Friday, May 10, 2019


Imperfect Reverence

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs, ed. S.T. Joshi (New York: The Library of America, 2011), pp. 527-528 (from The Devil's Dictionary):
INFIDEL, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See GIAOUR.) A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to, divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs, voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbés, nuns, missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests, muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders, primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries, clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs, bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans, deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons, hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins, postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons, reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains, mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas, sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals, prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, curés, sophis, mutifs and pumpums.
Surely mutifs is a misprint for muftis, spelled correctly s.v. SACRED (id., p. 609):
Dedicated to some religious purpose; having a divine character; inspiring solemn thoughts or emotions; as, the Dalai Lama of Thibet; the Moogum of M'bwango; the temple of Apes in Ceylon; the Cow in India; the Crocodile, the Cat and the Onion of ancient Egypt; the Mufti of Moosh; the hair of the dog that bit Noah, etc.
I suspect that bonezs is a misprint for bonzes as well.

By the second part of Bierce's definition ("A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent...") I stand convicted as an infidel.

I own a dozen or so volumes of The Library of America. To me (not an adept or cognoscente by any means), they seem to be well-designed books. See Hugh Williamson, Methods of Book Design: The Practice of an Industrial Craft (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 374:
A book is to be laid open, held, and carried. All but a few books are held while being read, and most books are carried about to some extent before and after reading. No book can be considered legible unless it lies flat when open; it should not have to be held open. The printed part of the pages at which the book is opened should be nearly level, not curving inwards towards the spine. Bulk should be proportionate to format, as far as possible; the very squat, stout book is as inconvenient to hold as the very large thin book. Every book should be designed to withstand whatever handling it may receive without unduly rapid deterioration.
I especially like the useful ribbon bookmarks.

Thanks to Andrew Rickard for the quotation from Williamson.

Update, from Kenneth Haynes:
Bierce's “INFIDEL" makes a fine catalogue. The two typos in that passage from the LOA volume were (carelessly) inherited from The Devil’s Dictionary in the 1911 version of the text (vol. 7 of the Collected Works). In The Cynic’s Word Book (1906), “bonzes” and “muftis” were spelled correctly. Despite the typos and the period spellings, most of the words can be deciphered or looked up pretty easily. The one that stumped me was “pumpums.” This must be a reference to the “Pom Pom" religion, a revivalist faith that emerged among Plateau Indians with Smohalla (d. 1895).


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