The Devil is in the Dictionary

A while ago I happened upon a tome of delicious delight – The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce.

The Devil’s Dictionary is a satirical “reference” book written by Ambrose Bierce. The book offers reinterpretations of terms in the English language, lampooning cant and political doublespeak, as well as other aspects of human foolishness and frailty. It was originally published in 1906 as The Cynic’s Word Book before being retitled in 1911. Modern “unabridged” versions that include Bierce “definitions” that were for various reasons missed by earlier editions continue to be popular a century later.” – via Wikipedia of course.

It is a wonderful and witty book, and I must admit to finding the definitions very amusing. I also think that quite a few are more accurate than the conventional interpretations. They hit my inner cynic’s funny bone.

CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.

Recently I have come to see myself more and more as a cynic, mostly due to the propensity of my mind to raise a cynical eyebrow and say ‘Really!?!’ whenever someone says something to me or when I hear news of any sort or when listening to the proclamations of experts and adverts (which sometimes sound exactly the same).

I was not always this way. Really!?! Perhaps I was. I have a sneaking suspicion that I was but that I was forced to make this trait latent due to peer pressure. I do recall gradually becoming less inclined to express my views and more inclined to tell people what they wanted to hear. To support their illusions rather than pop them. To agree with their opinions rather than disagree. I did this to make my interactions less fractious. To make life easier for myself, or so I told myself, yet actually it just made it difficult in a different manner.

ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.

When you disagree with someone, they then feel obliged to lecture you on why you are wrong and they are right, rather than just accept to agree to disagree. Opinions, it seems, need consensus to continue to exist. Dissent makes them nervous as they have a fear of annihilation.

When people feel that their opinion and view of the world, life, themselves is being threatened, even if it is not, perhaps because it is not, they get very aggressive and often rely on character assassination as a defense mechanism. Being told the awful truth about yourself is extremely tedious.

TEDIUM, n. Ennui, the state or condition of one that is bored. Many fanciful derivations of the word have been affirmed, but so high an authority as Father Jape says that it comes from a very obvious source — the first words of the ancient Latin hymn Te Deum Laudamus. In this apparently natural derivation there is something that saddens.

The awful truth is seldom the truth. Not about you anyway, but it often reveals the truth about the one who is handing it out so generously. And that is sad.

Experience taught me to keep my opinions to myself for a long time. Still, every now and then I built up some foolhardy courage to say exactly what I was thinking. Then live to regret it. Go silent again. Then blurt. Then again silence. Until recently when I adopted the philosophy of Fuck It, due to realising that no matter what I do or say I am screwed either way, damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so might as well free myself from self-censorship and please myself because others are never happy with anything I do or say, but at least I can be happy.

EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.

I suppose this new attitude could be viewed as selfish, but why is that such a bad thing to be?

SELFISH, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

My attitude has changed due to events which have occurred this year, which have placed my entire life and myself under review. There were rumblings before this year, but old habits die hard and some of the revelations I had before were momentary awakenings which were drifting off back to sleep. So I guess a rude awakening was needed to stop the sleep from taking hold.

This year has made my needs centre stage in my life. I usually push my needs aside, deal with them later on my own. This allows other people’s needs to fill the empty space. But not this year. And so quite a few of my friendships have ended abruptly all in a similar manner.

FRIENDSHIP, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.

These ex-friends came to me needing care and attention and I said fuck off. Not really, what I said was I’m busy dealing with my own shit and so you’ll have to deal with yours without my help. I’m all out of sympathy and empathy and energy and whatever else for anyone else but myself right now. But I should have just said fuck off considering how they reacted to my request for some me time and space.

People don’t like it when you ‘change’, not when they are used to you being a certain way, playing a certain role in their life for them. They also think you like playing that role, so it is confusing for them when you suddenly refuse to do it. What’s wrong with you?

For me, what’s wrong with me is also what’s right with me. My identity and life is an endless array of paradoxes and contradictions.

It’s been a very eye-opening year, and with that eye-opening has come increased cynicism.

YEAR, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

Most of these ex-friends are ones who have repeatedly claimed to be good listeners. I accepted their version of themselves even though I have found them to be good talkers, but really hard of hearing where listening is concerned. Whereas my friends who have claimed to be ‘bad listeners’ have turned out to be ears into which I have felt able to express myself and be acknowledged. I asked all of my friends to bear with me this year, the good listeners did not hear this, the bad listeners not only heard, but came to my aid by offering me a place of refuge.

To me a place of refuge is one in which I can have fun and relax. I don’t need someone to listen to my troubles or fix them for me, I can do that for myself, what I need is a break when too much becomes way too much, a breath of fresh air when life becomes suffocating.

This year has been one of death for me, literal and metaphorical.

DEAD, adj.

Done with the work of breathing; done
With all the world; the mad race run
Though to the end; the golden goal
Attained and found to be a hole!
—Squatol Johnes

I have become increasingly aware of my mortality, and each moment is now measured in mortal time, how I use that time, who I share it with and who shares theirs with me, seems to matter more now than it ever did before.

LONGEVITY, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death.

I am not afraid of death, however I am sometimes fearful of being dead while I am still alive. To me that means putting up with things which causes the lustre in my eyes to become dull, my heart feels heavy in my chest, and I drag myself through day after day for no apparent reason other than a sense of duty. I sometimes do that with relationships. I stay in them, but reap no joy from them, and what joy I do have gets sucked out of me bit by bit.

Cynicism has actually been very liberating, and is quite fun and enjoyable. It’s popped my delusional concepts and released me say fuck it.

BLACKGUARD, n. A man whose qualities, prepared for display like a box of berries in a market — the fine ones on top — have been opened on the wrong side. An inverted gentleman.


    • That sounds like a great idea! I think we all already do that, it explains a lot about miscommunication, even though we use the same words, those words mean different things to us, even if we learned the same dictionary definition of that word, because we refine that definition to suit our experience of it.

      Do you have mental images to go with certain words? Such as when you think of a liar, an image of someone whom you think of as a liar pops into your head? Or when you think of passion, an image of someone or something you consider to represent passion pops into your mind’s eye?

      Is your dictionary going to include images, sort of like an encyclopedia?


  1. Wickedly Brilliant!

    “…I am not afraid of death, however I am sometimes fearful of being dead while I am still alive. To me that means putting up with things which causes the lustre in my eyes to become dull, my heart feels heavy in my chest, and I drag myself through day after day for no apparent reason other than a sense of duty. I sometimes do that with relationships. I stay in them, but reap no joy from them, and what joy I do have gets sucked out of me bit by bit…”

    As Kat Williams would say and I’m paraphrasing, “This shit right here, right here is some good shit” lol. The timing is spookingly (I make up words you know) on time as this has been on my mind for some years having to do with my mother. Oh and that ship is for the “relations” as well the ones we choose and the ones don’t. Neptune on your Venus, perhaps?


    • I just love Ambrose Bierce’s take on the meaning of certain words. Some of them worked better in his time, but they still apply. My favourite is his interpretation of ‘selfish’. Just spot on! So many times people accuse others of the very thing that they are doing and being. I know I’ve done it, and I definitely know it’s been done to me.

      I like his version of ‘nonsense’ too, very witty:

      NONSENSE, n. The objections that are urged against this excellent dictionary.

      Love that. Perfect repartee!

      I make up words too, doesn’t everyone 😉 All words are made up. It just takes a while for a new one to catch on. And many words are mutations of the original, sometimes due to language. Adding ‘ingly’ to the end of words is very necessary when trying to convey a thought or a feeling.


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