I was catching up on my reading over this past weekend, and the author of the book I was reading quoted from The Devil’s Dictionary. A dormant, tiny memory was plucked in my head when I read the words “Devil’s Dictionary”, but I didn’t know who wrote it or exactly what it was about. So I did some research and came across a quite interesting fellow (whom, you can guess, my overly intelligent daughter already knew all about):
His name is Ambrose Bierce. (Why don’t people name their sons Ambrose anymore? It is derived from Greek, meaning immortal/divine. And it makes me think of tiny marsh mellows, and fruit, and coconut, and summer. Go figure.)
And you guessed it, he is from Ohio.
He was a civil war veteran who became a famous literary figure, journalist, and satirist. He wrote short stories about the civil war that were highly realistic and psychological thrillers that were ahead of their time in writing style. I’m currently reading through his short stories and was entranced by one of his most famous, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. You can read it here:
Ambrose Bierce and his mustache.
But he might be most famous for his work, The Devil’s Dictionary, where he humorously and slashingly (that’s a word, I swear!) defines common English words.
I worked my way through many of the definitions this weekend and was very amused, but one I read this morning made my daughter and I laugh:
GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.
He saw a ghost.
It occupied—that dismal thing!—
The path that he was following.
Before he’d time to stop and fly,
An earthquake trifled with the eye
That saw a ghost.
He fell as fall the early good;
Unmoved that awful vision stood.
The stars that danced before his ken
He wildly brushed away, and then
He saw a post.
– Jared Macphester
Accounting for the uncommon behavior of ghosts, Heine mentions somebody’s ingenious theory to the effect that they are as much afraid of us as we of them. Not quite, if I may judge from such tables of comparative speed as I am able to compile from memories of my own experience.
There is one insuperable obstacle to a belief in ghosts. A ghost never comes naked: he appears either in a winding-sheet or “in his habit as he lived.” To believe in him, then, is to believe that not only have the dead the power to make themselves visible after there is nothing left of them, but that the same power inheres in textile fabrics. Supposing the products of the loom to have this ability, what object would they have in exercising it? And why does not the apparition of a suit of clothes sometimes walk abroad without a ghost in it? These be riddles of significance. They reach away down and get a convulsive grip on the very tap-root of this flourishing faith.
This struck my daughter, KJ and I as hilarious:
KJ: “I never thought about this; why do all the ghosts on the TV shows and in ghost stories have on clothes? Because that is what they died in?”
Me: “Maybe so. But what if they died having sex? Shouldn’t they be a naked ghost? Or at least a ghost with only socks on if it was a man who died during sex?”
KJ: “Yeah! And what about the autoerodic asphyxiation deaths? Where are the ghosts floating around with a ball gag in their mouth? You don’t want to be that ghost. That would be embarrassing.”
Me: “You sure don’t. Maybe that why we haven’t seen David Carradine’s ghost…”
Makes you think, right? Or too soon?