October 11, 2004

The Devils Dictionary

cyn·i·cal ( P ) Pronunciation Key (sn-kl)

Believing or showing the belief that people are motivated chiefly by base or selfish concerns; skeptical of the motives of others: a cynical dismissal of the politician's promise to reform the campaign finance system.

Selfishly or callously calculating: showed a cynical disregard for the safety of his troops in his efforts to advance his reputation.

Negative or pessimistic, as from world-weariness: a cynical view of the average voter's intelligence.
Expressing jaded or scornful skepticism or negativity: cynical laughter.

Published periodically from 1881-1906, this dictionary was originally termed The Cynics Wordbook Many cynical works came out during this time, and so Ambrose Bierce wasn't happy with the title. In 1881 people were just starting to feel like they could express themselves, and alot of this came in the form of pent up anger and frustration, hence the flood of cynical works. Unfortunately, as Bierce tells us in his preface to "The Devils Dictionary," most of these people couldn't write to save their lives, and the works just came out sounding silly and stupid.

Many of Bierce's entries are offensive to people or groups, and I picked out a few of my favorites, in the hopes that the class can tell me exactly why they are considered cynical, and who they are considered cynical towards:

Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize.

KILT, n.
A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland.

A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron, namely, that he is a blockhead.

PAIN, n.
An uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely mental, caused by the good fortune of another.

TAKE, v.t.
To acquire, frequently by force but preferably by stealth.

Dumb and illiterate.

Posted by PaulCrossman at October 11, 2004 2:25 PM


You did a good job in your presentation. It is hard to decipher whether Bierce is trying to be funny or is he making a point.


Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 11, 2004 7:12 PM

Look up the word truce in the devil's dictionary. It completely defeats any uniform interperation of the text. I would like to know how many people actually got through the entire dictionary. I know I gave up around J, then started again at T. After looking up Truce, tell me how that changes your opinion of the dictionary, I kind of made me feel he did not put as much effort as I thought into the making of this text.

Posted by: Puff at October 12, 2004 12:13 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?