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Occasional Definitions from The Devil's Dictionary

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My first encounter with Ambrose Bierce was his short story titled "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" which I read almost fifty years ago; I think the collection of Bierce short stories I found it in must have been "Tales of Soldiers and Civilians" (1943).  A paperback edition of this Penguin Classic, obviously supplemented with other macabre and hilarious stories, is available new from Amazon.com.

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Tom Quirk wrote the one Editorial Review of the book at Amazon, in the year 2000.  At the time, Tom was a professor of English at the University of Missouri in Columbia.  The review said:


"Witty, irreverent tales of war and the supernatural from the maverick misanthrope of American literature.

Questing after Pancho Villa's revolutionary forces, Ambose Bierce rode into Mexico in 1913 and completely vanished off the face of the earth. Though his ultimate fate remains a mystery to this day, Bierce's contribution to American letters rests firmly on the basis of his incomparable Devil's Dictionary and a remarkable body of short fiction. This new collection gathers some three dozen of Bierce's finest stories, including the celebrated Civil War fictions 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek' and 'Chickamauga,' his macabre masterpieces 'The Damned Thing' and 'Moxon's Master,' and his hilariously horrific 'Oil of Dog' and 'My Favorite Murder'...." 

There are 129 author entries in the Library of Congress' online Catalogue for "Ambrose Bierce."  Twelve of them have the words "Devil's dictionary" in their titles.

And for pithy, misanthropy, and enduring relevance in America after almost a  century has passed, no writings in English by anyone surpass The Devil's Dictionary.  Not even Mark Twain's.  Consider the following five entries under the "M" words, which are all five adjacent to each other in my Dover Edition of the book, exactly as I've copied them:

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Malefactor, n. The chief factor in the progress of the human race. 

Malthusian, adj.  Pertaining to Malthus and his doctrine.  Malthus believed in artificially limiting population, but found that it could not be done by talking.  One of the most practical exponents of the Malthusian idea was Herod of Judea, though all the famous soldiers have been of the same way of thinking. 

Mammalia, n. pl. A family of vertebrate animals whose females in a state of nature suckle their young, but when civilized and enlightened put them out to nurse, or use the bottle.  

Mammon, n.  The God of the world's leading religion.  His chief temple is in the holy city of New York. 

Man, n.  An animal so lost in the rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be.  His chief occupation is the extermination of other animals of his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.

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(Read additional information about Ambrose Bierce here.)

 

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 

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