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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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INCOME, n. The natural and rational gauge and measure of respectability, the commonly accepted standards being artificial, arbitrary and fallacious; for, as "Sir Sycophas Chrysolater" in the play has justly remarked, "the true use and function of property (in whatsoever it consisteth – coins, or land, or houses, or merchant- stuff, or anything which may be named as holden of right to one's own subservience) as also of honors, titles, preferments and place, and all favor and acquaintance of persons of quality or ableness, are but to get money. Hence it followeth that all things are truly to be rated as of worth in measure of their serviceableness to that end; and their possessors should take rank in agreement thereto, neither the lord of an unproducing manor, howsoever broad and ancient, nor he who bears an unremunerate dignity, nor yet the pauper favorite of a king, being esteemed of level excellency with him whose riches are of daily accretion; and hardly should they whose wealth is barren claim and rightly take more honor than the poor and unworthy."

INCOMPATIBILITY, n. In matrimony a similarity of tastes, particularly the taste for domination. Incompatibility may, however, consist of a meek-eyed matron living just around the corner. It has even been known to wear a moustache.

INCOMPOSSIBLE, adj. Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both – as Walt Whitman's poetry and God's mercy to man. Incompossibility, it will be seen, is only incompatibility let loose. Instead of such low language as "Go heel yourself – I mean to kill you on sight," the words, "Sir, we are incompossible," would convey and equally significant intimation and in stately courtesy are altogether superior.

INCUBUS, n. One of a race of highly improper demons who, though probably not wholly extinct, may be said to have seen their best nights. For a complete account of incubi and succubi, including incubae and succubae, see the Liber Demonorum of Protassus (Paris, 1328), which contains much curious information that would be out of place in a dictionary intended as a text-book for the public schools.

Victor Hugo relates that in the Channel Islands Satan himself – tempted more than elsewhere by the beauty of the women, doubtless – sometimes plays at incubus, greatly to the inconvenience and alarm of the good dames who wish to be loyal to their marriage vows, generally speaking. A certain lady applied to the parish priest to learn how they might, in the dark, distinguish the hardy intruder from their husbands. The holy man said they must feel his brown for horns; but Hugo is ungallant enough to hint a doubt of the efficacy of the test.

INCUMBENT, n. A person of the liveliest interest to the outcumbents.

INDECISION, n. The chief element of success; "for whereas," saith Sir Thomas Brewbold, "there is but one way to do nothing and divers way to do something, whereof, to a surety, only one is the right way, it followeth that he who from indecision standeth still hath not so many chances of going astray as he who pusheth forwards" – a most clear and satisfactory exposition on the matter.

"Your prompt decision to attack," said Genera Grant on a certain occasion to General Gordon Granger, "was admirable; you had but five minutes to make up your mind in."

"Yes, sir," answered the victorious subordinate, "it is a great thing to be know exactly what to do in an emergency. When in doubt whether to attack or retreat I never hesitate a moment – I toss us a copper."

"Do you mean to say that's what you did this time?"

"Yes, General; but for Heaven's sake don't reprimand me: I disobeyed the coin."

INDIFFERENT, adj. Imperfectly sensible to distinctions among things.

"You tiresome man!" cried Indolentio's wife,
"You've grown indifferent to all in life."
"Indifferent?" he drawled with a slow smile;
"I would be, dear, but it is not worth while."

Apuleius M. Gokul

INDIGESTION, n. A disease which the patient and his friends frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the salvation of mankind. As the simple Red Man of the western wild put it, with, it must be confessed, a certain force: "Plenty well, no pray; big bellyache, heap God."

INDISCRETION, n. The guilt of woman.

INEXPEDIENT, adj. Not calculated to advance one's interests.

INFANCY, n. The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, "Heaven lies about us." The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward.

INFERIAE, n. [Latin] Among the Greeks and Romans, sacrifices for propitation of the Dii Manes, or souls of the dead heroes; for the pious ancients could not invent enough gods to satisfy their spiritual needs, and had to have a number of makeshift deities, or, as a sailor might say, jury-gods, which they made out of the most unpromising materials. It was while sacrificing a bullock to the spirit of Agamemnon that Laiaides, a priest of Aulis, was favored with an audience of that illustrious warrior's shade, who prophetically recounted to him the birth of Christ and the triumph of Christianity, giving him also a rapid but tolerably complete review of events down to the reign of Saint Louis. The narrative ended abruptly at the point, owing to the inconsiderate crowing of a cock, which compelled the ghosted King of Men to scamper back to Hades. There is a fine mediaeval flavor to this story, and as it has not been traced back further than Pere Brateille, a pious but obscure writer at the court of Saint Louis, we shall probably not err on the side of presumption in considering it apocryphal, though Monsignor Capel's judgment of the matter might be different; and to that I bow – wow.


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

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There are two versions of this book available. First, there is The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, as originally published in 1911. This is identical to the online version on the Fun-With-Words.com website, with almost 1,000 entries.

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