Old School Thursdays: The Cynic’s Word Book

From 2008 when I went to a book fair organised by Lifeline and bought a ridiculous amount of books (it was bliss).

One of the books I purchased at the Book Fair was The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce originally titled as The Cynic’s Word Book.

The Devil’s Dictionary begun in San Francisco’s News Letter  in 1881 and continued sporadically until 1906 when parts of it were published in covers and titled The Cynic’s Word Book. For more information about the creator and history I suggest checking out the Wiki article.

It is a satirical book and due to when it was written and the views of it’s time there are quite a few definitions that are sexist and racist which is unfortunate. Then again, classic literature usually reflects the period it is written in, so it’s expected that what started out as a satirical piece in a newspaper to also include those views. I found it entertaining for the most part, especially as definitions also included poetry and quotes. It’s one of those books that you really have to read with an open mind and probably only if you have a certain sense of humour to appreciate some of the definitions.

Here’s a list of definitions from each letter of the alphabet (besides X) and if you’d like to read more check out The Devil’s Dictionary.com which lists a small amount of definitions.

    • Abattoir, n. A place where cattle slaughter kine. It is commonly placed at some distance from the haunts of other species, in order that they who devour the flesh may not be shocked by the sight of the blood.
    • Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
    • Critic, n. A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him.
    • Diplomacy, n. The art and business of lying for one’s country.
    • English, n. A language so haughty and reserved that few writers succeed in getting on terms of familiarity with it.
    • Forgetfulness, n. A gift of God bestowed upon doctors in compensation for their destitution of conscience.
    • Gout, n. A physician’s name for the rheumatism of a rich patient.
    • Horse, n. The Founder and conservator of civilisation.
    • Ignoramus, n. A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.
    • Jealous, adj. Unduly concerned about the preservation of that which can be lost only if not worth keeping.
    • Kindness, n. A brief preface to ten volumes of exaction.
    • Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
    • Monday, n. In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.
    • November, n. The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.
    • Omen, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.
    • Pastime, n. A device for promoting dejection. Gentle exercise for intellectual debility.
    • Queen, n. A woman by whom the realm is ruled when there is a king, and through whom it is ruled when there is not.
    • Regret, n. The sediment in the cup of life
    • Sycophant, n. One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor.
    • Talk, v.t. To commit an indiscretion without temptation, from an impulse without purpose.
    • Ultimatum, n. In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.
    • Vanity, n. The tribute of a fool to the worth of the nearest ass.
    • Wit, n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.
    • 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.
    • Zeal, n. A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced. A passion that goeth before a sprawl.

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