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Working Hardly: The Devil’s Dictionary for Legal Types

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Some days this degree makes us feel a bit cynical, but that’s normal. But as cynical as law students get, none can surpass the master, Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil’s Dictionary (perhaps the most cynical book ever written) has some very cheeky things to say about the law!

Here are our favourite cutting comments...

Appeal, v.t. In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.

Arrest, v.t. Formally to detain one accused of unusualness.

Capital, n. The seat of misgovernment.

Impartial, adj. Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy or adopting either of two conflicting opinions.

Justice, n. A commodity which in a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service.

Lawful, adj. Compatible with the will of a judge having jurisdiction.

Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

Litigant, n. A person about to give up his skin for the hope of retaining his bones.

Litigation, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

Misdemeanor, n. An infraction of the law having less dignity than a felony and constituting no claim to admittance into the best criminal society.

Precedent, n. In Law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a Judge may choose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases. As there are precedents for everything, he has only to ignore those that make against his interest and accentuate those in the line of his desire. Invention of the precedent elevates the trial-at-law from the low estate of a fortuitous ordeal to the noble attitude of a dirigible arbitrament.

Proof, n. Evidence having a shade more of plausibility than of unlikelihood.

Referendum, n. A law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion.

Trial, n. A formal inquiry designed to prove and put upon record the blameless characters of judges, advocates and jurors. In order to effect this purpose it is necessary to supply a contrast in the person of one who is called the defendant, the prisoner, or the accused. If the contrast is made sufficiently clear this person is made to undergo such an affliction as will give the virtuous gentlemen a comfortable sense of their immunity, added to that of their worth.

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