Monday, September 5, 2011

The Devil's Dictionary: Review


The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce was much harder going than anticipated. Weighing in at a mere 145 pages, you would think I would have whizzed right through this. Not so much. Bierce was a well-known American journalist, editorialist, short story writer, critic, and satirist. His satiric wit is especially renowned. I had found several mentions of his classic satirical reference book over the years and grabbed a copy up when I saw it on the shelf at our Friends of the Library's book store.

This "reference" book offers up reinterpretations of various terms in the English language. He devotes a lot of entries to lampoons of cant and political doublespeak, as well as other aspects of human foolishness and frailty. The difficulty in reading it now is that I am sure that many of the entries were much more pointed and funny to the reading public of the first decade of the 1900s. There are numerous references that I either didn't get at all or only recognize vaguely. The entries that I "get" are very funny and I wish I understood all of them equally well. It would probably also help if I were more of an Americanist in my reading. If I were as grounded in American literature from the time period as I am in British lit, I'm sure I'd find the humor in a lot more entries.


Some of my favorites:

Oblivion
, n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy. A dormitory without an alarm clock.

Mausoleum
, n. The final and funniest folly of the rich.

Egoist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Telephone
, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantage of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

Omen
, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.

I suppose this can only count for the R. I. P. Challenge if we base it on the use of "Devil" in the title. I believe I'll read another book. Three stars...barely.


4 comments:

Christy (Love of Books) said...

I really like Ambrose Brice.

A couple of my favorite from TDD are:

ALONE, adj. In bad company.

BEAUTY, n. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.

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

Carl V. said...

I haven't read the book, but many is a time I've used an Ambrose Bierce quote in a post. He was definitely brilliant with words.

The Devil's Dictionary may be one of those books that would benefit from an Annotated Edition so that we could "get" more of the humor by being informed of what it referenced.

Kailana said...

Sorry it didn't work better for you, but your review still manages to make it sound interesting.

jenclair said...

I love it, but then, I didn't sit down and read it from cover for a challenge. I just read a few pages and put it aside for awhile, and then came back to it.