Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913) was an American journalist, short story writer and satirist. Today, he is best known for his satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary. Here are some examples:

A mineral frequently found beneath a corset. Soluble in solicitate of gold. 

  Irving Penn

BRIDE, n. 
A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her. 

 Alec Soth

An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility. 


The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep. 

  Weegee, The Rich Harassed by the Poor, c. 1940

A prostrating disease caused by a determination of the heart to the head. It is sometimes accompanied by a copious discharge of hydrated chloride of sodium from the eyes. 

Man Ray

That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured. 

 Alfred Kubin

An elastic band intended to keep a woman from coming out of her stockings and desolating the country. 

 Helmut Newton, A Gun for Hire, 1998

A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime. 

 Konrad Klapheck, The Lawmaker, 1969

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.

 Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1594

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.

 Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912

KORAN, n. 
A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures. 

A tall building on the seashore in which the government maintains a lamp and the friend of a politician.

Lawren Harris, Lighthouse, Father Point, 1930

MALE, n. 
A member of the unconsidered, or negligible sex. The male of the human race is commonly known (to the female) as Mere Man. The genus has two varieties: good providers and bad providers. 

Vasily Pukirev, The Unequal Marriage, 1862

A dead Quaker.

 Martin Kippenberger, Feet First, 1990

An unlocked door in the prison of Identity. It leads into the jail yard.

The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.

Pere Borell del Caso, Escape from the Critics, 1874

REDUNDANT, adj. Superfluous; needless; de trop. 
The Sultan said: "There's evidence abundant
To prove this unbelieving dog redundant."
To whom the Grand Vizier, with mien impressive,
Replied: "His head, at least, appears excessive."

William Blake, Cerberus

One of the Creator's lamentable mistakes, repented in sashcloth and axes. Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back.
"There is one favor that I should like to ask," said he.
"Name it."
"Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws."
"What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul—you ask for the right to make his laws?"
"Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself."
It was so ordered.

 Yue Minjun, Execution

An African insect (Glossina morsitans) whose bite is commonly regarded as nature's most efficacious remedy for insomnia, though some patients prefer that of the American novelist (Mendax interminabilis).

 John Singer Sargent, The Mosquito Net

The kind of civility that urban observers ascribe to dwellers in all cities but 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.

The owner of a powder mill
  Was musing on a distant hill—
      Something his mind foreboded—
  When from the cloudless sky there fell
  A deviled human kidney!  Well,
      The man's mill had exploded.
  His hat he lifted from his head;
  "I beg your pardon, sir," he said;
      "I didn't know 'twas loaded."

 Eric Drooker

A soldierly compound of vanity, duty and the gambler's hope.
"Why have you halted?" roared the commander of a division and 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."

Marcel Dzama
A ceremony at which two persons undertake to become one, one undertakes to become nothing, and nothing undertakes to become supportable.

 Zhang Peng, Red No. 6, 2007

ZEUS, n.
The chief of Grecian gods, adored by the Romans as Jupiter and by the modern Americans as God, Gold, Mob and Dog. Some explorers who have touched upon the shores of America, and one who professes to have penetrated a considerable distance to the interior, have thought that these four names stand for as many distinct deities, but in his monumental work on Surviving Faiths, Frumpp insists that the natives are monotheists, each having no other god than himself, whom he worships under many sacred names.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Incroyablement drôle et pertinent! J'admire vraiment votre travail

  3. This has become my favorite blog to date. Thank you. Love the painting of Snow White, but no artist listed?