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Say what? Insights from the “Devil’s Dictionary”

Ambrose Bierce (1842- circa 1914) was an American satirist best known for his Devil’s Dictionary. In it he sought to “improve” on Noah Webster’s famous work by providing definitions that weren’t so much devilish as cynical. And a cynic was, so Bierce defined him, “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. “

Now God says unbelievers are fools (Ps. 14:1) so it follows they shouldn’t be our go-to source for wisdom. That makes it all the funnier/that-much-more-embarrassing when an unbeliever sees something we’ve missed. It is, for example, quite a shock to the system when Bierce sees through the fundamental flaw in the conservative political position, noting that most who go by this label aren’t principled, but are simply “conserving” whatever it is the liberals pushed through in the years preceding! If even an agnostic – if even a blind man – can see through the folly of unprincipled conservatism, we Christians – who have been gifted God’s illuminating Word – really have no excuse for supporting it. This is a rebuke delivered via the mouth of a donkey!

What follows below are a few of the diamonds from Ambrose’s dictionary, sifted out from the dross.

Admiration: Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.

Christian: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.

Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.

Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Egotist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Idleness: A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices.

Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.

Radicalism: The conservatism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today.

Referendum: law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion.

Tariff: A scale of taxes on imports, designed to protect the domestic producer against the greed of his consumer.

And finally one more that isn’t in his dictionary, but which is commonly (and perhaps mistakenly) attributed to him:

Sweater: Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.


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