Ah, the Holidays! That time of year when every family occasion is just about guaranteed to provide a obnoxiously drunken relative or two or three, a couple of screaming fights, and lots of hurt feelings! In the spirit of the Holiday season, I want to share a few of the best insights from one of my favorite authors, Ambrose Bierce, known to his friends as "Bitter Bierce." In his masterwork, The Devil's Dictionary (published in 1911 and, fortunately for me, now out of copyright), Bierce provided definitions to offend, and amuse, just about everybody.
Toothmongers, for example:
Dentist, n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.
Clarinet, n. An instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears. There are two instruments that are worse than a clarinet - two clarinets.
For some completely inexplicable reason, lawyers:
Court fool, n. The plaintiff.
Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
Litigant, n. One about to give up his skin in the hopes of retaining his bones.
Litigation, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.
Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion. In Constantinople, one who does.
Saint, n. Dead sinner, revised and edited.
Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
Academe, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.
Academy, n. A modern school where football is taught.
Affianced, pp. Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball and chain.
Bride, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, in all, making two.
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
Those engaged in business and finance:
Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
Finance, n. The art or science of managing revenues or resources for the best advantage of the manager.
Insurance, n. An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.
Mammon, n. The god of the world's leading religion. His chief temple is in the Holy City of New York.
Piracy, n. Commerce, just as God made it.
Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
President, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for president.
Radicalism, n. The conservatism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today.
Referendum, n. A law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion.
Kilt, n. A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland.
History, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
Magnet, n., Something acted upon by magnetism.
Magnetism, n. Something acting upon a magnet.
The two definitions immediately foregoing are condensed from the works of one thousand eminent scientists, who have illuminated the subject with a great white light, to the inexpressible advancement of human knowledge.
Human beings in general:
Bigot, n. On who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion you do not entertain.
Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.
Impartial, adj., Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy.
Mad, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence.
And a few other gems:
Dawn, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and along walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it.
Effect, n. The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other -- which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of the dog.
Meekness, n. Uncommon patience in planning a revenge that is worthwhile.
Neighbor, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
Positive, adj. Mistaken at the top of one's voice.
So, what are your favorite one-line insults and witticisms? Or two-line insults and witticisms, for that matter?