Jose Carillo's Forum


This new section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

Give zing to your English with tiny doses of The Devil’s Dictionary

Lexicographers worth their salt take every entry of their dictionaries very seriously, assiduously researching not only the accepted definitions of words but also their prescribed spelling, their pronunciation, their provenance and usage history, and their common synonyms and variants. But there’s one classic dictionary written in the 19th century that defied these hallowed conventions of dictionary-making—The Devil’s Dictionary by American journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce. A columnist in a small, San Francisco-based weekly financial magazine, Bierce wrote his “dictionary” as a lampoon of the English language, providing definitions that mocked the social, professional, and religious conventions of his time while also providing quick glimpses into the mores of late 19th-century society.

Devil's Dictionary

Consider these wicked, wacky definitions in The Devil’s Dictionary: apologize, v. “to lay the foundation for a future offence”; beauty, n. “the power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband”; beggar, n. “one who has relied on the assistance of his friends,” and saint, n. “a dead sinner revised and edited.” And take a look at Bierce’s extended definition of the word “birth”: birth, n. “the first and direst of all disasters. As to the nature of it there appears to be no uniformity. Castor and Pollux were born from the egg. Pallas came out of a skull. Galatea was once a block of stone. Peresilis, who wrote in the tenth century, avers that he grew up out of the ground where a priest had spilled holy water. It is known that Arimaxus was derived from a hole in the earth, made by a stroke of lightning. Leucomedon was the son of a cavern in Mount Aetna, and I have myself seen a man come out of a wine cellar.”

Of what possible could these weird, devilish definitions of English words be? Well, many generations of English-language enthusiasts all over the world—writers, politicians, teachers, debaters, and students—have made themselves more engaging and interesting communicators by sprinkling their spoken and written prose with Bierce’s irreverent definitions. Every now and then, you may want to take a little dip yourself into The Devil’s Dictionary to put more zing and bite into your English. For all you know, tiny doses of Bierce into your conversations could make you the life of the party or the apple of your teacher’s eyes—and whether or not you do such a bad job of it, you really don’t have to literally go to hell in the bargain!

Check out word definitions at now!

Download The Devil’s Dictionary ebook from Project Gutenberg for free!

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