Adages and Aphorisms by Ambrose – Part 3

This is the third (and final) part of a collection of my favorite quotes from “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce.

You can find the first part here and the second part here.

Love:  A temporary insanity curable by marriage.

Machination:  The method employed by one’s opponents in baffling one’s open and honorable efforts to do the right thing.

Mad:  Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual.

Magic:  The art of converting superstition into coin.  There are other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them.

Male:  A member of the unconsidered, or negligible sex.

Malefactor:  The chief factor in the progress of the human race.

Mammon:  The god of the world’s leading religion.  His chief temple is in the holy city of New York.

Man:  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:  The ancient Persian doctrine of an incessant warfare between Good and Evil.  When Good gave up the fight the Persians joined the victorious Opposition.

Marriage:  The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.

Mayonnaise:  One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.

Me:  The objectionable case of I.  The personal pronoun in English has three cases, the dominative, the objectionable and the oppressive.  Each is all three.

Merchant:  One engaged in a commercial pursuit.  A commercial pursuit is one in which the thing being pursued is a dollar.

Mind:  A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain.  Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with.

Misfortune:  The kind of fortune that never misses.

Monday:  In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.

Money:  A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we part with it.

Moral:  Conforming to a local and mutable standard of right.  Having the quality of general expediency.

Mouse:  An animal which strews its path with fainting women.

Mythology:  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.

Neighbor:  One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.

Noise:  A stench in the ear.  Undomesticated music.  The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.

Nonsense:  The objections that are urged against this excellent dictionary.

Oath:  In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury.

Ocean:  A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man—who has no gills.

Oyster:  A slimy, gobby shellfish which civilization gives men the hardihood to eat without removing its entrails!

Painting:  The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.  Formerly, painting and sculpture were combined in the same work; the ancients painted their statues.  The only present alliance between the two arts is that the modern painter chisels his patrons.

Pedigree:  The known part of the route from an arboreal ancestor with a swim bladder to an urban descendant with a cigarette.

Perseverance:  A lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success.

Philanthropist:  A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket.

Philosophy:  A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

Piety: 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.

Politics:  A Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.  The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Positive:  Mistaken at the top of one’s voice.

Pray:  To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.

Prejudice:  A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.

Present:  That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.

Prophecy:  The art and practice of selling one’s credibility for future delivery.

Rabble:  In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections.

Rational:  Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.

Reasonable: Accessible to the infection of our own opinions.  Hospitable to persuasion, dissuasion and evasion.

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

Religion:  A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Resolute:  Obstinate in a course that we approve.

Responsibility:  A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor.  In the days of astrology, it was customary to unload it upon a star.

Retaliation:  The natural rock upon which is reared the Temple of Law.

Revelation:  A famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew.  The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing.

Reverence:  The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man.

Rum:  Generally, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.

Sabbath:  A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh.

Saint:  A dead sinner, revised and edited.

Satan:  One of the Creator’s lamentable mistakes, repented in sackcloth and axes.  Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven.  Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back.

“There is one favor that I should like to ask,” said he.

“Name it.”

“Man, I understand is about to be created.  He will need laws.”

“What, wretch!  You his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul—you ask for the right to make his laws?’

“Pardon;  what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself.”

It was so ordered.

Scriptures:  The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.

Self esteem:  An erroneous appraisement.

Self-evident:  Evident to ones’ self and to nobody else.

Selfish:  Devoid of the consideration for the selfishness of others.

Senate:  A body of elderly gentlemen charged with high duties and misdemeanors.

Teetotaler:  One who abstains from strong drink, sometimes totally, sometimes tolerably totally.

Telephone:  An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

Turkey:  A large bird whose flesh when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.  Incidentally, it is pretty good eating.

Ultimatum:  In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.

Vote:  The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

Weather:  A permanent topic of conversation among persons whom it does not interest, but who have inherited the tendency to chatter about it from naked arboreal ancestors whom it keenly concerned.

Wheat:  A cereal from which a tolerably good whiskey can with some difficulty be made, and which is used also for bread.  The French are said to eat more bread per capita of population than any other people, which is natural, for only they know how to make the stuff palatable.

Wit:  The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.

Woman:  An animal usually living in the vicinity of Man, and having a rudimentary susceptibility to domestication.

Worship:  Homo Creator’s testimony to the sound construction and fine finish of Deus Creatus.  A popular form of abjection, having an element of pride.


3 thoughts on “Adages and Aphorisms by Ambrose – Part 3

  1. I have a copy of Bierce. I especially like “Corporation: A device for maximizing profit while minimizing responsibility.” Also, “Mie : The singular of Mice” and “Mustang : A wild horse of the western plains. In England, the American wife of an English lord.”

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