Weather Forecast


Woodworking column: Nourishment from Bierce's witticisms

We lost a great wordsmith on this day 105 years ago when we lost Ambrose Bierce. Bierce was the cynical journalist who wrote classics like "The Devil's Dictionary" and other caustic tales and sayings. Bierce was born in Ohio to strict and religious parents and managed to live through it, residing all over the country and even in England. On this day in 1913, he went into Mexico to write about Pancho Villa and hasn't been heard from since. If you by chance saw the movie "The Old Gringo," it's a fictionalized account of the event. Gregory Peck played the old Gringo, more popularly known as Ambrose Bierce.

These days Bierce is best known for his short story "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge," which begins "Peyton Farquahar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."

Very jolly, right? Wrong. Bierce was anything but jolly. The famed "Devil's Dictionary," is a satire on lexicography which he wrote in 1906 and was a smash hit despite his earlier poem, in which he wrote:

"Mark how my fame rings out from zone to zone;

A thousand critics shouting 'He's unknown!'"

In his "dictionary" he defines "ACHIEVEMENT as a noun which means the death of endeavor and the birth of disgust."

"BORE, noun, a person who talks when you wish him to listen."

"ADVICE, noun, the smallest current coin."

"CYNIC, noun, a blackguard whose faulty visiion sees things as they are, not as they ought to be."

"EDIBLE, adjective, good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, a man to a worm."

"HABIT, noun, a shackle for the free."

"LABOR, noun, one of the processes by which A acquires property for B."

"LAWSUIT, noun, a machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage."

"MARRIAGE, noun, a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two."

"PREJUDICE," noun, a vagrant opinion without visible means of support."

"SAINT, noun, a dead sinner, revised and edited."

That's about enough from the dictionary, so let's move on to his book of epigrams:

"You are not permitted to kill a woman who has wronged you, but nothing forbids you to reflect that she is growing older every minute, [thus] you are avenged 1,440 times a day."

"Women would be more charming if one could fall into her arms without falling into her hands."

"Self-denial is indulgence of a propensity to forego."

I spent 25 years as a book reviewer, as did Bierce. If only, if only, I had read Bierce before I began that painstaking job of book reviewing. One of Bierce's many book reviews demonstrates his astuteness and his efforts to preserve newsprint:

"The covers of this book are too far apart. The moral to this story: the above nine words tells it all."

Over this past century, Bierce's body has surely nourished many a worm, as his witticisms have surely nourished us.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.