The Devil’s Dictionary

A source one doesn’t see cited much these days is Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionarywhich is a wonderful source of ‘alternative’ definitions for a host of words and phrases. Bierce define’s “lawyer” for instance as “one skilled in circumvention of the law”. My favourite entry though is for “fairy” which includes the following note: “In the time of Henry III, of England, a law was made which prescribed the death penalty for “Kyllynge, wowndynge, or mamynge” a fairy, and it was universally respected.” From time to time I have looked for this law, although, alas I have concluded that Mr Bierce concocted it – and the resources available to him in 1911 were likely much less than I have at my disposal. If any SLAWer could prove me wrong I’d be delighted.


  1. I used to use his definition of boundary, when making presentations on transboundary pollution litigation – “Boundary, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other.”
    Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911