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The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary Paperback – 31 Dec 2001

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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: 2.5 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 205,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Most readers and biographers have agreed with Schultz and Joshi that "The Devil's Dictionary" is 'quintessential Bierce.' For the serious student of Bierce's diabolical lexicon, their beautiful new edition . . . will be a delight."--"Sewanee Review"

About the Author

AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1914?) was one of nineteenth-century America's most renowned satirists. The author of short stories, essays, fables, poems, and sketches, he was a popular columnist and wrote for several San Francisco and London newspapers during his forty-year journalism career. DAVID E. SCHULTZ is a technical editor. He is coeditor, with S. T. Joshi, of both A Sole Survivor, a collection of Bierce autobiographical writings, and Lord of a Visible World, an autobiography-in-letters of H. P. Lovecraft. S. T. JOSHI is a freelance writer and editor. He is the editor of The Collected Fables of Ambrose Bierce and author of H. P. Lovecraft: A Life.

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Amazon.com: 32 reviews
55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
A very strange dictionary 7 April 2005
By Dan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Beautiful Mind 25 April 2006
By Phillip Jennings - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A classic 30 Oct. 2007
By M. Krol - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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
Bitter Bierce at his very best... 5 Dec. 2007
By AmericanMe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Cynic" - "A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be." 16 Sept. 2013
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Ambrose Bierce is one of the lesser-known luminaries of American letters. He was Mark Twain's contemporary, and in his withering scorn for human hypocrisy - especially among Americans - he equaled and maybe even exceeded Twain. His greatest contribution to our literary heritage is his "Devil's Dictionary", the acerbic entries for which Bierce began creating as part of a weekly newspaper column in 1881. He continued to add definitions in a desultory fashion for most of the remainder of his career.

When Bierce went to work for William Randolph Hearst's newspaper empire, Hearst forced him to change the name of his occasional "The Devil's Dictionary" to "The Cynic's Dictionary". Bierce later explained: "They (the publishers) won't have 'The Devil's Dictionary.' Here in the East the Devil is a sacred personage (the Fourth Person of the Trinity, as an Irishman might say) and his name must not be taken in vain." Hence, Bierce first published a book-length collection in 1906 as "The Cynic's Word Book". He published another version as "The Devil's Dictionary" in 1911. Neither contained all the definitions that Bierce had published in one form or another over a span of more than three decades. In this fine book, THE UNABRIDGED DEVIL'S DICTIONARY, editors David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi set out to remedy that, collecting within the covers of a single library-worthy book ALL of Bierce's definitions.

There is a scholarly eighteen-page introduction that discusses Bierce's definition-mongering in enough detail to satisfy the inordinately curious. There follows the heart of the book: 235 pages of definitions, in alphabetical order. (To many of his definitions Bierce adds illustrative stories, doggerel verse, and random musings.) Then there is an Appendix, consisting mostly of "supplementary" definitions that were found on clippings in an envelope in Bierce's handwriting. This is followed by nearly eighty pages of detailed "notes" or annotations to the various definitions. And finally there is a chart or table that indicates the various newspaper columns or other sources in which each definition appeared.

All of that minutiae is far too much for me. Indeed, just the section of definitions is too cumbersome and tedious to read from beginning to end. There is a lot of chaff, some of which no doubt has been turned worthless by the passage of time and the changing of aesthetic tastes. (With regard to "aesthetics", by the way, Bierce defined the term as "The most unpleasant ticks afflicting the race. Worse than wood-ticks.") But skimming through the definitions can be quite entertaining. Here are just a few of the highlights:

"Aborigines" - "Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize."

"Corporation" - "An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

"Descent" - "Going lower. Popularly used to indicate the existing generation is a peg worse than that which fathered it. Thus one Darwin justly discourses upon the superiority of the ancestral baboon in a melancholy essay, called 'The Descent of Man.'"

"Diplomacy" - "The patriotic art of lying for one's country."

"Equality" - "In politics, an imaginary condition in which skulls are counted, instead of brains, and merit is determined by lot and punished by preferment. Pushed to its logical conclusion, the principle requires rotation in office and in the penitentiary. All men being equally entitled to a vote, are equally entitled to office, and equally subject to conviction."

And of course there still are twenty-one more letters to go.
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