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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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POSTERITY, n. An appellate court which reverses the judgment of a popular author's contemporaries, the appellant being his obscure competitor.

POTABLE, n. Suitable for drinking. Water is said to be potable; indeed, some declare it our natural beverage, although even they find it palatable only when suffering from the recurrent disorder known as thirst, for which it is a medicine. Upon nothing has so great and diligent ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages and in all countries, except the most uncivilized, as upon the invention of substitutes for water. To hold that this general aversion to that liquid has no basis in the preservative instinct of the race is to be unscientific – and without science we are as the snakes and toads.

POVERTY, n. A file provided for the teeth of the rats of reform. The number of plans for its abolition equals that of the reformers who suffer from it, plus that of the philosophers who know nothing about it. Its victims are distinguished by possession of all the virtues and by their faith in leaders seeking to conduct them into a prosperity where they believe these to be unknown.

PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

PRE-ADAMITE, n. One of an experimental and apparently unsatisfactory race of antedated Creation and lived under conditions not easily conceived. Melsius believed them to have inhabited "the Void" and to have been something intermediate between fishes and birds. Little its known of them beyond the fact that they supplied Cain with a wife and theologians with a controversy.

PRECEDENT, n. In Law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a Judge may choose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases. As there are precedents for everything, he has only to ignore those that make against his interest and accentuate those in the line of his desire. Invention of the precedent elevates the trial-at-law from the low estate of a fortuitous ordeal to the noble attitude of a dirigible arbitrament.

PRECIPITATE, adj. Anteprandial.

Precipitate in all, this sinner
Took action first, and then his dinner.

Judibras

PREDESTINATION, n. The doctrine that all things occur according to programme. This doctrine should not be confused with that of foreordination, which means that all things are programmed, but does not affirm their occurrence, that being only an implication from other doctrines by which this is entailed. The difference is great enough to have deluged Christendom with ink, to say nothing of the gore. With the distinction of the two doctrines kept well in mind, and a reverent belief in both, one may hope to escape perdition if spared.

PREDICAMENT, n. The wage of consistency.

PREDILECTION, n. The preparatory stage of disillusion.

PRE-EXISTENCE, n. An unnoted factor in creation.

PREFERENCE, n. A sentiment, or frame of mind, induced by the erroneous belief that one thing is better than another.

An ancient philosopher, expounding his conviction that life is no better than death, was asked by a disciple why, then, he did not die. "Because," he replied, "death is no better than life."

It is longer.

PREHISTORIC, adj. Belonging to an early period and a museum. Antedating the art and practice of perpetuating falsehood.

He lived in a period prehistoric,
When all was absurd and phantasmagoric.
Born later, when Clio, celestial recorded,
Set down great events in succession and order,
He surely had seen nothing droll or fortuitous
In anything here but the lies that she threw at us.

Orpheus Bowen

PREJUDICE, n. A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.

PRELATE, n. A church officer having a superior degree of holiness and a fat preferment. One of Heaven's aristocracy. A gentleman of God.

PREROGATIVE, n. A sovereign's right to do wrong.

PRESBYTERIAN, n. One who holds the conviction that the government authorities of the Church should be called presbyters.

PRESCRIPTION, n. A physician's guess at what will best prolong the situation with least harm to the patient.

PRESENT, n. That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.

PRESENTABLE, adj. Hideously appareled after the manner of the time and place.

In Boorioboola-Gha a man is presentable on occasions of ceremony if he have his abdomen painted a bright blue and wear a cow's tail; in New York he may, if it please him, omit the paint, but after sunset he must wear two tails made of the wool of a sheep and dyed black.

PRESIDE, v. To guide the action of a deliberative body to a desirable result. In Journalese, to perform upon a musical instrument; as, "He presided at the piccolo."

The Headliner, holding the copy in hand,
Read with a solemn face:
"The music was very uncommonly grand –
The best that was every provided,
For our townsman Brown presided
At the organ with skill and grace."
The Headliner discontinued to read,
And, spread the paper down
On the desk, he dashed in at the top of the screed:
"Great playing by President Brown."

Orpheus Bowen


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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.

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

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