The Devil’s Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce was one of nineteenth-century America’s most renowned satirists. The author of short stories, essays, fables, poems, and sketches, he was a popular columnist and wrote for several San Francisco and London newspapers during his forty-year journalism career.

Bierce’s witty, sardonic definitions in The Devil’s Dictionary were originally published in The Wasp, a weekly journal he edited in San Francisco from 1881 to 1886. As a compiled collection, these caustic aphorisms first appeared as The Cynic’s Word Book in 1906, and was reissued in 1911 under the author’s preferred title of The Devil’s Dictionary.

Initial reception of the book versions was mixed. In the decades following, however, the stature of The Devil’s Dictionary grew. It has been widely quoted, frequently translated, and often imitated, earning a global reputation. In the 1970s, The Devil’s Dictionary was named as one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. It has been called “howlingly funny”, and Wall Street Journalcolumnist Jason Zweig wrote that The Devil’s Dictionary is “probably the most brilliant work of satire written in America. And maybe one of the greatest in all of world literature.”

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