A CYNIC’S DICTIONARY

Maggie Pinkney (ed.), The Five Mile Pres, Melbourne 2003

(Investigator 121,  2008 July)



Ambrose Bierce (1842 – c 1914) was an American journalist, story writer, and satirist. He authored The Cynic’s Wordbook (1906) which gave satirical definitions of English words, republished as The Devil’s Dictionary (1911). The following definitions are Ambrose Bierce’s unless specified:


Apology:  To lay the foundation of future offence

Alone: In bad company

Art: What sells. (Frank Lloyd Wright)

Atheists: People not found in foxholes: (WT Cummings)

Australia: The only country in the world where the word ‘academic’ is regularly used as a term of abuse. (Leonie Kramer)

Bigot: One who is obstinately and zealously attracted to an opinion you do not entertain.

Children: Items so expensive only the poor can afford them. (Hal Road)

Christianity: Possibly a good idea, if somebody tried it. (GB Shaw)

Church: A place in which men who have never been to Heaven brag about it to people who will never get there. (HL Mencken)

Clergyman: A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal one.

Committee: A cul-de-sac to which ideas are lured and then gently strangled. (John A Lincoln)

The Creator: A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh. (HL Mencken)

Cynic: A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. A man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin. (HL Mencken)

Employment: Death without dignity. (Brendan Behan)

Epitaph: A belated advertisement for a line of goods that has been discontinued. (Irwin S Cobb)

Faith: An illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable (H Mencken) Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge of things without parallel.

Fame: Either vilification or sanctification, and both piss me off. (Bob Geldorf)

Foreign: Belonging to another and inferior country.

The Future: That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.

Heaven: The Coney Island of the Christian imagination. (Elbert Hubbard) Something that goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would get in. (Mark Twain)

Hope: The universal liar. (RG Ingersoll)

Love: A dirty trick played on us to achieve the continuation of the species. (W Somerset Maughan)

Love: At First Sight: A labour-saving device. (HL Mencken)

Martyr: Someone who is married to a saint. (Kitty Muggeridge)

Marriage: Neither heaven or hell…simply purgatory. (Abe Lincoln)

(John Williams)


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