Extracts from the cynic’s wordbook – Part I – the letter P

~This post is dedicated to my good friend, Raghul Selvam, for failing to dissociate in lofty hours. He is still alive today.~


While Ambroce ‘Bitter’ Bierce himself rather fancied the name ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ to ‘The Cynic’s Wordbook,’ I think the latter is equally good and thus decided to title this post as you now see it! One of the prized collections in my small home-library is an inconspicuous and unassuming little book that hardly catches anyone’s eye, titled–you guessed it–The Devil’s Dictionary. Bierce is perhaps the greatest figure in English satire I have come across and I take some pride in saying Bierce and I were both born on the same day; perhaps that explains the similar tastes!

PWhile many are aware of numerous sources where faux meanings are provided to real words, it is little known that this originated from Bierce’s masterpiece of a satire, The Devil’s Dictionary, a collection of his witty definitions of some of the more common words in the English language that he published over a huge period of time, from 1881 to 1906, in a certain weekly. There have been many–pardon me for saying lower standard–spin-offs of this and they surprisingly continue to this day. And while I have come across few who have actually read this work, I know many who haven’t; and it is for them that I have put down here the ten best definitions from Bierce’s book. In follow-up posts, I shall list some more. This one I have used to cover the letter P.

  1. Piano – noun A parlor utensil for subduing the impatient visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.
  2. Palmistrynoun The 947th method (according to Mimbleshaw’s classification) of obtaining money by false pretenses.
  3. Peacenoun In international affairs, the period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
  4. Physician - noun One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well.
  5. Politics - noun A means of livelihood affected by the more degraded portion of our criminal classes.
  6. Postscript - noun The only portion of a lady’s letter you need read if you are in a hurry.
  7. Prehistoricnoun Belonging to an early period and a museum.
  8. Prescriptionnoun A death warrant: the physician’s guess at what will best prolong the situation with least harm to the patient.
  9. Presidentnoun A temporary chief, elected by the leaders of a party of political bandits, for the purpose of dividing the spoils amongst them.
  10. Priestnoun A gentleman who claims to own the inside track on the road to Paradise, and wants to charge toll on the same.
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