Ambrose Bierce: Astringent and Jaundiced: The American Diogenes


Born today was Ambrose Bierce,
Gilded Ager whose opinions were fierce.*
Sometimes society's ills need a clinic
From someone like Ambrose: a self-proclaimed cynic.

*A sampling of Bierceisms:

1.  MIND: a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with.

2. TRUTHFUL: Dumb and illiterate.

3. MAN: An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.

4. FRIENDSHIP: A ship big enough for two in fair weather, but only one in foul.

5. CHRISTIAN: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.

6. LOVE: A temporary insanity curable by marriage.

7. PRAY: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

8. APOLOGIZE: To lay the foundation for a future offence

9. POLITICS: Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.

10. HAND: A singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody's pocket.

Check out these Bierce web sites: and


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  • I don't know Ambrose, but:
    1. In my case, it is usually snot, if I blow hard enough.

    2. Substitute "Internet." I've said that myself on many Yahoo! comment boards.

    3. I thought snakes and crocodiles had a similar profession. Maybe even West Nile Virus bearing mosquitoes.

    7 is probably right. Recently, though, those on the pulpit say it is for our own benefit, rather than a petition to a higher power, such as Mike Madigan.

    9. On the same note, it isn't even a strife of interests, unless shaking down campaign contributors is an interest.

    10. Or to pick pimples.

  • Welcome, Jack. #7 especially gave me a chuckle. Are term limits just a pipe dream?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    That's more of a discussion that was had on the last Chicago Political Commentary.

    But when it gets down to that the Daily Herald says that some former state senator is disgusted enough to say that it would take 300,000 signatures just to get a fair reapportionment constitutional amendment on the ballot,* I think that the odds are better for natural causes. Except, I was told in some religion class not to wish ill on anyone (I believe the correct quote was that if you hear a fire truck, don't say "I hope it isn't going to my house.").

    *The citation is Ill. Constitution Art. 9 sec. 3, and only applies the Legislative Article. I'm surprised that "sage" Dawn Clark Netsch even left that opening.

  • Great stuff. The Devil's Dictionary is so refreshing! And Incident at Owl Creek Bridge is one of the first "grown-up" stories of my formative years...Many Thanks!

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