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August 8, 2011

The Angel’s Dictionary

With apologies to Ambrose Bierce, author of “The Devil’s Dictionary”:

Advice, the miser’s substitute for charity.

Age, a prerequisite for wisdom but not a substitute for it. In some cases it has been known to be wasted on the old.

Art, the place religion goes when it is locked out of the soul.

Bailout, unfree enterprise.

Celebrity, an American category that replaced fame some time ago.

Charity, a dispensation everyone needs, but no one likes accepting.

Courage, the virtue without which all the others are meaningless.

Crisis, the sickness of freedom, and the health of the state. See War.

Cult, a religion of which one disapproves.

Education, learning. Not to be confused with Schooling.

Death, the angel whose visit is first dreaded, then accepted, then welcomed.

England, whose history is a continuing thesis against revolution.

Envy, the deadly sin demagogues appeal to when fear doesn’t work.

Excuses, what the irresponsible offer when apologies are called for.

Fidelity, a difficult virtue for those who do not love, an easy one for those who do.

Ghosts, ubiquitous presences everywhere, sensed only by those attuned to the past.

Happiness, a usually unnoticed byproduct of the pursuit of it.

History, a malleable art form; the most accurate reflection of contemporary standards; the perpetual repetition of mistakes. Note: Not to be confused with its raw material, The Past.

Idea, the result of persistent effort, instantaneous revelation, or combination thereof; a teacher that can become a tyrant if unchecked. See Obsession, development of.

Jealousy, the most pointless of human emotions; the surest attribute of the Divine.

Justice, what one seeks for others. Not to be confused with mercy, which is what we ask for ourselves.

Knowledge, an inadequate substitute for judgment. See also Data.

Memory, the most creative of human faculties.

Mercy, the twice-blessed virtue, for “it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…” –Shakespeare.

Money, the best of servants, the cruelest of masters. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it can buy happiness, or at least ease, but, alas, neither health nor time.

Music, a necessity often confused with a frill.

Normalcy, the most abnormal of political conditions.

Order, a prerequisite for true progress.

Patriotism, a quality that, like music and prayer, is purest when wordless.

Persistence, whose name was Winston Churchill.

Poetry, what is lost in translation. (Robert Frost)

Politics, “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” –Bierce, A.

Power, the thing that corrupts – though perhaps not as much as powerlessness.

Prudence, the first and most underrated of the virtues.

Quirky, an adjective used to describe anyone whose quirks do not match our own.

Race, a social construct widely sold as a scientific classification.

Reform, change for better or worse, but with better merchandising.

Remorse, the most wasteful and stultifying of emotions. Compare to Repentance and Atonement, the most renewing of disciplines.

Revolution, the child and mother of Chaos; the last resort of the wise, the first mistake of the foolish; an idea that has found its bayonets (Napoleon Bonaparte); an abrupt change in misgovernment (Bierce, A.). “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.” –George Orwell

Science, art in the making.

Simplicity, the most complicated of attainments.

Sinecures, what all denounce and many seek.

Solitude, which can be heaven or hell, depending on the company.

Time, the river we live in.

Translation, the most inventive form of literature; a genre in which much is lost, much is gained, and everything altered. Traduttore, traditore, the Italians say: to translate is to traduce. Or to create anew. See King James Bible.

Travel, an experience guaranteed to broaden the mind or narrow it, depending on the traveler.

Vision, the ability to see beyond the visible. Where there is none, word has it, the people perish.

War, a state that concentrates the senses and dulls the conscience.

Wisdom, a product not of knowledge but experience.

Worry, an attenuated form of atheism.

X, the unknown only to those who will not reason.

Youth, a transient condition of abundant energy usually dispelled without purpose. Also, the quality wasted on the young.

Zealot, one who (a) disagrees with us strongly, or (b) agrees with us too strongly. See also: Overzealous.


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