Sometime after Christmas, 100 years ago this month, writer Ambrose Bierce disappeared. His last-known whereabouts: near Chihuahua City, Mexico. Some believe he was shot by Pancho Villa; others, that he was killed in a siege; and still others, that he returned to the U.S. to live in anonymity. Whatever the case may be, Bierce is best remembered for The Devil’s Dictionary, its caustic wisdom and arch tone lambasting follies and vices all around. In The New Devil’s Dictionary: A New Version of a Cynical Classic (Lyons Press), Rhoda Koenig offers her own brilliant version of Bierce’s mordant vision, taking a red-hot pitchfork to individuals and institutions alike.
For your pleasure, a dozen definitions from The New Devil’s Dictionary:
1. care v., n. On its own (“I care about this/you”), a way for the speaker to assert dominance while appearing selfless. In compound form (“caregiver,” “foster care,” “care in the community”), a guarantee of cruelty or indifference.
2. child n. Tiny time bomb.
3. disgrace n. Marketing opportunity.
4. dried plum n. It’s a prune. Grow up.
5. England n. Country where everyone is a butler or has one and all speak in a way that proclaims their superiority either with bell-like clarity or mesmerizing unintelligibility.
6. forever adv. Till something better comes along.
7. idealist n. One who harms another only regretfully and for a very good reason. His victims, accidental or intentional, are enjoined to take the long view.
8. learning experience n. Someone else’s misfortune.
9. move on v. Wish, often coupled with “put this behind me,” in which victims of crime, immorality, or negligence ape the dignified detachment of the perpetrator.
10. principle n. Preference that is tolerated until it causes inconvenience.
11. smile n. An exposure of the teeth that, in a monkey, is a prelude to attack.
12. talk v. To convey information and ideas orally to someone who usually will not listen, probably not understand, most likely not care, and definitely not remember.
Excerpted from The New Devil’s Dictionary: A New Version of the Cynical Classic, by Rhoda Koenig, illustrated by Peter Breese © Lyons Press 2012.