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Ambrose Bierce: A Few Definitions

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

Backbite, v.t. To speak of a man as you find him when he can’t find you.

Conversation, n. A fair for the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor.

Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.

Eulogy, n. Praise of a person who has either the advantages of wealth and power, or the consideration to be dead.

Fool, n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscient, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude, and the circle of the sciences. He created patriotism and taught the nations war—founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine, and Chicago.

— Ambrose Bierce, Devil's Dictionary, Washington, D.C., 1906

On June 24, 1842, short story writer, essayist, and journalist Ambrose Bierce was born. After Bierce fought at Shiloh and Chickamauga with the Indiana Volunteers but before being wounded at Kennesaw Mountain, he moved to San Francisco, where he became known for his editing and writing for magazines and newspapers such as the San Francisco News Letter, The Argonaut, and The Wasp. In 1881 Bierce began to publish his “Devil’s Dictionary” entries, a satirical dictionary of common words, later collected in a book of the same title. In 1913 he wandered off to Mexico during Pancho Villa’s revolution and was never heard from again.

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