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Rant #147
(published August 14, 2003)
Political Selections from:
by Ambrose Bierce
(Abridged in 2003 for Modern Readers and Those with Taste and Grit by Morgan Johnson)


ABDICATION, n. An act whereby a sovereign attests his sense of the high temperature of the throne.

ABORIGINIES, n. Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize.

ABSOLUTE, adj. Independent, irresponsible. An absolute monarchy is one in which the sovereign does as he pleases so long as he pleases the assassins. Not many absolute monarchies are left, most of them having been replaced by limited monarchies, where the sovereign's power for evil (and for good) is greatly curtailed, and by republics, which are governed by chance.

ACADEME, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.

ACADEMY, n. [from ACADEME] A modern school where football is taught.

ACCOUNTABILITY, n. The mother of caution.

ACCUSE, v.t. To affirm another's guilt or unworth; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged him.

ADMINISTRATION, n. An ingenious abstraction in politics, designed to receive the kicks and cuffs due to the premier or president. A man of straw, proof against bad-egging and dead-catting.

ALDERMAN, n. An ingenious criminal who covers his secret thieving with a pretence of open marauding.

ALIEN, n. An American sovereign in his probationary state.

ALLIANCE, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.

AMNESTY, n. The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.

APOLOGIZE, v.i. To lay the foundation for a future offence.

APPEAL, v.t. In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.

ARENA, n. In politics, an imaginary rat-pit in which the statesman wrestles with his record.

ARISTOCRACY, n. Government by the best men. (In this sense the word is obsolete; so is that kind of government.) Fellows that wear downy hats and clean shirts — guilty of education and suspected of bank accounts.


BARRACK, n. A house in which soldiers enjoy a portion of that of which it is their business to deprive others.


CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries.

CAPITAL, n. The seat of misgovernment.

CAT, n. A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle.

CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

COMMERCE, n. A kind of transaction in which A plunders from B the goods of C, and for compensation B picks the pocket of D of money belonging to E.

CONGRESS, n. A body of men who meet to repeal laws.

CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

CONSUL, n. In American politics, a person who having failed to secure and office from the people is given one by the Administration on condition that he leave the country.

CORONATION, n. The ceremony of investing a sovereign with the outward and visible signs of his divine right to be blown skyhigh with a dynamite bomb.

CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

CORSAIR, n. A politician of the seas.

COURT FOOL, n. The plaintiff.

CREDITOR, n. One of a tribe of savages dwelling beyond the Financial Straits and dreaded for their desolating incursions.


DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver.

DEPUTY, n. A male relative of an office-holder, or of his bondsman.

DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.

DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.

DISTANCE, n. The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep.


ECONOMY, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.

EMANCIPATION, n. A bondman's change from the tyranny of another to the despotism of himself.

ENTERTAINMENT, n. Any kind of amusement whose inroads stop short of death by injection.

EULOGY, n. Praise of a person who has either the advantages of wealth and power, or the consideration to be dead.

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.


FINANCE, n. The art or science of managing revenues and resources for the best advantage of the manager. The pronunciation of this word with the i long and the accent on the first syllable is one of America's most precious discoveries and possessions.

FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.


GENEROUS, adj. Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons. It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest.

GUILLOTINE, n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.


HASH, x. There is no definition for this word — nobody knows what hash is.

HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

HONORABLE, adj. Afflicted with an impediment in one's reach.

HOSPITALITY, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.


IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.

IMMIGRANT, n. An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.

IMMORAL, adj. Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral. If man's notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of expediency; if they originated, or could have originated, in any other way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from, and nowise dependent on, their consequences — then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind.

INFIDEL, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

INFLUENCE, n. In politics, a visionary quo given in exchange for a substantial quid.

INSURRECTION, n. An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection's failure to substitute misrule for bad government.

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