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The devil's due
Ambrose Bierce was of prime military age when the Civil War began, and he at once enlisted in an Indiana regiment of infantry. He fought bravely in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including Shiloh, which marked him emotionally for life. After the war he became a writer of short stories, including “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a perennial favorite in later anthologies of the genre. To pay the rent he practiced journalism, both regular reporting and columns of opinion and humor.
During more than two decades, he serialized what came to be called The Devil’s Dictionary, a compendium of sardonic observations on the human condition. Little escaped Bierce’s gimlet eye, starting with capitalism in the Gilded Age.
ABASEMENT, n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth or power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when addressing an employer.
DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver.
RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition.
WALL STREET, n. A symbol of sin for every devil to rebuke. That Wall Street is a den of thieves is a belief that serves every unsuccessful thief in place of a hope in Heaven.
Conceit got skewered.
SELF-ESTEEM, n. An erroneous appraisement.
BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
BORE, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
EGOTIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Human troubles started early.
BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters.
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.
Romance was willful delusion.
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
MALE, n. A member of the unconsidered, or negligible sex. The male of the human race is commonly known (to the female) as Mere Man. The genus has two varieties: good providers and bad providers.
FEMALE, n. One of the opposing, or unfair, sex.
Politics was a scam.
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.
PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary, patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.
VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
REFERENDUM, n. A law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion.
UN-AMERICAN, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.
Religion was inane.
CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
HEATHEN, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.
FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
PIETY, n. Reverence for the Supreme Being, based upon His supposed resemblance to man.
SAINT, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.
Intellectuals were ludicrous.
ACADEME, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.
ACADEMY, n. [from ACADEME] A modern school where football is taught.
ERUDITION, n. Dust shaken out of a book into an empty skull.
As for a particular band of the intellectual tribe:
HISTORIAN, n. A broad-gauge gossip.
HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.