Back in the days before anyone had heard of the Web -- January 16, 1986 to be exact -- I was browsing through The Devil's Dictionary, that masterpiece of cynical lexicography by Ambrose Bierce. A light bulb flashed in my head: Why doesn't somebody write a Devil's Dictionary for our times? And why not ME?
Eight years and 944 definitions later, The Cynic's Dictionary hit the bookshelves. Few critics noticed it, but the book had plenty of fans and racked up decent sales. Finally, after 13 years and three editions (original hardcover, paperback and budget hardcover), my brainchild was laid to rest.
But like some cantankerous literary zombie, The Cynic's Dictionary rises from the grave on this page. Eventually you'll be able to download the full text as an e-book... complete with a few hundred new definitions for our perplexing new millennium. I might even publish a dead-tree edition for those of you who still prefer books with physical pages. For now, you can dive into a robust selection of my vintage "disgruntled definitions" free of charge.
Want to quote any of these definitions in your own writings? Be my guest -- as long as you cite me (Rick Bayan) as the author.
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A Cynic's Dictionary Sampler
ANGST A form of suffering caused by too much thinking; a phenomenon probably incomprehensible to anyone who owns a recreational vehicle.
ASSEMBLY LINE The notion that if a job is worth doing, it's worth repeating 9,614 times a day.
AUTHOR A writer with connections in the publishing industry.
BOOKCASE A piece of furniture used in America to house bowling trophies and Elvis collectibles.
BOSS A personal dictator appointed to those of us fortunate enough to live in free societies.
CHIC Considered smart without the deadening implication of intelligence.
CHILDHOOD The rapidly shrinking interval between infancy and first arrest on a drug or weapons charge.
CLIQUE A group of insiders who greet outsiders with their backsides; a closed circle of asses.
CONNOISSEUR One who attains an obsessive knowledge of wines, audio equipment, cats or French cheeses so as to confer a sense of inadequacy on those who would simply enjoy them.
CONSULTANT A jobless person who shows executives how to work.
CULTURE The visible evidence of a tribe of bacteria, as observed by microbiologists or cynics.
DENIAL How an optimist keeps from becoming a pessimist.
DENTURES Two rows of artificial ivories that may be removed periodically to frighten one's grandchildren or provide accompaniment to Spanish music.
DNA A complex organic molecule characterized as the building block of life and appropriately shaped like a spiral staircase to nowhere.
ERUDITE Exhibiting a degree of book learning fatal to success in any business or romantic enterprise.
EXPERIENCE In the working world, something you can't get unless you've already got it, in which case you probably don't want any more of it.
FAD A folly committed by enough of the right people to confer upon it the badge of status.
FIBER Edible wood-pulp said to aid digestion and prolong life, so that we might enjoy another six or eight years in which to consume wood-pulp.
FITNESS Salvation through perspiration.
FUNERAL HOME A stately manse occupied by transients who continually receive visitors but lack the energy and inclination to entertain them.
GENETIC ENGINEERING Tampering with chromosomes so that science might develop a new miracle cure or a rabbit that plays the banjo.
GOURMET A food fetishist.
HIP Smartly attuned to the latest cutting-edge cliches.
HOOKER A working woman commonly despised by people who sell themselves for even less.
HOUSEPLANTS Vegetable companions; pleasant green pets that rarely bite or throw up on the carpet.
IDEOLOGUE Typically an obscure humorless zealot who finds fulfillment by spouting the ideas of famous humorless zealots.
JEANS Lower half of the international uniform of youth, the upper half being the zits.
JOB A state of employment everyone wants but few look forward to on a Monday morning.
KLEPTOMANIAC A thief with breeding.
LABORATORY ANIMALS Furry foot-soldiers drafted in the name of science. Some die nobly in the battle to eradicate cancer; others give their lives so that we might produce a peach-scented dandruff shampoo.
LAWYER A professional advocate hired to bend the law on behalf of a paying client; for this reason considered the most suitable background for entry into politics.
LECHER A stud with liver spots.
LOOTING A public shopping spree generously sponsored by local merchants in the wake of a riot.
LOTTERY The equivalent of betting that the next pope will be from Duluth, or that the parrot in the pet store window speaks Flemish.
MARTIAL ARTS A family of Asiatic self-defense disciplines consisting largely of sweeping ornamental gestures of the arms and legs; amusing to look at but disappointingly ineffective when one's opponent is armed with a semi-automatic.
MATH ANXIETY An intense lifelong fear of two trains approaching each other at speeds of 60 and 80 mph.
MIRROR A truthful reflector shunned by vampires, hypocrites and aging fashion models.
MUGGER A benevolent citizen of the streets who frequently spares the lives of total strangers in exchange for any cash and valuables in their possession.
NECKTIE A decorative noose worn by businessmen.
NEGOTIATING The art of persuading your opponent to take the nice shiny copper penny and give you the wrinkled old paper money.
NEIGHBORS The strangers who live next door.
NEUROTIC Sane but unhappy about it.
OBITUARY A final summation of our lives that, for most of us, occupies about three inches of space in what will shortly become cage liner for our neighbor's parakeet.
ORGASM The punchline some women just don't get, generally because their mates have a tendency to rush through the joke.
PARASITE A base creature that extracts a living from the lives of others, like a tapeworm or a biographer.
POSITIVE THINKING Self-improvement through self-deception.
PROFESSIONAL MODEL Cheekbones that sell cosmetics; hipbones that sell anorexia.
QUAGMIRE Any situation more easily entered into than exited from; e.g., a guerrilla war, a bad marriage or a conversation with an insurance salesman.
QUALITY OF LIFE What an industrialized nation is said to offer when enough of its citizens are suffering from terminal stress.
REDNECK Popular term for a rustic male, but rarely employed when addressing one in person.
REPRESSED Sitting on one's inner demon to keep it decorously immobilized, as practiced by lifelong Presbyterians or anyone who attempts to exchange pleasantries with a tyrannical boss.
REVOLUTIONARY An oppressed person waiting for the opportunity to become an oppressor.
SHALLOWNESS The root cause of chronic good health, high school popularity, appearance on the fiction bestseller lists, and gainful employment on local TV news broadcasts.
SMILE To expose a portion of one's skeleton as a gesture of goodwill toward a fellow human.
STAR A performer who makes more than his or her agent. Also SUPERSTAR A performer who makes more than Guatemala.
TABOO Any strict cultural prohibition that, when breached, causes everyone in the group to gasp; e.g., cannibalism, public nudity, serving fried pork rinds at a Hasidic wedding, or answering the question "How are you?" in the negative.
TRAILER PARKS Latter-day gypsy camps scattered throughout the vast American hinterland; humble places of abode where hope dies young and tornadoes gravitate like flies to roadkill.
UNEMPLOYMENT The usual alternative to overwork.
UNWED MOTHER One who helps perpetuate the genes of an unwed father, without the latter's talent for becoming invisible at will.
URINAL The one place where all men are peers.
VOTING The right of our citizens to do as they please behind a curtain, as long as they do it alone.
WAKE 1. A convivial soiree with a preserved corpse in the room. 2. What the mourners would be visibly startled to see the corpse do, especially those expecting a sizable inheritance.
WHITE SUPREMACISTS The most convincing argument against the theory of white racial superiority.
X-CHROMOSOME A genetic double-cross that empowers women with the ability to bear children and reserves for men the right to be color-blind hemophiliacs.
Y-CHROMOSOME A line of genes designed for men only; the cause of virility, war, baldness, hockey, sex crimes, clever inventions and a disinclination to ask for directions when lost.
ZOMBIE A mirthless creature beloved by teenage horror movie fans and those in charge of the hiring at accounting firms.
ZOO A pleasant and instructive wildlife park, lately denounced for depriving animals of their right to starve or be eaten alive in their natural habitats.
All material in The Cynic's Dictionary copyright 1994-2013 by Rick Bayan.