The Bierce Denouements

Denouement, n. 1. a. the final clarification or resolution of a plot in a play or other work, b. the point at which this occurs. 2. final outcome; solution.

Ambrose Bierce gives us, in resolute resolution, the meanings of words which otherwise would be plots of unintelligible confusion.  Here are a few of his more amusing denouements.
Take care, because if you read enough of him, you start speaking and writing like him, words flying from the tongue or typewriter like a sermon from a holy roller bible thumper.
Enjoy a day of respite from boats on the rocks and priests in a snit.
DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic.
ELECTOR, n. One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice.
EVANGELIST, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.
EXILE, n. One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador.
FIDDLE, n. An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse’s tail on the entrails of a cat.
FOOL, n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscient, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude and the circle of the sciences. He created patriotism and taught the nations war—founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine and Chicago. He established monarchical and republican government. He is from everlasting to everlasting—such as creation’s dawn beheld he fooleth now. In the morning of time he sang upon primitive hills, and in the noonday of existence headed the procession of being. His grandmotherly hand was warmly tucked-in the set sun of civilization, and in the twilight he prepares Man’s evening meal of milk-and-morality and turns down the covers of the universal grave. And after the rest of us shall have retired for the night of eternal oblivion he will sit up to write a history of human civilization.
FREEDOM, n. Exemption from the stress of authority in a beggarly half dozen of restraint’s infinite multitude of methods. A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly. Liberty. The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known; naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either.
GALLOWS, n. A stage for the performance of miracle plays, in which the leading actor is translated to heaven. In this country the gallows is chiefly remarkable for the number of persons who escape it.
GRAVITATION, n. The tendency of all bodies to approach one another with a strength proportion to the quantity of matter they contain— the quantity of matter they contain being ascertained by the strength of their tendency to approach one another. This is a lovely and edifying illustration of how science, having made A the proof of B, makes B the proof of A.
HAND, n. A singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody’s pocket.
HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.
HASH, x. There is no definition for this word—nobody knows what hash is.
HELPMATE, n. A wife, or bitter half.
IMAGINATION, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.
JUSTICE, n. A commodity which is a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service.
MAGNIFICENT, adj. Having a grandeur or splendor superior to that to which the spectator is accustomed, as the ears of an ass, to a rabbit, or the glory of a glowworm, to a maggot.
MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.
NOMINATE, v. To designate for the heaviest political assessment. To put forward a suitable person to incur the mudgobbling and deadcatting of the opposition.
NON-COMBATANT, n. A dead Quaker.
OMEN, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.
REAR, n. In American military matters, that exposed part of the army that is nearest to Congress.
REBEL, n. A proponent of a new misrule who has failed to establish it.
RED-SKIN, n. A North American Indian, whose skin is not red—at least not on the outside.
SCRIPTURES, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
TRIAL, n. A formal inquiry designed to prove and put upon record the blameless characters of judges, advocates and jurors. In order to effect this purpose it is necessary to supply a contrast in the person of one who is called the defendant, the prisoner, or the accused. If the contrast is made sufficiently clear this person is made to undergo such an affliction as will give the virtuous gentlemen a comfortable sense of their immunity, added to that of their worth. In our day the accused is usually a human being, or a socialist, but in mediaeval times, animals, fishes, reptiles and insects were brought to trial. A beast that had taken human life, or practiced sorcery, was duly arrested, tried and, if condemned, put to death by the public executioner. Insects ravaging grain fields, orchards or vineyards were cited to appeal by counsel before a civil tribunal, and after testimony, argument and condemnation, if they continued in contumaciam the matter was taken to a high ecclesiastical court, where they were solemnly excommunicated and anathematized. In a street of Toledo, some pigs that had wickedly run between the viceroy’s legs, upsetting him, were arrested on a warrant, tried and punished. In Naples and ass was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the sentence appears not to have been executed. D’Addosio relates from the court records many trials of pigs, bulls, horses, cocks, dogs, goats, etc., greatly, it is believed, to the betterment of their conduct and morals. In 1451 a suit was brought against the leeches infesting some ponds about Berne, and the Bishop of Lausanne, instructed by the faculty of Heidelberg University, directed that some of “the aquatic worms” be brought before the local magistracy. This was done and the leeches, both present and absent, were ordered to leave the places that they had infested within three days on pain of incurring “the malediction of God.” In the voluminous records of this cause celebre nothing is found to show whether the offenders braved the punishment, or departed forthwith out of that inhospitable jurisdiction.
ULTIMATUM, n. In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.
VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
An animal usually living in the vicinity of Man, and having a
rudimentary susceptibility to domestication.  It is credited by
many of the elder zoologists with a certain vestigial docility
acquired in a former state of seclusion, but naturalists of the
postsusananthony period, having no knowledge of the seclusion,
deny the virtue and declare that such as creation’s dawn beheld,
it roareth now.  The species is the most widely distributed of all
beasts of prey, infesting all habitable parts of the globe, from
Greeland’s spicy mountains to India’s moral strand.  The popular
name (wolfman) is incorrect, for the creature is of the cat kind.
The woman is lithe and graceful in its movement, especially the
American variety (felis pugnans), is omnivorous and can be
taught not to talk.
                                                                                                                      Balthasar Pober
Excerpts are from theGutenberg Library, “The Devil’s Dictionary”, by Ambrose Bierce
16 Responses to “The Bierce Denouements”
  1. Cha says:


  2. Yes and, fortunately, no one has as yet summoned up the courage to try to teach you not to talk.

  3. andrew lim says:

    HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.That is my state of mind when I read of UNA's contortions in defining themselves as "opposition." They dare not go against Pnoy, but stilltry to differentiate themselves as…. what exactly? I wonder if there will come a time when Pnoy will attack them directly, and how will they react?

  4. Yes, President Aquino has on his "protecto-shield". I wonder how UNA reads the fallout from their Cebu meeting with Garcia. That was a direct confrontation with the President. I slapped them down. I wonder if enough others did that to make them see the error of attacking President Aquino.They will work local communities hard, though, through friendship and favor. President Aquino will also have to have ground forces out. I don't think he can just rely on "glow" to get his party's slate elected.

  5. I love this: VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.It aptly defines Filipinos. I pray (yes, I do pray if everything else fails) that Filipinos proves Ambrose wrong. But polls show Filipinos still fall within the definition of Ambrose's definition of "VOTE".

  6. Yes, as in America, too. Tea Party extremists who find compromise absolutely impossible. My favorite on this list is: "REBEL, n. A proponent of a new misrule who has failed to establish it."I think of the NPA. What a horrid government they would run, and they have failed in their attempt to establish it. A double whack at rebels as failures. Like, look at Egypt and what their rebels have produced. More rebels.

  7. Edgar Lores says:


  8. Anonymous says:

    Love the definition of FOOL. The blogossphere and social media is currenlty cluttered with FOOLS. Grrrr… Boring….

  9. Yes, we are everywhere, ahahahaha. Even in the Senate.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Yes, especially the Senate and thanks, you pointed it out. hahahaaa

  11. Anonymous says:

    JoeI have just joined Mariano in exile here, where your better half does not interfere! Right jccMy vote: Omen- a sign that something will happen if nothing happensThis is the favorite expression of my gf : Oh men, after satisfying sex. He he heJohnny Lin

  12. What did they do to you over there? They did not agree with what you had to say? They are territorial. They gangbangers.The first time I was there they asked me, "Where are you from?" What has got to do with it?I like this blogsite. It is cerebral.

  13. @Johnny, you are welcome here any time, of course. I suppose the trouble with the CPM gathering is that it becomes a little like the Get Real gang after a time, similar ideas and ideals gathering force to dominate over opposing views. And a tendency to defend rather than listen, and bend. That is everywhere. I think they need your voice to keep them honest. They may not agree with you in print, to save face, but when they get off the public platform, maybe they carry a different view forward.I enjoy bopping in over there, just to pop off. I don't get much engaged in the deeper discussions because others are too determined to dominate and I get tired.

  14. @Mariano, I'm wondering what Bierce's definition of "cerebral" would be. "cerebral, adj, an admirable quality of thought that shoots for the stars and, while occasionally clinging to the moon, mostly falls back down under the burdensome gravitational weight of earth's ignorance and sloth"

  15. Anonymous says:

    The problem is a 3 headed monster: 1. 2 bosses, minor so disrespectful to freespeech of others, check jcc and eric as examples, many more before aside from mariano, cant tolerate it anymore.2. Onion skin to criticism, quality of some topics lately are mediocre at best and criticism not entertained? Frankly, I was surprised jcc came back to participate with his experiencebeforeand it was all about insulting his grammar! Which should not have been tolerated by principal writer.3. Probable pacquiao syndromeand pacquiao was criticized for having such. Promoting paid write up from another paper which is mostly not worth reading in my view. Of course, it's the choice of the owner what to publishand as a reader I chose to refrain from reading permanently.Well, history repeats itself. Success destroyed by the other halfHe he he

  16. Ah, yes, I understand for sure. 1. I actually enjoy debating with Alan because he is stubborn and smart, so hard to get around. Raissa doesn't participate much. 2. Every blog in the Philippines is closed to criticism, I think. This one is more open than most, but I'm afraid I, too, would bristle if a priest visited and started to opine.3. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.Yes, beware those bitter halves, or better . . .

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