The Devil’s Dictionary
By Ambrose Bierce
Public Domain Books
NECTAR, n. A drink served at banquets of the Olympian deities. The secret of its preparation is lost, but the modern Kentuckians believe that they come pretty near to a knowledge of its chief ingredient.
Juno drank a cup of nectar, But the draught did not affect her. Juno drank a cup of rye Then she bad herself good-bye.
NEGRO, n. The piece de resistance in the American political problem. Representing him by the letter n, the Republicans begin to build their equation thus: “Let n = the white man.” This, however, appears to give an unsatisfactory solution.
NEIGHBOR, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
NEPOTISM, n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.
NEWTONIAN, adj. Pertaining to a philosophy of the universe invented by Newton, who discovered that an apple will fall to the ground, but was unable to say why. His successors and disciples have advanced so far as to be able to say when.
NIHILIST, n. A Russian who denies the existence of anything but Tolstoi. The leader of the school is Tolstoi.
NIRVANA, n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to understand it.
NOBLEMAN, n. Nature’s provision for wealthy American minds ambitious to incur social distinction and suffer high life.
NOISE, n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.
NOMINATE, v. To designate for the heaviest political assessment. To put forward a suitable person to incur the mudgobbling and deadcatting of the opposition.
NOMINEE, n. A modest gentleman shrinking from the distinction of private life and diligently seeking the honorable obscurity of public office.
NON-COMBATANT, n. A dead Quaker.
NONSENSE, n. The objections that are urged against this excellent dictionary.
NOSE, n. The extreme outpost of the face. From the circumstance that great conquerors have great noses, Getius, whose writings antedate the age of humor, calls the nose the organ of quell. It has been observed that one’s nose is never so happy as when thrust into the affairs of others, from which some physiologists have drawn the inference that the nose is devoid of the sense of smell.
There’s a man with a Nose, And wherever he goes The people run from him and shout: “No cotton have we For our ears if so be He blow that interminous snout!”
So the lawyers applied For injunction. “Denied," Said the Judge: “the defendant prefixion, Whate’er it portend, Appears to transcend The bounds of this court’s jurisdiction.”
NOTORIETY, n. The fame of one’s competitor for public honors. The kind of renown most accessible and acceptable to mediocrity. A Jacob’s-ladder leading to the vaudeville stage, with angels ascending and descending.
NOUMENON, n. That which exists, as distinguished from that which merely seems to exist, the latter being a phenomenon. The noumenon is a bit difficult to locate; it can be apprehended only be a process of reasoning which is a phenomenon. Nevertheless, the discovery and exposition of noumena offer a rich field for what Lewes calls “the endless variety and excitement of philosophic thought.” Hurrah (therefore) for the noumenon!
NOVEL, n. A short story padded. A species of composition bearing the same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art. As it is too long to be read at a sitting the impressions made by its successive parts are successively effaced, as in the panorama. Unity, totality of effect, is impossible; for besides the few pages last read all that is carried in mind is the mere plot of what has gone before. To the romance the novel is what photography is to painting. Its distinguishing principle, probability, corresponds to the literal actuality of the photograph and puts it distinctly into the category of reporting; whereas the free wing of the romancer enables him to mount to such altitudes of imagination as he may be fitted to attain; and the first three essentials of the literary art are imagination, imagination and imagination. The art of writing novels, such as it was, is long dead everywhere except in Russia, where it is new. Peace to its ashes some of which have a large sale.
NOVEMBER, n. The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.