A scathing parodic dictionary, wherein how words are normatively and conventionally defined is replaced by what they often actually do mean. One of the many classic examples is Bierce's definition of "Bigot" as 'One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.'


This tour de force of caustic comic insight into the uses and abuses of language has mostly aged well; unfortunately, the biting wit is as relevant today as it has ever been. Physicians and health care workers may take some comfort in observing that many of the medical references will be enjoyed for their historical perspective. Bierce defines "Body-Snatcher" as 'One who supplies the young physician with that which the old physicians have supplied the undertaker.' Pondering this definition now, however, makes one wonder whether there is some other noun that might earn the same definition.

In addition to the medical references, there are other definitions that may provide some pleasure specific to physicians (Bierce defines "Resident" as 'unable to leave', which may appeal to housestaff). Overall, the potency of this dictionary remains the scathing social and political humor, still truer to human nature than one might like from a "Devil's" dictionary.


Written between 1881 and 1906; first published in 1906 under the title, The Cynic's Word Book. Bierce's date of death is not known, probably 1913 or 1914.

Primary Source

The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce


Citadel Press

Place Published

New York



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