With apologies to Ambrose Bierce, this collects one of my favorite exercises — attempts to emulate his entries in The Devil’s Dictionary.
action What one takes only when they are taken.
achievement A statement of adequacy most notable for prolonging the use of paper.
advantage What’s that behind you?
annexation A means of keeping one’s rivals close.
attraction In the fields of entertainment and matrimony, the power that ultimately results in butts in seats.
bank The arena in which money conspires against its owner, pending withdrawal.
bard A singer of the traditional art, compliance.
bargain 1. In a seller’s market, the cost of business done to the buyer. 2. In a buyer’s market, theft.
base The center of man, largely comprised of the digestive organs and resultant substances.
beggar A friend, indeed.
beehive Upon feeling the sting of Cupid’s arrow, that into which one inserts her hand.
borrower A generous soul who invest in others.
bounty An investment in collection plates.
buttock A special paddock where unsolicited advice grazes and runs among its kind.
capital 1. Where the best ideas of a republic are heaped until the ones on the bottom and in the middle can no longer move. 2. The blood of the republic, regarded for its ability to clot only in select locations.
children An endearment applied by men to progeny and peers.
commentator An ass trained to emit the usual sounds at a greater volume.
confidence man A mathematician who teaches other men their value.
conscience 1. A rarity discovered later. 2. The chief byproduct of scrutiny.
conspiracy Any endeavor from which you are excluded.
darkness A vast blanket that warms all ambition.
distraction See advantage.
essay A thesis in so many words.
fairly How I say what you should say.
first man out Got the memo.
fold 1. The orderly form into which men are brought before they are shelved. 2. The proper shape of agreement.
foot soldier In any army, a tankless job.
friends What you have when you have.
gift The loan with the highest interest.
graft A most dependable oiler deployed as a support to the flotilla of commerce.
grift The most common transaction in a bull market.
heel 1. The weakest part of an ancient warrior. 2. The most electable part of a modern society.
hiccup An echo of swallowed resolve.
homily The dust that comes off when old words are shaken.
innocence In the American justice system, one maintains this until they are proven.
invasion A great quest announced by one great trumpet and concluded in many little pockets.
jury A temporary means of ensuring a dozen citizens harm no more than one of their peers.
kitchen 1. The courthouse in which too many cooks judge themselves. 2. Where the takeout is quietly plated.
last man out When you come to, do get the lights.
last man standing The mathematical term denoting the relationship between three men and two chairs.
musical A play in which performers tunefully say the usual lies.
mustache An ingenious device that can be grown by its wearer to catch mucus when the skull becomes full.
mortgage A means of buying today what will be lost tomorrow.
musical chairs A game that teaches children about governance.
offense The only thing left to take when logic has been removed.
politician A practitioner of situational idealism, the best of whom give displeased constituents directions to their neighbors’ houses.
politics 1. A chief means of monetizing duty. 2. An arena in which both contestants wear the same uniform. 3. An elaborate employment program providing for the second cousin of greatness.
privacy The chamber into which a man withdraws from his friends for the purpose of devising their undoing.
propaganda What he said about what I said.
property When you have what I’ll have.
proponent The principal heir to a disputed outcome.
reality What television says is on.
reverence A silent demonstration that allows one’s dream to displace another’s sense.
revolution Deck chairs don’t rearrange themselves.
rhetoric 1. The use of language toward your end. 2. After Quintilian, a good man speaking well enough.
robe What a judge wears to hide his or her intentions.
rope A tether fitted at birth, length to be determined.
salute A sign of respect shown to the superior officer and an acknowledgement that another is wearing his hat.
scrutiny 1. Applied to you, a consideration of possibility. 2. Applied by you, the certainty to be considered.
scuffle A conversation expressed by hand.
second man out Caught on when the first man hurdled him.
sentence At best, a means of doing justice to men and words.
slogan Any phrase coined in the pursuit of coin.
subdivision The latest development in agricultural science.
subpoena The means by which the commonwealth comes to recognize individuality.
suspicion The most potent spell cast by reason.
theft The highest form of flattery.
truth In any given tongue, the currency of the speaker whose father coined it.
veil An item worn once per marriage.
versatility The ability to have a hand in multiple pockets.
victory What happened just as you said it did.
vote In America, by a certain age, each man or woman is entrusted with multiples of one; sadly, this was not always the case.
wallet Where scruples of varying denominations are corralled.
werewolf A foolish myth with no basis in reality; rather, men grow more devilish at the new moon, when it is slightly harder to be seen.*
* Bierce’s definition: WEREWOLF, n. A wolf that was once, or is sometimes, a man. All werewolves are of evil disposition, having assumed a bestial form to gratify a beastial appetite, but some, transformed by sorcery, are as humane and is consistent with an acquired taste for human flesh. Some Bavarian peasants having caught a wolf one evening, tied it to a post by the tail and went to bed. The next morning nothing was there! Greatly perplexed, they consulted the local priest, who told them that their captive was undoubtedly a werewolf and had resumed its human for during the night. “The next time that you take a wolf,” the good man said, “see that you chain it by the leg, and in the morning you will find a Lutheran.”