October 12, 2004

The Devil take "The Devil's Dictionary"

This piece of literature is clever and funny in places, but I would much prefer to peruse it at my leisure instead of having to cram it between portfolios and papers in a week’s time. Originally it was published in segments in a newspaper, and I think this would have been an amusing Sunday read.

I flagged a few words that caught my interest and delved a little deeper. For instance, the word “body snatcher” and “grave” jumped out because they both made reference to medical students and young physicians. Here are the exact definitions:

BODY- SNATCHER: A robber of grave-worms, One who supplies the young physicians with that with which old physicians have supplied the undertaker. The hyena.

GRAVE: A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student.

Since Bierce is making social commentary in keeping with the times, I wanted to find out what the deal was with body-snatching and people in the medical field.

In the article, Grave Offense by Emily Bazelon, for online publication Legal Affairs, in the 1800’s, there was a great need in the scientific community for cadavers to study, but there was such a stigma behind dissection they were difficult to come by. Cadavers of executed criminals were donated but the demand was great and even resulted in underground trafficking of dead bodies. This did not help the image of physicians. Bazelon writes:

The study of anatomy laid bare an uncomfortable tension in 19th-century medicine. In the eyes of local communities, grave robbing turned doctors into vultures. Burial and respect for the dead mattered deeply to most Americans—and still do, as we were reminded by the grief about the strewn corpses found at a Georgia crematory in February. Medical schools courted danger when they threatened the sanctity of burial and death. At the same time, they had an urgent, indisputable need for cadavers. Patients wanted to be treated by doctors who understood the body's inner workings, which could be learned only by studying a human corpse.

Interesting little piece of history I didn’t know!

Posted by LindaFondrk at October 12, 2004 10:57 AM


Well, I agree with your statement, but up to a point though. It is suppose to be only in fun, and not to hurt any, however how come there isn't "funny" words to describe men? If certain words describe women, don't you think that there should be certain words for men? I think if Bierce wanted it to be funny, then he should have made it equal between both genders.

P.S. I thought the fact about medicine and body-snatching, was interesting. I didn't know that.Thanks for the input!


Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 12, 2004 12:43 PM

Consider the definition for MALE:

A member of the unconsidered, or negligable sex. The male of the human race is commonly known (to the female) as Mere Man. The genus has two varieties: good providers and bad providers.

What do you think?

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at October 13, 2004 09:56 AM


Well, this is interesting. The word "male" does describe men negatively;however it is still a general statement. The female words have much harsher meanings to them. Do you agree?


Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 13, 2004 01:40 PM

Not necessarily. Again, our perspectives on his humor are different. Remember, its a satiric work, so his meaning sometimes comes through in opposites. It's effective because it makes people laugh, maybe recognize some of their own predjudices and points out how ludicrous the stereotype is.

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at October 14, 2004 07:33 AM
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