Ambrose Bierce is the cackling king of cynics. A writer and adventurer, he was America’s answer to Oscar Wilde but vanished without a trace in 1913 while touring war-torn Mexico. Bierce happily accepted the danger, writing in one of his last letters: “If you hear of my being shot to rags, please know that I think that’s a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease or falling down the cellar stairs.” His mysterious disappearance inspired books and films, and remains unexplained to this day. But Bierce is also famed for his Devil’s Dictionary, which every person of wit and sophistication should be able to quote at will. Here are 12 Devil definitions to remember for your next dinner party.
Abstainer: A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage. Peace: In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting. Brain: An apparatus with which we think we think. Cat: A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle. Sweater: A garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly. Apologise: To lay the foundation for a future offence. Day: A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent. Telephone: An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance. Circus: A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool. Custard: A vile concoction produced by the malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow, and the cook. Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.