The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, began in 1881 as a weekly column in a San Francisco paper, and was published as a book in 1911.
BRAIN, n. An apparatus with which we think that we think. That which distinguishes the man who is content to be something from the man who wishes to do something. A man of great wealth, or one who has been pitchforked into high station, has commonly such a headful of brain that his neighbors cannot keep their hats on. In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, brain is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.
MIND, n. 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. From the Latin mens, a fact unknown to that honest shoe-seller, who, observing that his learned competitor over the way had displayed the motto “Mens conscia recti,” emblazoned his own front with the words “Men’s, women’s and children’s conscia recti.”
AMBIDEXTROUS, adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.
DENTIST, n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.
DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one’s country.
FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks
without knowledge, of things without parallel.
IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.
RIOT, n. A popular entertainment given to the military by innocent bystanders.
UNDERSTANDING, n. A cerebral secretion that enables one having it to know a house from a horse by the roof on the house. Its nature and laws have been exhaustively expounded by Locke, who rode a house, and Kant, who lived in a horse.