The Devil’s Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 1, 1881

CENTAUR, n. One of a race of persons who lived before the division of labor had been carried to such a pitch of differentiation, and who followed the primitive economic maxim, “Every man his own horse.” The best of the lot was Chiron, who to the wisdom and virtues of the horse added the medical skill of man. The scripture story of the head of John the Baptist on a charger shows (according to Father Jape) that pagan myths have somewhat sophisticated sacred history.

CHILD, n. An accident to the occurrence of which all the forces and arrangements of nature are specially devised and accurately adapted.

CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth—two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.

CHIMPANZEE, n. A species of pansy cultivated in Africa.

CHINAMAN, n. A working man whose faults are docility, skill, industry, frugality and temperance, and whom we clamor to be forbidden by law to employ; whose labor opens countless avenues of employment to the whites, and cheapens the necessities of life to the poor; to whom the squalor of poverty is imputed as a congenial vice, exciting not compassion but resentment.

It’s very rough to fine a man

For stoning of a Chinaman.


CHIROMANCER, n. A romancer who tells fortunes by hand.

CHIVALRY, n. That wing of the Democratic party that has all the plumes. The other wing raises the wind for the bird to fly.

CHOP, n. A piece of leather skillfully attached to a bone and administered to the patients at restaurants.

CHORUS, n. In opera, a band of howling dervishes who terrify the audience while the singers are taking breath.

CHRISTEN, v.i. To ceremoniously afflict a helpless child with a name.

This is in christening the only trick:

The child is wetted so the name will stick.

CHRISTMAS, n. A day set apart and consecrated to gluttony, drunkenness, maudlin sentiment, gift-taking, public dullness and domestic misbehavior.

What! not religious? You should see, my pet,

On every Christmas day how drunk I get!

O, I’m a Christian—not a pious monk

Honors the Master with so dead a drunk.

CHURCH, n. A place where the parson worships God and the women worship the parson.

CIRCUS, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.

CLERGYMAN, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.

The clergyman to Tom, one day,

Said: “Work is worthy of its pay;

You to your body did attend,

But I your soul did ever mend.”

Said Tom: ” I recognize the debt,

And pay it thus.” A coin he set

Before the parson’s eyes awhile,

Then pocketed it with a smile,

Remarking: “Since the thing you mend

Is unsubstantial, pious friend,

It clearly seems the fitting way

In unsubstantial coin to pay.”