The Devil’s Dictionary

Stefany Anne Golberg

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.

One hundred and five years ago, in 1906, a book written by the infamous curmudgeon Ambrose Bierce was published as The Cynic’s Word Book. It was Bierce’s preference that the book — a collection of satirical definitions which he had written for various newspapers “in a desultory way at long intervals” from 1881 to 1906 — be called The Devil’s Dictionary, but publishers had always been nervous about the anti-religious implications of the title. In 1906, American bookshelves were flooded with “a score of ‘cynic’ books — The Cynic’s This, The Cynic’s That, The Cynic’s t’Other,” to name a few. As far as those other “cynic” books were concerned, Bierce added, “most” were “merely stupid, though some of them added the distinction of silliness. Among them, they brought the word ’cynic’ into disfavor so deep that any book bearing it was discredited in advance of publication.” As Bierce wrote his definitions for various newspapers columns over the years, they had appeared under a variety of names: The Cynic’s Dictionary, The Demon’s Dictionary, The Cynic’s Word Book. But no title was ever as satisfying as the one he finally demanded. One hundred years ago, in 1911, Bierce got his wish when the work was published as The Devil’s Dictionary.

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Ambrose Bierce
A true Cynic.

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