The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, is a satirical book published in 1911. It offers reinterpretations of terms in the English language, lampooning cant and political doublespeak.
The origins of the Devil's Dictionary can be traced to when Ambrose Bierce was a columnist in the San Francisco-based News Letter, a small weekly financial magazine which had been founded by Frederick Marriott in the late 1850s. The News Letter, although a serious magazine aimed at businessmen, contained a page set aside for informal satirical content, entitled The Town Crier. Bierce was hired as this page's editor in December 1868, writing with satire, irreverence and a lack of inhibition, thus becoming known as the 'laughing devil' of San Francisco.
Although the origins of the Devil's Dictionary are normally placed in 1881 (the point at which Bierce himself said it began) the idea started in August 1869 when Bierce, short of topics to write about and having recently bought a new copy of Webster's Unabridged dictionary, suggested the possibility of writing a "Comic Dictionary". He quoted the entry from Webster's for Vicegerents and italicised the section,
Kings are sometimes called God's vicegerents. It is to be wished they would always deserve the appellation
He then suggested how Noah Webster might have used his talent in a comic form and it was here that the idea of a Comic Dictionary was born.
The idea manifested itself in 1875 when Bierce, who had resigned as the Town Crier and had spent three years in London, returned to San Francisco in the hope of regaining his earlier journalistic post in the News Letter. He sent two submissions to the editor of the News Letter, both written under aliases, one of which was entitled The Demon's Dictionary and contained 48 words with new definitions in Bierce's trademark style of acerbic wit. Although forgotten by Ambrose Bierce in his compiling of the Devil's Dictionary, these entries were made available in the Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, which was first published in 1967.