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.

Give Your Morning Coffee a Literary Flair With Mugs Decorated With Quotes From Edgar Allan Poe, the Brontë sisters, and More

In addition to individual author mugs, there are also mugs decorated with famous first and last lines from classic books.
In addition to individual author mugs, there are also mugs decorated with famous first and last lines from classic books.
Unemployed Philosophers Guild/Amazon

Give your coffee (or tea) a little literary flavor with one of these mugs designed by the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. For between $16 and $24, you can purchase a mug that features quotes from Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl, Kurt Vonnegut, or the Brontë sisters, along with designs inspired by the mood of their works. Dahl's mug, for example, is fittingly whimsical, with illustrations by his longtime visual collaborator Quentin Blake; meanwhile, Poe's dreary, macabre design perfectly sums up that first cup of coffee at the beginning of the work week.

All Unemployed Philosophers Guild mugs are microwavable, and most are dishwasher-safe. Plus, a portion of all proceeds goes to supporting a variety of charitable organizations. If you’re looking for even more bookish drinkware, you can try out a mug featuring famous first or last lines from literature.

Greatest first lines in literature coffee mug.
This mug features the first lines of novels like Catch-22, Gravity's Rainbow, and more.
Unemployed Philosophers Guild/Amazon

If books aren't your thing, don’t worry—the Unemployed Philosophers Guild also sells mugs decorated with mathematical formulas, presidential slogans, and instructions for tying knots.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Party Like a Hobbit at Chicago’s Lord of the Rings Pop-Up Bar

Gollum and a Ringwraith loom near Bilbo's hobbit hole at Replay Lincoln Park's Lord of the Rings pop-up bar.
Gollum and a Ringwraith loom near Bilbo's hobbit hole at Replay Lincoln Park's Lord of the Rings pop-up bar.
Replay Lincoln Park

One does not simply walk into Mordor, but one does simply walk into The Lord of the Rings pop-up bar in Chicago—as long as you’re at least 21 years old, of course.

Replay Lincoln Park, known for elaborate themed pop-ups for Game of Thrones, South Park, and other entertainment franchises, has transformed its premises into a magical reproduction of Middle-earth aptly called “The One Pop-Up to Rule Them All,” open now through March 23.

Inside, you’ll be able to crouch under an outcropping of tangled tree roots while one of the dreaded Nazgûl lurks above you, high-five a grimacing Gollum, and snap photos with all your favorite Lord of the Rings characters.

nazgul at the lord of the rings pop-up bar at chicago's replay lincoln park
The Nazgûl like to party, too.
Replay Lincoln Park

You might want to skip elevenses to make sure you have plenty of room for a Hobbit-approved feast during your visit. The menu, catered by Zizi’s Cafe, features items like Fried Po-tay-toes, Lord of the Wings, Beef Lembas, and Pippen’s Popcorn.

ent replica at chicago's replay lincoln park pop-up bar
Say hello to a friendly Ent while you munch on "Pippen's Popcorn."
Replay Lincoln Park

According to Thrillist, there will be three different counters in the bar, each with its own specialty drinks. Head to The Prancing Pony for a second breakfast shot (maple whiskey, bacon, and orange juice), or take a trip to Minas Tirith to toss back a palantir shot, made of silver tequila and passion fruit purée. If you’re in the mood for a little dark magic, you can trek over to Mordor and try a “my precious” shot, a fusion of dark rum, orange liquor, and Cajun seasoning.

lord of the rings pop-up bar at chicago's replay lincoln park
The Eye of Sauron is watching you order another round of Mordor shots.
Replay Lincoln Park

For those of you who are happy to accompany your Tolkien-obsessed friends to the pop-up but aren’t exactly tickled at the sight of a moss-covered Ent replica yourselves, take heart in this added bonus: Replay Lincoln Park also boasts more than 60 free arcade games and pinball machines.

[h/t Thrillist]

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