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Words are Fun

Academe is a proper noun referring to “An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.” Academy is a noun derived from Academe and referring to “A modern school where football is taught.” Some years ago I ran across the Devil’s Dictionary in which these and other delightful definitions are found. I like to have fun with words; I hope the same for you. You have to do some learning while here, might as well have some fun. Ambrose Bierce, the editor of the Devils’ Dictionary, was a Civil War general and later writer who assembled this collection of wry observations. For instance, he defined an acquaintance as “A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to, a degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous.” Bierce is probably most famous for his definition of history, “n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.” He also includes the following entry I love for its succinctness and subtlety. “Once, adv., enough.” I hope I’ve tempted you. Be warned: Bierce’s dictionary was published in 1906 and includes material we might find troubling today. He’s not gender inclusive, for instance, and his terminology may offend at times.

Second, way back in the Dark Ages of 1982, I received a book with the following inscription,

picture of the words in a letter

Picture of Words in a text boxThe book is Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words. Aside from you wondering what sort of friendship includes the gift of a dictionary as a present, here again I hope to tempt you to learn enjoyably. You would find that tomomania is an excessive desire to undergo surgery. You might discover that zymology is the science of fermentation. And, if you are aware that something insipid is unappealing, then it makes sense that good food is quite sipid, tasty. You’d be surprised at the number of manias and phobias that are frequent enough to have been named. There are a number of medical terms here, a reminder to us that, even if we know the terms tocology, xerotic, bromatology, occlude, variolation, or even oncology, our patients hear a foreign language. These entries are in a dictionary of obscure and unusual words. It’s good to learn to describe them in simpler terms. By the way, be sure to guard yourself each year against the seasonal condition of vernalgia. Personally I find the best treatment includes pointless outdoor activities enjoyed simply for their pleasure—frisbee tossing among friends, a stroll (people don’t stroll enough anymore), a bask on the lawn on a sunny afternoon.


A final gem I discovered: “Sherry’s Grammar List” at  I have added this address to my favorites tab.  Included is a handy index to common grammatical questions and mistakes:

  • When to use “affect” and when “effect?”
  • Using “had,” the past perfect tense.
  • There, their, they’re.
  • Beside/besides.
  • A.M./P.M. (unfortunately—to my way of thinking—she does not point out the correct use of 12:00 noon and 12:00 midnight; there is no 12:00 A.M. nor 12:00 P.M., but that’s my losing fight).
  • Incredible/incredulous.

I trust the third reference is of immediate and practical help in your studies.  The other two are a reminder to keep learning and have fun.

These definitions and many other delightful entries can be found in the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, New York: The World Publishing Company, 1911; available online at and at (several other online copies available).