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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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GALLOWS, n. A stage for the performance of miracle plays, in which the leading actor is translated to heaven. In this country the gallows is chiefly remarkable for the number of persons who escape it.

Whether on the gallows high
Or where blood flows the reddest,
The noblest place for man to die –
Is where he died the deadest.

(Old play)

GARGOYLE, n. A rain-spout projecting from the eaves of mediaeval buildings, commonly fashioned into a grotesque caricature of some personal enemy of the architect or owner of the building. This was especially the case in churches and ecclesiastical structures generally, in which the gargoyles presented a perfect rogues' gallery of local heretics and controversialists. Sometimes when a new dean and chapter were installed the old gargoyles were removed and others substituted having a closer relation to the private animosities of the new incumbents.

GARTER, n. An elastic band intended to keep a woman from coming out of her stockings and desolating the country.

GENEROUS, adj. Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons. It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest.

GENEALOGY, n. An account of one's descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own.

GENTEEL, adj. Refined, after the fashion of a gent.

Observe with care, my son, the distinction I reveal:
A gentleman is gentle and a gent genteel.
Heed not the definitions your "Unabridged" presents,
For dictionary makers are generally gents.

G. J.

GEOGRAPHER, n. A chap who can tell you offhand the difference between the outside of the world and the inside.

Habeam, geographer of wide renown,
Native of Abu-Keber's ancient town,
In passing thence along the river Zam
To the adjacent village of Xelam,
Bewildered by the multitude of roads,
Got lost, lived long on migratory toads,
Then from exposure miserably died,
And grateful travelers bewailed their guide.

Henry Haukhorn

GEOLOGY, n. The science of the earth's crust – to which, doubtless, will be added that of its interior whenever a man shall come up garrulous out of a well. The geological formations of the globe already noted are catalogued thus: The Primary, or lower one, consists of rocks, bones or mired mules, gas-pipes, miners' tools, antique statues minus the nose, Spanish doubloons and ancestors. The Secondary is largely made up of red worms and moles. The Tertiary comprises railway tracks, patent pavements, grass, snakes, mouldy boots, beer bottles, tomato cans, intoxicated citizens, garbage, anarchists, snap-dogs and fools.

GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.

He saw a ghost.
It occupied – that dismal thing! –
The path that he was following.
Before he'd time to stop and fly,
An earthquake trifled with the eye
That saw a ghost.
He fell as fall the early good;
Unmoved that awful vision stood.
The stars that danced before his ken
He wildly brushed away, and then
He saw a post.

Jared Macphester

Accounting for the uncommon behavior of ghosts, Heine mentions somebody's ingenious theory to the effect that they are as much afraid of us as we of them. Not quite, if I may judge from such tables of comparative speed as I am able to compile from memories of my own experience.

There is one insuperable obstacle to a belief in ghosts. A ghost never comes naked: he appears either in a winding-sheet or "in his habit as he lived." To believe in him, then, is to believe that not only have the dead the power to make themselves visible after there is nothing left of them, but that the same power inheres in textile fabrics. Supposing the products of the loom to have this ability, what object would they have in exercising it? And why does not the apparition of a suit of clothes sometimes walk abroad without a ghost in it? These be riddles of significance. They reach away down and get a convulsive grip on the very tap-root of this flourishing faith.

GHOUL, n. A demon addicted to the reprehensible habit of devouring the dead. The existence of ghouls has been disputed by that class of controversialists who are more concerned to deprive the world of comforting beliefs than to give it anything good in their place. In 1640 Father Secchi saw one in a cemetery near Florence and frightened it away with the sign of the cross. He describes it as gifted with many heads an an uncommon allowance of limbs, and he saw it in more than one place at a time. The good man was coming away from dinner at the time and explains that if he had not been "heavy with eating" he would have seized the demon at all hazards. Atholston relates that a ghoul was caught by some sturdy peasants in a churchyard at Sudbury and ducked in a horsepond. (He appears to think that so distinguished a criminal should have been ducked in a tank of rosewater.) The water turned at once to blood "and so contynues unto ys daye." The pond has since been bled with a ditch. As late as the beginning of the fourteenth century a ghoul was cornered in the crypt of the cathedral at Amiens and the whole population surrounded the place. Twenty armed men with a priest at their head, bearing a crucifix, entered and captured the ghoul, which, thinking to escape by the stratagem, had transformed itself to the semblance of a well known citizen, but was nevertheless hanged, drawn and quartered in the midst of hideous popular orgies. The citizen whose shape the demon had assumed was so affected by the sinister occurrence that he never again showed himself in Amiens and his fate remains a mystery.


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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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Approx. 1,000 Citations
Extra material: 1,600 Citations
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