 1911, he pulled together a collection that was more to his own liking and called it The Devil's Dictionary. The entries are a tad uneven in quality, but most are amusing and some are great. Each reader will have his own favorites, some of mine are as follows :

ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous.

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.

BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

BORE, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.

CONSULT, v.i. To seek another's disapproval of a course already

decided on.

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.

DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the

growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This

dictionary, however, is a most useful work.

DISCRIMINATE, v.i. To note the particulars in which one person or thing is, if possible, more objectionable than another.

EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our

friends are true and our happiness is assured.

HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.

POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of

principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

And, my choice for the very best among them :

CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

By all means, read it and pick out your own; you're sure to find a few that tickle your fancy.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Mind 25 April 2006
By Phillip Jennings - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If truth is beauty, and beauty truth, this is one good looking book. As an aspiring cynic, finding this book was akin to Ahab finding the whale. (I have no idea what that means). I don't think this book could be written today. Most of Bierce's definitions have become accepted fact. The book belongs in the library of everyone who believes Political Correctness is the beginning of the end of the world. Without the ability to communicate honestly, we are doomed. If you don't agree, you're just a bigoted fool. (see Bierce definitions). A great, funny, lucid book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic 30 Oct 2007
By M. Krol - Published on
Still haven't found any real competitor for the Devils Dictionary.

Sheer honesty abounds. The insurance agent that came by my place rapidly deflated when I showed him the entry for "insurance" while (to his credit) acknowledged its veracity...

"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."

(followed by a vicious, fictitious and brilliant dialogue between an agent and perspective mark wherein said agent tries to overcome the mark's observation that by the agent's own actuarial tables a home owner without insurance would most likely save the full value of the house in premiums well before any loss... )

And that's just one of hundreds of essays. One of my intellectual heroes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bitter Bierce at his very best... 5 Dec 2007
By AmericanMe - Published on
Also known as "The Cynic's Workbook" this collection is classic and belongs in any library. Ambrose Bierce, like Mark Twain and few other of his contempories, had a biting wit that always left a mark.
Here is just a taste of his humor.

Philosophy: A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

Eulogy. Praise of a person who has either the advantages of wealth and power, or the consideration to be dead.

Good good stuff.
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