INSTANT WISDOM

WEB TIP OF THE MONTH


Ambrose Bierce's Devils' Dictionary.
It is a very enjoyable piece of humor and wisdom, that takes an ironical look at the society in the form of dictionary entries. The following are excerpts corresponding to the topics on the Instant Wisdom site.

AGE, n. That period of life in which we compound for the vices that we still cherish by reviling those that we have no longer the enterprise to commit.
CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth -- two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.
EAT, v.i. To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation, and deglutition. "I was in the drawing-room, enjoying my dinner," said Brillat-Savarin, beginning an anecdote. "What!" interrupted Rochebriant; "eating dinner in a drawing-room?" "I must beg you to observe, monsieur," explained the great gastronome, "that I did not say I was eating my dinner, but enjoying it. I had dined an hour before."
FREEDOM, n. Exemption from the stress of authority in a beggarly half dozen of restraint's infinite multitude of methods. A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly. Liberty. The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known; naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either.
FRIENDSHIP, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.
HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.
HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
KINDNESS, n. A brief preface to ten volumes of exaction.
EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
LEARNING, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
LAUGHTER, n. An interior convulsion, producing a distortion of the features and accompanied by inarticulate noises. It is infectious and, though intermittent, incurable. Liability to attacks of laughter is one of the characteristics distinguishing man from the animals -- these being not only inaccessible to the provocation of his example, but impregnable to the microbes having original jurisdiction in bestowal of the disease. Whether laughter could be imparted to animals by inoculation from the human patient is a question that has not been answered by experimentation. Dr. Meir Witchell holds that the infection character of laughter is due to the instantaneous fermentation of _sputa_ diffused in a spray. From this peculiarity he names the disorder _Convulsio spargens_.
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like _caries_ and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.
MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.
WOMAN, n. An animal usually living in the vicinity of Man, and having a rudimentary susceptibility to domestication. It is credited by many of the elder zoologists with a certain vestigial docility acquired in a former state of seclusion, but naturalists of the postsusananthony period, having no knowledge of the seclusion, deny the virtue and declare that such as creation's dawn beheld, it roareth now. The species is the most widely distributed of all beasts of prey, infesting all habitable parts of the globe, from Greeland's spicy mountains to India's moral strand. The popular name (wolfman) is incorrect, for the creature is of the cat kind. The woman is lithe and graceful in its movement, especially the American variety (_felis pugnans_), is omnivorous and can be taught not to talk. -Balthasar Pober
MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
PERSEVERANCE, n. A lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success.
POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When we wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.
QUOTATION, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.
HEART, n. An automatic, muscular blood-pump. Figuratively, this useful organ is said to be the esat of emotions and sentiments -- a very pretty fancy which, however, is nothing but a survival of a once universal belief. It is now known that the sentiments and emotions reside in the stomach, being evolved from food by chemical action of the gastric fluid. The exact process by which a beefsteak becomes a feeling -- tender or not, according to the age of the animal from which it was cut; the successive stages of elaboration through which a caviar sandwich is transmuted to a quaint fancy and reappears as a pungent epigram; the marvelous functional methods of converting a hard-boiled egg into religious contrition, or a cream-puff into a sigh of sensibility -- these things have been patiently ascertained by M. Pasteur, and by him expounded with convincing lucidity. (See, also, my monograph, _The Essential Identity of the Spiritual Affections and Certain Intestinal Gases Freed in Digestion_ -- 4to, 687 pp.) In a scientific work entitled, I believe, _Delectatio Demonorum_ (John Camden Hotton, London, 1873) this view of the sentiments receives a striking illustration; and for further light consult Professor Dam's famous treatise on _Love as a Product of Alimentary Maceration_.
FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
SUCCESS, n. The one unpardonable sin against one's fellows.
TRUTH, n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time.
MONEY, n. A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we part with it. An evidence of culture and a passport to polite society. Supportable property.
TALK, v.t. To commit an indiscretion without temptation, from an impulse without purpose.

You can get the book here


[more tips]


[home][wisdom][gallery][email]