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Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) was the of supernatural stories along with those of Poe. He is also noted for his tales of the Civil War, which drew on his own experience as a Union cartographer and officer. His first job in journalism was as editor for the San Francisco News-Letter and California Advertiser (1868-72), writing the entries of the “Town Crier” which constituted the first real newspaper column. Ambrose Bierce’s true love was satire in any form.

In time, Bierce established himself a kind of literary dictator of the West Coast and was so respected and feared as a critic that his judgement could “make or break” an aspiring ‘s reputation. Well-known by his mere initials, A.G.B., his enemies and detractors called him “Almighty God Bierce.” Bierce is best remembered for his cynical but humourous Devil’s Dictionary.

In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce disappeared into revolution-torn Mexico to fight alongside the bandit Pancho Villa. Although a popular theory is that Bierce argued with Villa over military strategy and was subsequently shot, he probably perished in the battle of Ojinaga on January 11, 1914. Here are a few of Abmrose Bierce’s definitions.

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

Acquaintance. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.

Beauty, n: the power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.

Bigot: One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Bore: a person who talks when you wish him to listen.

Bride: A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.

Childhood: 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.

Consult: To seek approval for a course of action already decided upon.

Coward: One who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs.

Dawn: When men of reason go to bed.

Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent.

Debt, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave driver.

Destiny: A tyrant’s authority for crime and a fool’s excuse for failure.

Faith: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Happiness: an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.

Immortality: A toy which people cry for, And on their knees apply for, dispute, contend and lie for, And if allowed Would be right proud Eternally to die for.

Liberty: One of Imagination’s most precious possessions.

Litigation: A machine, which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.

Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage.

Mad, adj.: Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence.

Marriage, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.

Mayonnaise: One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.

Painting, n.: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic.

Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

Philosophy: A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.

Politeness, n: The most acceptable hypocrisy.

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Pray, v.: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

Prescription: A physician’s guess at what will best prolong the situation with least harm to the patient.

Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited.

Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.

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

Vote: the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

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