Adages and Aphorisms by Ambrose – Part 2

This is the second part of a collection of my favorite quotes from “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce.

You can find the first part here

Edible: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.

Effect: The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order.  The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other – which is no more sensible that it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of the dog.

Enthusiasm: A distemper of youth, curable by small doses of repentance in connection with outward applications of experience.

Envy:  Emulation adapted to the meanest capacity.

Epitaph:  An inscription on a tomb, showing that virtues acquired by death have a retroactive effect.

Evangelist:  A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.

Exception:  A thing which takes the liberty to differ from other things of its class, as an honest man, a truthful woman, etc.  “The exception proves the rule” is an expression constantly upon the lips of the ignorant, who parrot it from one another with never a thought of its absurdity.  In the Latin, “Exceptio probat regulum” means that the exception tests the rule, puts it to the proof, not confirms it.  The malefactor who drew the meaning from this excellent dictum and substituted a contrary one of his own exerted an evil power which appears to be immortal.

Exhort:  In religious affairs, to put the conscience of another upon the spit and roast it to a nut-brown discomfort.

Experience:  The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.

Faith:  Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Fashion:  A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey.

Fiddle:  An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse’s tail on the entrails of a cat.

Finance:  The art or science of managing revenues and resources for the best advantage of the manager.  The pronunciation of this word with the ‘i’ long and the accent on the first syllable is one of America’s most precious discoveries and possessions.

Folly:  That “gift and faculty divine” whose creative and controlling energy inspires Man’s mind, guides his actions and adorns his life.

Fork:  An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth.

Freedom:  A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly.  Liberty.  The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known; naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either.

Friendless:  Having no favors to bestow.  Destitute of fortune.  Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.

Funeral:  A pageant whereby we attest our respect for the dead by enriching the undertaker, and strengthen our grief by an expenditure that deepens our groans and doubles our tears.

Generous:  Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons.  It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest.

Gravitation:  The tendency of all bodies to approach one another with a strength proportioned to the quantity of matter they contain—the quantity of matter they contain being ascertained by the strength of their tendency to approach one another.  This is a lovely and edifying illustration of how science, having made A the proof of B, makes B the proof of A.

Guillotine:  A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.

Gunpowder:  An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes which might become troublesome if left unadjusted.

Habit:  A shackle for the free.

Hand:  A singular instrument worn at the end of a human arm and commonly thrust into somebody’s pocket.

Handkerchief:  A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears.

Heathen:  A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.

Heaven:  A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound on your own.

History:  An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

Hurry:  The dispatch of bunglers.

Hypocrite:  One who, professing virtues that he does not respect, secures the advantage of seeming to be what he despises.

Idiot:  A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.

Ignoramus:  A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.

Imagination:  A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.

Immigrant:  An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.

Immodest:  Having a strong sense of one’s own merit, coupled with a feeble conception of the worth of others.

Immoral:  Inexpedient.  Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral.  If man’s notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of expediency, if they originated, or could have originated, in any other way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from and nowise dependent on, their consequences—then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind.


            A toy which people cry for,

            And on their knees apply for,

            Dispute, contend and lie for,

            And if allowed

            Would be right proud

            Eternally to die for.

Impartial:  Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy or adopting either of two conflicting opinions.

Impiety:  Your irreverence toward my deity.

Income:  The natural and rational gauge and measure of respectability, the commonly accepted standards being artificial, arbitrary and fallacious.

Infidel:  In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

Influence:  In politics, a visionary quo given in exchange for a substantial quid.

Injustice:  A burden which of all those that we load upon others and carry ourselves is lightest in the hands and heaviest upon the back.

Insurance:  An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.

Jealous:  Unduly concerned about the preservation of that which can be lost only if not worth keeping.

Labor:  One of the process by which A acquires property for B.

Lawyer:  One skilled in circumvention of the law.

Life:  A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.

Litigation:  A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

If you enjoyed the first two parts, the third and final part is here.


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