The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce (1911)
Birth, n. – The first and direst of all disasters.
Egotist, n. – A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Friendless, adj. – Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.
Saint, n. – A dead sinner revised and edited.
Self-esteem, n. – An erroneous appraisement.
Twice, adv. – Once too often.
Year, n. – A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.
You’ll find wittier definitions than these within, but they’re much longer. In several places, a single definition might take up an entire page. A limerick or a poem accompanies some.
Three quarters into the book, I realized why I’d put off finishing it; when it’s not contemptuously funny, it’s still contemptuous. The smirking tone wore on me after a while, and I had to offset the mood it generated with lighter reading. Recommended, but not in a single sitting. Sure, you’ll laugh; you’ll smile; but you’ll grimace too. Approach in high spirits. When spirits falter, bookmark. Rinse and repeat. Treat it as you would garlic or sour cream or chili powder; a little goes a long way.