A Devil's Dictionary Sampler, Part 2
by Ambrose Bierce
To open a discussion on this article, please use the contact page to provide your comments.
Man, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.
Manicheism, n. The ancient Persian doctrine of an incessant warfare between Good and Evil. When Good gave up the fight the Persians joined the victorious Opposition.Manna, n. A food miraculously given to the Israelites in the wilderness. When it was no longer supplied to them they settled down and tilled the soil, fertilizing it, as a rule, with the bodies of the original occupants.
Monday, n In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.
Moral, adj. Conforming to a local and mutable standard of right. Having the quality of general expediency.
Mythology, n. The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.
It is sayd there be a raunge of mountaynes in the Easte, on one syde of the which certayn conducts are immorall, yet on the other syde they are holden in good esteeme; wherebye the mountayneer is much conveenyenced, for it is given to him to goe downe eyther way and act as it shall suite his moode, withouten offence.
Nectar, n. A drink served at banquets of the Olympian deities. The secret of its preparation is lost, but the modern Kentuckians believe that they come pretty near to a knowledge of its chief ingredient.
Juno drank a cup of nectar,
But the draught did not affect her.
Juno drank a cup of rye --
Then she bad herself good-bye.
Nirvana, n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to understand it.
Non-combatant, n. A dead Quaker.
Noumenon, n. That which exists, as distinguished from that which merely seems to exist, the latter being a phenomenon. The noumenon is a bit difficult to locate; it can be apprehended only be a process of reasoning -- which is a phenomenon. Nevertheless, the discovery and exposition of noumena offer a rich field for what Lewes calls "the endless variety and excitement of philosophic thought." Hurrah (therefore) for the noumenon!
Oath, n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury.
Olympian, n. Relating to a mountain in Thessaly, once inhabited by gods, now a repository of yellowing newspapers, beer bottles and mutilated sardine cans, attesting the presence of the tourist and his appetite.
Omen, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.
Optimism, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof -- an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.
Orthodox, n. An ox wearing the popular religious joke.
Palace, n. A fine and costly residence, particularly that of a great official. The residence of a high dignitary of the Christian Church is called a palace; that of the Founder of his religion was known as a field, or wayside. There is progress.
Palmistry, n. The 947th method (according to Mimbleshaw's classification) of obtaining money by false pretences. It consists in "reading character" in the wrinkles made by closing the hand. The pretence is not altogether false; character can really be read very accurately in this way, for the wrinkles in every hand submitted plainly spell the word "dupe." The imposture consists in not reading it aloud.
Pantheism, n. The doctrine that everything is God, in contradistinction to the doctrine that God is everything.
Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.
Phrenology, n. The science of picking the pocket through the scalp. It consists in locating and exploiting the organ that one is a dupe with.
Piety, n. Reverence for the Supreme Being, based upon His supposed resemblance to man.
The pig is taught by sermons and epistles
To think the God of Swine has snout and bristles.
Polygamy, n. A house of atonement, or expiatory chapel, fitted with several stools of repentance, as distinguished from monogamy, which has but one.
Positivism, n. A philosophy that denies our knowledge of the Real and affirms our ignorance of the Apparent. Its longest exponent is Comte, its broadest Mill and its thickest Spencer.
Pre-Adamite, n. One of an experimental and apparently unsatisfactory race of antedated Creation and lived under conditions not easily conceived. Melsius believed them to have inhabited "the Void" and to have been something intermediate between fishes and birds. Little its known of them beyond the fact that they supplied Cain with a wife and theologians with a controversy.
Predestination, n. The doctrine that all things occur according to programme. This doctrine should not be confused with that of foreordination, which means that all things are programmed, but does not affirm their occurrence, that being only an implication from other doctrines by which this is entailed. The difference is great enough to have deluged Christendom with ink, to say nothing of the gore. With the distinction of the two doctrines kept well in mind, and a reverent belief in both, one may hope to escape perdition if spared.
Presbyterian, n. One who holds the conviction that the government authorities of the Church should be called presbyters.
Primate, n. The head of a church, especially a State church supported by involuntary contributions. The Primate of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, an amiable old gentleman, who occupies Lambeth Palace when living and Westminster Abbey when dead. He is commonly dead.
Prophecy, n. The art and practice of selling one's credibility for future delivery.
Rational, adj. Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
Radicalism, n. The conservatism of to-morrow injected into the affairs of to-day.
Reality, n. The dream of a mad philosopher. That which would remain in the cupel if one should assay a phantom. The nucleus of a vacuum.
Reasonable, adj. Accessible to the infection of our own opinions. Hospitable to persuasion, dissuasion and evasion.
Rector, n. In the Church of England, the Third Person of the parochial Trinity, the Cruate and the Vicar being the other two.
Redemption, n Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin, through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned. The doctrine of Redemption is the fundamental mystery of our holy religion, and whoso believeth in it shall not perish, but have everlasting life in which to try to understand it.
We must awake Man's spirit from his sin,
And take some special measure for redeeming it;
Though hard indeed the task to get it in
Among the angels any way but teaming it,
Or purify it otherwise than steaming it.
I'm awkward at Redemption -- a beginner:
My method is to crucify the sinner.
Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
"What is your religion my son?" inquired the Archbishop of Rheims.
"Pardon, monseigneur," replied Rochebriant; "I am ashamed of it."
"Then why do you not become an atheist?"
"Impossible! I should be ashamed of atheism."
"In that case, monsieur, you should join the Protestants."
Reliquary, n. A receptacle for such sacred objects as pieces of the true cross, short-ribs of the saints, the ears of Balaam's ass, the lung of the cock that called Peter to repentance and so forth. Reliquaries are commonly of metal, and provided with a lock to prevent the contents from coming out and performing miracles at unseasonable times. A feather from the wing of the Angel of the Annunciation once escaped during a sermon in Saint Peter's and so tickled the noses of the congregation that they woke and sneezed with great vehemence three times each. It is related in the "Gesta Sanctorum" that a sacristan in the Canterbury cathedral surprised the head of Saint Dennis in the library. Reprimanded by its stern custodian, it explained that it was seeking a body of doctrine. This unseemly levity so raged the diocesan that the offender was publicly anathematized, thrown into the Stour and replaced by another head of Saint Dennis, brought from Rome.
Repentence, n. The faithful attendant and follower of Punishment. It is usually manifest in a degree of reformation that is not inconsistent with continuity of sin
Desirous to avoid the pains of Hell,
You will repent and join the Church, Parnell?
How needless! -- Nick will keep you off the coals
and add you to the woes of other souls.
Reprobation, n. In theology, the state of a luckless mortal prenatally damned. The doctrine of reprobation was taught by Calvin, whose joy in it was somewhat marred by the sad sincerity of his conviction that although some are foredoomed to perdition, others are predestined to salvation.
Retribution, n. A rain of fire-and-brimstone that falls alike upon the just and such of the unjust as have not procured shelter by evicting them.
Revelation, n. A famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing.
Righteousness, n. A sturdy virtue that was once found among the Pantidoodles inhabiting the lower part of the peninsula of Oque. Some feeble attempts were made by returned missionaries to introduce it into several European countries, but it appears to have been imperfectly expounded. An example of this faulty exposition is found in the only extant sermon of the pious Bishop Rowley, a characteristic passage from which is here given:
"Now righteousness consisteth not merely in a holy state of mind, nor yet in performance of religious rites and obedience to the letter of the law. It is not enough that one be pious and just: one must see to it that others also are in the same state; and to this end compulsion is a proper means. Forasmuch as my injustice may work ill to another, so by his injustice may evil be wrought upon still another, the which it is as manifestly my duty to estop as to forestall mine own tort. Wherefore if I would be righteous I am bound to restrain my neighbor, by force if needful, in all those injurious enterprises from which, through a better disposition and by the help of Heaven, I do myself restrain."
Rite, n. A religious or semi-religious ceremony fixed by law, precept or custom, with the essential oil of sincerity carefully squeezed out of it.
Rubbish, n Worthless matter, such as the religions, philosophies, literatures, arts and sciences of the tribes infesting the regions lying due south from Boreaplas.