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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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OATH, n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury.

OBLIVION, n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy. A dormitory without an alarm clock.

OBSERVATORY, n. A place where astronomers conjecture away the guesses of their predecessors.

OBSESSED, p.p. Vexed by an evil spirit, like the Gadarene swine and other critics. Obsession was once more common than it is now. Arasthus tells of a peasant who was occupied by a different devil for every day in the week, and on Sundays by two. They were frequently seen, always walking in his shadow, when he had one, but were finally driven away by the village notary, a holy man; but they took the peasant with them, for he vanished utterly. A devil thrown out of a woman by the Archbishop of Rheims ran through the trees, pursued by a hundred persons, until the open country was reached, where by a leap higher than a church spire he escaped into a bird. A chaplain in Cromwell's army exorcised a soldier's obsessing devil by throwing the soldier into the water, when the devil came to the surface. The soldier, unfortunately, did not.

OBSOLETE, adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words. A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer's attitude toward "obsolete" words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader.

OBSTINATE, adj. Inaccessible to the truth as it is manifest in the splendor and stress of our advocacy.

The popular type and exponent of obstinacy is the mule, a most intelligent animal.

OCCASIONAL, adj. Afflicting us with greater or less frequency. That, however, is not the sense in which the word is used in the phrase "occasional verses," which are verses written for an "occasion," such as an anniversary, a celebration or other event. True, they afflict us a little worse than other sorts of verse, but their name has no reference to irregular recurrence.

OCCIDENT, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful sub-tribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.

OCEAN, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.

OFFENSIVE, adj. Generating disagreeable emotions or sensations, as the advance of an army against its enemy.

"Were the enemy's tactics offensive?" the king asked. "I should say so!" replied the unsuccessful general. "The blackguard wouldn't come out of his works!"

OLD, adj. In that stage of usefulness which is not inconsistent with general inefficiency, as an old man. Discredited by lapse of time and offensive to the popular taste, as an old book.

"Old books? The devil take them!" Goby said.
"Fresh every day must be my books and bread."
Nature herself approves the Goby rule
And gives us every moment a fresh fool.

Harley Shum

OLEAGINOUS, adj. Oily, smooth, sleek.

Disraeli once described the manner of Bishop Wilberforce as "unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous." And the good prelate was ever afterward known as Soapy Sam. For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it.


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

How to Order a Copy of this Book

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.

The second, which we recommend highly, is The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, which has about 1,600 citations.

The Devil's Dictionary The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary
Same as 1911 edition
Approx. 1,000 Citations
Extra material: 1,600 Citations
With additional annotation
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