Curmudeon delivers wit and wisdom

By Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

After reading or listening to the news for several days, do you ever have the desire to read again your favorite curmudgeon?

We don’t hear the word spoken very often, but it refers to those who hate hypocrisy and pretense and have the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner. (I think that the last phrase “— in an engaging and humorous manner” is the key to the popularity of curmudgeons.) Would you agree?

A few months ago I wrote that one of my favorite curmudgeons is Ambrose Bierce. He was born 24 June 1862 on an impoverished farm in Meigs County, Ohio. “He was nurtured in a household brimming with fanatical religious fervor and restrained strife.”

At the age of 15 he left home. Before enlisting in the Union Army he drifted aimlessly through many jobs. As a result of his valor in the war he was promoted to major. He married and had three children. He was editor of a paper. He wrote three books, and his collection of short stories brought him fame.

On an undisclosed mission he arrived in Mexico. He was never seen again.

In case you are interested, you will find the following sources useful:

  • Ambrose Bierce, “In the Midst of Life”
  • Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary”
  • Ambrose Bierce, “The Unabridged Dictionary”
  • Jon Winokur, “The Portable Curmudgeon”
  • Karl E. Meyer, “Pundits, Poets, and Wits”

I am sure there are more, but I have enjoyed these, and I am betting there are days when you, too, will enjoy them.

Here are just a few quotes from Ambrose Bierce. I have taken them from the book “Pundits, Poets and Wits: An Omnibus of American Newspaper Columns” by Karl E. Meyer.

Alone: In bad company.

Bride: A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.

Egoist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Handkerchief: A small square of silk or linen used at funerals to conceal a lack of tears.

Husband: One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the plate

Marriage: A master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.

Mercy: An attribute beloved of offenders.

Misfortune: The kind of fortune that never misses.

Nepotism: Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.

Novel: A short story padded.

Opposition: In politics, the party that prevents the government from running amuck by hamstringing it.

Politeness: Acceptable hypocrisy.

Positive: Mistaken at the top of one’s voice.

Prejudice: A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.

Optimist: A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.

Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited.

I think that my favorite Bierce curmudgeon is:

Patience: A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and former professor of biology at the University of Memphis. Call him at (901) 828-6039 or email him at