The Devil’s Dictionary (2)

There are snippets of macabre humour, almost Monty Pythonesque, and irreproachable wisdom to be found in Ambrose Pierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (1906). Take this definition of acephalous. It is an adjective, Bierce notes, as in “the surprising condition of the Crusader who absently pulled at his forelock some hours after a Saracen scimitar had, unconsciously to him, passed through his neck”.

One of the many anxieties that social media seems to engender amongst the younger generations, it seems, is the number of friends that they garner. Friend seems very much a misnomer in a social media context as in a rush to boost their numbers, they include people whom, at best, they barely know or people they have only “met” digitally. Perhaps, at best, they should be called acquaintances. Bierce, naturally, had a pithy definition for this form of friendship. “A person we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich and famous”.

Perhaps another term the social media giants could consider is adherent. This, Bierce observes, “is a follower who has not yet obtained all he expects to get”.  We hope that we are the objects of their admiration but we should be mindful of his definition; “polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves”.

A bite from an adder, so-called because “of its habit of adding funeral outlays to the other expenses of living”, may necessitate a visit to the apothecary. Bierce does not offer any hope here, defining them as “the physician’s accomplice, undertaker’s benefactor and grave worm’s provider”. He doesn’t speak any more highly of an architect, one who drafts a plan of your house, and plans a draft of your money”.

To guard yourself against the bolts from Bierce’s bow, perhaps you should don a suit of armour for protection; “the kind of clothing worn by a man whose tailor is a blacksmith”. If it is now obsolete, you could always put it up for auction and rely upon the skill of an auctioneer, someone “who proclaims with his hammer that he has picked a pocket with his tongue”.

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