The Letter "L" by Ambrose Bierce

Excerpts from “The Devil’s Dictionary

By Ambrose Bierce
Selections from the Letter “L”

LANGUAGE, n.  The music with which we charm the serpents guarding
another’s treasure.

LAP, n.  One of the most important organs of the female system–an
admirable provision of nature for the repose of infancy, but chiefly
useful in rural festivities to support plates of cold chicken and
heads of adult males.  The male of our species has a rudimentary lap,
imperfectly developed and in no way contributing to the animal’s
substantial welfare.

LAUGHTER, n.  An interior convulsion, producing a distortion of the
features and accompanied by inarticulate noises.  It is infectious
and, though intermittent, incurable.  Liability to attacks of laughter
is one of the characteristics distinguishing man from the animals–
these being not only inaccessible to the provocation of his example,
but impregnable to the microbes having original jurisdiction in
bestowal of the disease.  Whether laughter could be imparted to
animals by inoculation from the human patient is a question that has
not been answered by experimentation.  Dr. Meir Witchell holds that
the infection character of laughter is due to the instantaneous
fermentation of sputa diffused in a spray.  From this peculiarity he
names the disorder Convulsio spargens.

LAW, n.

  Once Law was sitting on the bench,
      And Mercy knelt a-weeping.
  “Clear out!” he cried, “disordered wench!
      Nor come before me creeping.
  Upon your knees if you appear,
  ‘Tis plain your have no standing here.”

  Then Justice came.  His Honor cried:
      “Your status?–devil seize you!”
  “Amica curiae,” she replied–
      “Friend of the court, so please you.”
  “Begone!” he shouted–“there’s the door–
  I never saw your face before!”


LAWYER, n.  One skilled in circumvention of the law.

LAZINESS, n.  Unwarranted repose of manner in a person of low degree.

LEARNING, n.  The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.

LECTURER, n.  One with his hand in your pocket, his tongue in your ear
and his faith in your patience.

LIAR, n.  A lawyer with a roving commission.

LIBERTY, n.  One of Imagination’s most precious possessions.

  The rising People, hot and out of breath,
  Roared around the palace:  “Liberty or death!”
  “If death will do,” the King said, “let me reign;
  You’ll have, I’m sure, no reason to complain.”

Martha Braymance

LIFE, n.  A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.  We live
in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed.
The question, “Is life worth living?” has been much discussed;
particularly by those who think it is not, many of whom have written
at great length in support of their view and by careful observance of
the laws of health enjoyed for long terms of years the honors of
successful controversy.

  “Life’s not worth living, and that’s the truth,”
  Carelessly caroled the golden youth.
  In manhood still he maintained that view
  And held it more strongly the older he grew.
  When kicked by a jackass at eighty-three,
  “Go fetch me a surgeon at once!” cried he.

Han Soper

LIMB, n.  The branch of a tree or the leg of an American woman.

  ‘Twas a pair of boots that the lady bought,
      And the salesman laced them tight
      To a very remarkable height–
  Higher, indeed, than I think he ought–
      Higher than can be right.
  For the Bible declares–but never mind:
      It is hardly fit
  To censure freely and fault to find
  With others for sins that I’m not inclined
      Myself to commit.
  Each has his weakness, and though my own
      Is freedom from every sin,
      It still were unfair to pitch in,
  Discharging the first censorious stone.
  Besides, the truth compels me to say,
  The boots in question were _made_ that way.
  As he drew the lace she made a grimace,
      And blushingly said to him:
  “This boot, I’m sure, is too high to endure,
  It hurts my–hurts my–limb.”
  The salesman smiled in a manner mild,
  Like an artless, undesigning child;
  Then, checking himself, to his face he gave
  A look as sorrowful as the grave,
      Though he didn’t care two figs
  For her paints and throes,
  As he stroked her toes,
  Remarking with speech and manner just
  Befitting his calling:  “Madam, I trust
      That it doesn’t hurt your twigs.”

B. Percival Dike

LINEN, n.  “A kind of cloth the making of which, when made of hemp,
entails a great waste of hemp.”–Calcraft the Hangman.

LITIGATION, n.  A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of
as a sausage.

LOGIC, n.  The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with
the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.  The
basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor
premise and a conclusion–thus:

– Major Premise:  Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as
quickly as one man.

– Minor Premise:  One man can dig a posthole in sixty seconds;

– Conclusion:  Sixty men can dig a posthole in one second.

This may be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by
combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are
twice blessed.

LONGEVITY, n.  Uncommon extension of the fear of death.

LORD, n.  In American society, an English tourist above the state of a
costermonger, as, lord ‘Aberdasher, Lord Hartisan and so forth.  The
traveling Briton of lesser degree is addressed as “Sir,” as, Sir ‘Arry
Donkiboi, or ‘Amstead ‘Eath.  The word “Lord” is sometimes used, also,
as a title of the Supreme Being; but this is thought to be rather
flattery than true reverence.

LOVE, n.  A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of
the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder.
This disease, like  caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only
among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous
nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from
its ravages.  It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the
physician than to the patient.

LUMINARY, n.  One who throws light upon a subject; as an editor by not
writing about it.

LYRE, n.  An ancient instrument of torture.  The word is now used in a
figurative sense to denote the poetic faculty, as in the following
fiery lines of our great poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

  I sit astride Parnassus with my lyre,
  And pick with care the disobedient wire.
  That stupid shepherd lolling on his crook
  With deaf attention scarcely deigns to look.
  I bide my time, and it shall come at length,
  When, with a Titan’s energy and strength,
  I’ll grab a fistful of the strings, and O,
  The word shall suffer when I let them go!

Farquharson Harris

________ & _________
Excerpts from:
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

18 Responses to “The Letter "L" by Ambrose Bierce”
  1. Cha says:

    Wow! What a fInd! Just got meself a copy of the book via Project Gutenberg. The devil shall keep me company for a couple of nights.

  2. She who laughs well, lives well . . .That dude Bierce is operating at several different planes of intellectual existence. The comment from the hangman bemoaning the waste of good hemp . . . hemp that he ought to be using for nooses . . . what a rapscillion, this Bierce.

  3. Edgar Lores says:

    Wow squared! Blessed relief and blessed laughter.Had the impression he was an Englishman and practiced the dark arts of Satanism.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thought this was the guy who wrote the Devil and Daniel Webster. That one was by Stephen Vincent Benet. This one may yet give Humpty Dumpty a good fight.DocB

  5. Humpty can only dream of such eloquence . . .

  6. He is the quirkiest dude in American literature. I mean, to choose to ride with Pancho Villa? And to disappear off the face of the earth?Of course there are some who say the Pancho Villa thing is just hoax, that the guy had asthma and couldn't ride a horse into the dusty desert without croaking. And there are some who say a witness saw him executed as a bandito.I personally think he went to the Philippines and lived happily ever after . . .To me, Pancho Villa is Jose Rizal with a six gun and sombrero. That's who I want to be . . . only with a keyboard and one of those big Chinese hats to keep the sun at bay . . .

  7. andrew lim says:

    Thanks to your blog, I now know something about which I previously knew nothing about. I guess a modern day Filipino Bierce would be Teddy Boy Locsin, whom I disagree with about 40% of the time. Seldom wrong, always right!

  8. Edgar Lores says:

    Gazooks! I mistook him For Aleister Crowley.

  9. Aleister Crowley (/ˈkroʊli/ kroh-lee; 12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947), born Edward Alexander Crowley, and also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast 666, was an English occultist, mystic, ceremonial magician, poet and mountaineer, who was responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema. In his role as the founder of the Thelemite philosophy, he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in the early 20th century.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Teddy Boy was one of my idols till he showed his true colors in the Impeachment. Great wit and one of the best columnists and feature writers in these parts. The Hitchen's of the Philippines if ever there was one. The guy is a paragon of irreverence. Potty mouth and middle finger. No fear. I'll defintely read his memoirs if he comes down to it. Ok, I'll stop now.DocB

  11. baycas says:

    LUST, n. Literally, an overwhelming desire of someone devoid of something which he/she overwhelmingly desires. A concrete example is the one who is already in power but still lusts for power; such as how dynastic politicians act.This is living up to what Erich Fromme had uttered, “The lust for power is not rooted in strength but in weakness.”—–LOSE, v. Locally (here in PHL), this is an incongruity; in reality, a word that is a non-word for it is plainly not in the vocabulary of Filipino politicians after an election day.Romney may have been unsuccessful as to lose his bid for the American presidency but a Filipino politician is always unsuccessful in an election simply because he/she was cheated.(See related word CONCEDE, v. Likewise a non-word among Filipino politicians.)

  12. Very good. Someone should do a dictionary of Philippine definitions because words here have such different meanings. Take Patriotism. In America, it means a bond of unity attached to principles of high standing. In the Philippines, it means the individual pleasure one derives from the achievement of other Filipinos. But the book would not sell very well because satire in the Philippines is called libel.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Johnny Lin's Filipino dictionary or FilipediaLanguage: unit of measurement used by land grabbersLap: kind of dance corrupt government officials enjoy while their wives employ DI in ballroom dancingLaughter: Filipinos do at their politicians who in turn threaten them with libelLaw: not applicable to poor or without connectionsLawyer: a person who knows how the law is won by the amount of money given to judges Laziness: honorable trait of members of Philippine CongressLearning: not required to become a Philippine politicianLecturer: people who do not follow their own teachingsLiar: A person who does not lie upon being caught on illIcit ways is not a FilipinoLiberty: filipino prostitutes interpretation of Black Friday in AmericaLife: very. Heap in the Philippines, cheaper by the bulletLimb: oldest mayor of any capital city in the worldLinen: johnny Lin and his sardonic humor he he heLitigation: pork barrel of Filipino prosecutorsLogic: many Philippine senators have not heard. Also, Logic is money making magic from logs by corrupt politicians. Longevity: expertise of Enrile and ErapLord: resorted to by government officials accused by Ombudsman or impeachment courtLove: sworn to wives of those accused with mistressLuminary: reason why people enter into politicsLyre: an instrument of lying Joe: which are your favorites?He he he

  14. baycas says:

    LIBEL, n. Labeling someone with the truth may be dangerous to one’s liberty for here in PHL truth is not a defense. Malice is always presumed unless proved otherwise by the legally accused.Liberal Party stalwart Esperlita Garcia learned an ironical Pentecostal lesson when she was locked up overnight because of a charge of libel leveled against her.—–Incidentally, @JoeAm, you may please ask the wife the English translation of LUST-LOSE (lus-lôs)…

  15. My favorite by far is Linen, followed by Longevity, Lyre and Liberty. They are all very good, and dear departed Ambrose would laugh, too.

  16. Yes, poor Perling is the woman Maude mentions in her rant today. Filipinos have a good sense of humor, but it ends when the subject is oneself. Therefore, satire, a complete fiction, is taken as truth, and becomes libel as well. So both truth and fiction are cause for imprisonment if the hearer has no humor.It's more fun in the Philippines.I'll check with the wife when she gets out of the shower. That's usually done within two or three hours, after successive layers of papaya soap, stone scrubbing, whitening creams, and who knows what other chemicals and poisons she is engaged with in there.

  17. Edgar Lores says:

    Good stuff. It took me a minute to get Limb.

  18. baycas says:

    cenpeg has "Corruptionary".

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