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Devil's Dictionary: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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BEG, v. To ask for something with an earnestness proportioned to the belief that it will not be given.

Who is that, father?

    A mendicant, child,
Haggard, morose, and unaffable – wild!
See how he glares through the bars of his cell!
With Citizen Mendicant all is not well.

Why did they put him there, father?

    Because
Obeying his belly he struck at the laws.

His belly?

    Oh, well, he was starving, my boy –
A state in which, doubtless, there's little of joy.
No bite had he eaten for days, and his cry
Was "Bread!" ever "Bread!"

What's the matter with pie?

    With little to wear, he had nothing to sell;
To beg was unlawful – improper as well.

Why didn't he work?

    He would even have done that,
But men said: "Get out!" and the State remarked: "Scat!"
I mention these incidents merely to show
That the vengeance he took was uncommonly low.
Revenge, at the best, is the act of a Siou,
But for trifles –

Pray what did bad Mendicant do?

    Stole two loaves of bread to replenish his lack
And tuck out the belly that clung to his back.

Is that all father dear?

    There's little to tell:
They sent him to jail, and they'll send him to – well,
The company's better than here we can boast,
And there's –

Bread for the needy, dear father?

    Um – toast.

Atka Mip

BEGGAR, n. One who has relied on the assistance of his friends.

BEHAVIOR, n. Conduct, as determined, not by principle, but by breeding. The word seems to be somewhat loosely used in Dr. Jamrach Holobom's translation of the following lines from the Dies Irae:

Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae.
Ne me perdas illa die.

Pray remember, sacred Savior,
Whose the thoughtless hand that gave your
Death-blow. Pardon such behavior.

BELLADONNA, n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

BENEDICTINES, n. An order of monks otherwise known as black friars.

She thought it a crow, but it turn out to be
A monk of St. Benedict croaking a text.
"Here's one of an order of cooks," said she –
"Black friars in this world, fried black in the next."

"The Devil on Earth" (London, 1712)

BENEFACTOR, n. One who makes heavy purchases of ingratitude, without, however, materially affecting the price, which is still within the means of all.

BERENICE'S HAIR, n. A constellation (Coma Berenices) named in honor of one who sacrificed her hair to save her husband.

Her locks an ancient lady gave
Her loving husband's life to save;
And men – they honored so the dame –
Upon some stars bestowed her name.
But to our modern married fair,
Who'd give their lords to save their hair,
No stellar recognition's given.
There are not stars enough in heaven.

G. J.

BIGAMY, n. A mistake in taste for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called trigamy.

BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

BILLINGSGATE, n. The invective of an opponent.

BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters. As to the nature of it there appears to be no uniformity. Castor and Pollux were born from the egg. Pallas came out of a skull. Galatea was once a block of stone. Peresilis, who wrote in the tenth century, avers that he grew up out of the ground where a priest had spilled holy water. It is known that Arimaxus was derived from a hole in the earth, made by a stroke of lightning. Leucomedon was the son of a cavern in Mount Aetna, and I have myself seen a man come out of a wine cellar.

BLACKGUARD, n. A man whose qualities, prepared for display like a box of berries in a market – the fine ones on top – have been opened on the wrong side. An inverted gentleman.

BLANK-VERSE, n. Unrhymed iambic pentameters – the most difficult kind of English verse to write acceptably; a kind, therefore, much affected by those who cannot acceptably write any kind.


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The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, online at Fun-With-Words.com.

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