Words Redefined: 37 Notable Entries in The Devil's Dictionary

John Herbert Evelyn Partington, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
John Herbert Evelyn Partington, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Ambrose Bierce was a celebrated journalist, storyteller and, above all, cynic. Bierce had a barbed wit, and he often used it to kick American culture square in the teeth. In 1911, he published The Devil’s Dictionary, a partial lexicon that sardonically redefines over 1000 words. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Academy, n. A modern school where football is taught.

2. Achievement, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.

3. Alone, adj. In bad company.

4. Beauty, n. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.

5. Behavior, n. Conduct, as determined, not by principle, but by breeding.

6. Brain, n. An apparatus with which we think what we think. That which distinguishes the man who is content to be something from the man who wishes to do something.

7. Cabbage, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.

8. Cat, n. A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle.

9. Childhood, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth—two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.

10. Circus, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men and women and children acting the fool.

11. Congratulation, n. The civility of envy.

12. Dentist, n.

A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.

13. Destiny, n. A tyrant’s authority for crime and a fool’s excuse for failure

14. Edible, n. Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.

15. Envelope, n. The coffin of a document; the scabbard of a bill; the husk of a remittance; the bed-gown of a love-letter.

16. Famous, adj. Conspicuously miserable.

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

18. Habit, n. A shackle for the free

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

20. Hope, n. Desire and expectation rolled into one.

21. Imagination, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.

22. Ink, n. A villainous compound…chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to blacken them and to make them white.

23. Life, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.

24. Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of human misunderstanding.

25. Mad, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action…at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that themselves are sane.

26. Man, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be.

27. Money, n. A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we part with it.

28. Noise, n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.

29. Perseverance, n. A lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success.

30. Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy.

31. Resident, adj. Unable to leave.

32. Road, n. A strip of land along which one may pass from where it is too tiresome to be to where it is too futile to go.

33. Rumor, n. A favorite weapon of the assassins of character.

34. Sauce, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted, a vice is renounced and forgiven.

35. Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

36. Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

37. Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

The Top 25 Bestselling E-Books on Amazon Right Now

Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

Right now, the ability to access books on your tablet or phone—without leaving your house or waiting days for an order to arrive in the mail—seems more magical than ever. With just about every book at your fingertips, however, it might be a little difficult to decide which one to choose.

You could ask for recommendations from friends and family, or use this website, which specializes in personalized reading lists based on books you’ve already read and loved. Or you could check out Amazon’s current list of bestselling e-books—updated by the hour—to see what the general population just can’t get enough of. As of this morning (March 31), Elle Marr’s highly anticipated thriller The Missing Sister sits in the number one spot; since its publication date isn’t until April 1, that means it’s gotten to the top of the list on pre-orders alone.

There are several other riveting thrillers on the list, including Dean Koontz’s latest, In the Heart of the Fire, and Christopher Greyson’s murder mystery The Girl Who Lived. Plenty of other genres are well-represented, too, from Stephen R. Covey’s classic self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to Jory John’s charming children’s story The Bad Seed.

And, of course, it would hardly seem like a bestseller list if Harry Potter didn’t make an appearance or two. According to this data, more than a few people are spending their quarantine time reading (or re-reading) J.K. Rowling’s beloved series—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are at number seven and number 17, respectively.

Look through March 31’s top 25 below:

  1. The Missing Sister by Elle Marr // $5
  1. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis // $13
  1. Wall of Silence by Tracy Buchanan // $5
  1. The Bad Seed by Jory John // $13
  1. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms // $2
  1. Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan // $5
  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey // $6
  1. When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal // $5
  1. Rough Edge by Lauren Landish // $4
  1. The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy // $1
  1. If You Tell by Gregg Olsen // $2
  1. Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker // $5
  1. The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson // $10
  1. Rain Will Come by Thomas Holgate // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Other Family by Loretta Nyhan // $5
  1. In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz // $2
  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng // $10
  1. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean // $8
  1. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson // $15
  1. Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley // $10
  1. Lift Her Up by T.S. Joyce // $1
  1. In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn // $5

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

This Website Will Tell You What Book to Read Next

WhatShouldIReadNext.com will help you avoid the existential dread of coming to the end of a book without another lined up.
WhatShouldIReadNext.com will help you avoid the existential dread of coming to the end of a book without another lined up.
m-imagephotography/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you’ve ever finished a book and thought, "What should I read next?" then the aptly-titled website WhatShouldIReadNext.com is for you. Enter in a title, author, or ISBN number, and the site analyzes reviews and ratings from other readers and recommends books.

This, as it turns out, is a really fun game for any bibliophile. Entering Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers leads to recommendations like The Secret Life of Lobsters, My Lobotomy, The World Without Us, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece, The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery, and The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Two Men Who Battled to Save Victorian London.

Pop in The Devil in the White City and the site suggests The Monster of Florence, The Anatomy of Deception, and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars. Enter The Stranger, and you’ll get titles like Antoine De St Exupery: The Life and Death of the Little Prince and William S. Burroughs’s The Cat Inside. A Tale of Two Cities returns recommendations for The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories by O. Henry and The African Queen by C.S. Forester. (Also on that list? The children’s classic The Stinky Cheese Man.)

The site doesn’t just serve up book recommendations, either: There’s also a blog, as well as a section that allows the user to find famous quotes and mark the ones they love. And there’s an option to create your own lists of books, which could include everything from a list of favorite books to a list of books you’ve read to a list of books you want to read. Signing up for the premium version of the site—which costs $9 a month, or $90 a year—will get you access to online book clubs, author interviews, and more.

While there are occasionally books that don’t return any recommendations (like The Inventor and the Tycoon) chances are, you’ll get recommendations that both delight and surprise you—and give you plenty of inspiration for titles to add to your "to be read" pile.

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