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Devil's Dictionary

by Ambrose Bierce Bodleian Library
Pub Date:
Hbk 256 pages
AU$39.99 NZ$41.73
Product Status: In Stock Now
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DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.


In 1881 Ambrose Bierce, journalist and former soldier for the Union army in the Civil War, began writing satirical definitions for the San Francisco Wasp, and then for William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. Bierce was launched on a journalistic career that would see him liked and loathed in equal measure - and earn him the title of `the wickedest man in San Francisco'.


In his column, Bierce, a contemporary of Mark Twain, brought his biting black humour to bear on spoof definitions of everyday words, writing deliberate mistranslations of the vocabulary of the establishment, the Church and the politics of his day, and shining a sardonic light on hypocrisy and deception.


These columns formed the beginnings of a dictionary, first published in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book. Over 100 years later, Bierce's redefinitions still give us pause for thought - REPORTER, n. A writer who guesses his way to the truth and dispels it with a tempest of words; UN-AMERICAN, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish; POLITICS, n. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage - making for a timely new edition of this irreverent and provocative satire.
Ambrose Bierce (1842 - c.1914) was an American short story writer, journalist, poet and Civil War veteran.


John Simpson is the former Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. His memoir, 'The Word Detective', was published by Little, Brown and Basic Books in 2016.