The Devil’s Dictionary: “Un-American and Understanding”

In our continuing quest to revisit a classic, or even a curiosity from the past and see how relevant it is, we continue with The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Originally published in newspaper installments from 1881 until 1906. You might be surprised how current many of the entries are.

A young Ambrose Bierce

A young Ambrose Bierce

For example, here is a definition for the words Un-American and Understanding. The Old definitions are Bierce’s. The New definitions are, in many cases, updates. Sometimes little change is needed. Sometimes more. From time to time, just as it was originally published, we will come back to The Devil’s Dictionary, for a look at it then and how it applies today. Click on Devil’s Dictionary in the tags below to bring up the other entries.

OLD DEFINITION
Un-American, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.

Understanding, n. A cerebral secretion that enables one having it to know a house from a horse by the roof on the house. Its nature and laws have been exhaustively expounded by Locke, who rode a house, and Kant, who lived in a horse.

His understanding was so keen
That all things which he’d felt, heard, seen,
He could interpret without fail
If he was in or out of jail.
He wrote at Inspiration’s call
Deep disquisitions on them all,
Then, pent at last in an asylum,
Performed the service to compile ’em.
So great a writer, all men swore,
They never had not read before.
—Jorrock Wormley

NEW DEFINITION
Un-American, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.

Example, the rest of the world and the Democratic Party as defined by Faux News.

Example, anything the other politician stands for, even if it’s very much like what the accuser stands for.

Example, anything that requires understanding, or as one politician recently said, “big syllable words.”

Understanding, n. See Un-American.

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