Fleeing west after being wounded in the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce carved out a career in San Francisco newspapers. His Civil War stories are among the darkest ever written, but he is best known for The Devil’s Dictionary., Bierce compiled this satiric take on English, word-by-word, in his weekly columns. Here is a selection.

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

Alone, adj. In bad company.

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


Congress, n., A body of men who meet to repeal laws.

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

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

Habit, n. A shackle for the free

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

Impunity, n., Wealth.

Liar, n., A lawyer with a roving commission..

Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy.

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

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

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

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

LISTSThe AtticComment