THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Part 3 out of 5
INK, n. A villainous compound of tannogallate of iron, gum-arabic and
water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote
intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and
contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to
blacken them and to make them white; but it is most generally and
acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones of an
edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal
quality of the material. There are men called journalists who have
established ink baths which some persons pay money to get into, others
to get out of. Not infrequently it occurs that a person who has paid
to get in pays twice as much to get out.
INNATE, adj. Natural, inherent -- as innate ideas, that is to say,
ideas that we are born with, having had them previously imparted to
us. The doctrine of innate ideas is one of the most admirable faiths
of philosophy, being itself an innate idea and therefore inaccessible
to disproof, though Locke foolishly supposed himself to have given it
"a black eye." Among innate ideas may be mentioned the belief in
one's ability to conduct a newspaper, in the greatness of one's
country, in the superiority of one's civilization, in the importance
of one's personal affairs and in the interesting nature of one's
IN'ARDS, n. The stomach, heart, soul and other bowels. Many eminent
investigators do not class the soul as an in'ard, but that acute
observer and renowned authority, Dr. Gunsaulus, is persuaded that the
mysterious organ known as the spleen is nothing less than our
important part. To the contrary, Professor Garrett P. Servis holds
that man's soul is that prolongation of his spinal marrow which forms
the pith of his no tail; and for demonstration of his faith points
confidently to the fact that no tailed animals have no souls.
Concerning these two theories, it is best to suspend judgment by
INSCRIPTION, n. Something written on another thing. Inscriptions are
of many kinds, but mostly memorial, intended to commemorate the fame
of some illustrious person and hand down to distant ages the record of
his services and virtues. To this class of inscriptions belongs the
name of John Smith, penciled on the Washington monument. Following
are examples of memorial inscriptions on tombstones: (See EPITAPH.)
"In the sky my soul is found,
And my body in the ground.
By and by my body'll rise
To my spirit in the skies,
Soaring up to Heaven's gate.
"Sacred to the memory of Jeremiah Tree. Cut down May 9th, 1862,
aged 27 yrs. 4 mos. and 12 ds. Indigenous."
"Affliction sore long time she boar,
Phisicians was in vain,
Till Deth released the dear deceased
And left her a remain.
Gone to join Ananias in the regions of bliss."
"The clay that rests beneath this stone
As Silas Wood was widely known.
Now, lying here, I ask what good
It was to let me be S. Wood.
O Man, let not ambition trouble you,
Is the advice of Silas W."
"Richard Haymon, of Heaven. Fell to Earth Jan. 20, 1807, and had
the dust brushed off him Oct. 3, 1874."
"See," cries the chorus of admiring preachers,
"How Providence provides for all His creatures!"
"His care," the gnat said, "even the insects follows:
For us He has provided wrens and swallows."
INSURANCE, n. An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player
is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating
the man who keeps the table.
INSURANCE AGENT: My dear sir, that is a fine house -- pray let me
HOUSE OWNER: With pleasure. Please make the annual premium so
low that by the time when, according to the tables of your
actuary, it will probably be destroyed by fire I will have
paid you considerably less than the face of the policy.
INSURANCE AGENT: O dear, no -- we could not afford to do that.
We must fix the premium so that you will have paid more.
HOUSE OWNER: How, then, can _I_ afford _that_?
INSURANCE AGENT: Why, your house may burn down at any time.
There was Smith's house, for example, which --
HOUSE OWNER: Spare me -- there were Brown's house, on the
contrary, and Jones's house, and Robinson's house, which --
INSURANCE AGENT: Spare _me_!
HOUSE OWNER: Let us understand each other. You want me to pay
you money on the supposition that something will occur
previously to the time set by yourself for its occurrence. In
other words, you expect me to bet that my house will not last
so long as you say that it will probably last.
INSURANCE AGENT: But if your house burns without insurance it
will be a total loss.
HOUSE OWNER: Beg your pardon -- by your own actuary's tables I
shall probably have saved, when it burns, all the premiums I
would otherwise have paid to you -- amounting to more than the
face of the policy they would have bought. But suppose it to
burn, uninsured, before the time upon which your figures are
based. If I could not afford that, how could you if it were
INSURANCE AGENT: O, we should make ourselves whole from our
luckier ventures with other clients. Virtually, they pay your
HOUSE OWNER: And virtually, then, don't I help to pay their
losses? Are not their houses as likely as mine to burn before
they have paid you as much as you must pay them? The case
stands this way: you expect to take more money from your
clients than you pay to them, do you not?
INSURANCE AGENT: Certainly; if we did not --
HOUSE OWNER: I would not trust you with my money. Very well
then. If it is _certain_, with reference to the whole body of
your clients, that they lose money on you it is _probable_,
with reference to any one of them, that _he_ will. It is
these individual probabilities that make the aggregate
INSURANCE AGENT: I will not deny it -- but look at the figures in
this pamph --
HOUSE OWNER: Heaven forbid!
INSURANCE AGENT: You spoke of saving the premiums which you would
otherwise pay to me. Will you not be more likely to squander
them? We offer you an incentive to thrift.
HOUSE OWNER: The willingness of A to take care of B's money is
not peculiar to insurance, but as a charitable institution you
command esteem. Deign to accept its expression from a
INSURRECTION, n. An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection's failure
to substitute misrule for bad government.
INTENTION, n. The mind's sense of the prevalence of one set of
influences over another set; an effect whose cause is the imminence,
immediate or remote, of the performance of an involuntary act.
INTERPRETER, n. One who enables two persons of different languages to
understand each other by repeating to each what it would have been to
the interpreter's advantage for the other to have said.
INTERREGNUM, n. The period during which a monarchical country is
governed by a warm spot on the cushion of the throne. The experiment
of letting the spot grow cold has commonly been attended by most
unhappy results from the zeal of many worthy persons to make it warm
INTIMACY, n. A relation into which fools are providentially drawn for
their mutual destruction.
Two Seidlitz powders, one in blue
And one in white, together drew
And having each a pleasant sense
Of t'other powder's excellence,
Forsook their jackets for the snug
Enjoyment of a common mug.
So close their intimacy grew
One paper would have held the two.
To confidences straight they fell,
Less anxious each to hear than tell;
Then each remorsefully confessed
To all the virtues he possessed,
Acknowledging he had them in
So high degree it was a sin.
The more they said, the more they felt
Their spirits with emotion melt,
Till tears of sentiment expressed
Their feelings. Then they effervesced!
So Nature executes her feats
Of wrath on friends and sympathetes
The good old rule who don't apply,
That you are you and I am I.
INTRODUCTION, n. A social ceremony invented by the devil for the
gratification of his servants and the plaguing of his enemies. The
introduction attains its most malevolent development in this century,
being, indeed, closely related to our political system. Every
American being the equal of every other American, it follows that
everybody has the right to know everybody else, which implies the
right to introduce without request or permission. The Declaration of
Independence should have read thus:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are
created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights; that among these are life, and the right to
make that of another miserable by thrusting upon him an
incalculable quantity of acquaintances; liberty, particularly the
liberty to introduce persons to one another without first
ascertaining if they are not already acquainted as enemies; and
the pursuit of another's happiness with a running pack of
INVENTOR, n. A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels,
levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
IRRELIGION, n. The principal one of the great faiths of the world.
ITCH, n. The patriotism of a Scotchman.
J is a consonant in English, but some nations use it as a vowel --
than which nothing could be more absurd. Its original form, which has
been but slightly modified, was that of the tail of a subdued dog, and
it was not a letter but a character, standing for a Latin verb,
_jacere_, "to throw," because when a stone is thrown at a dog the
dog's tail assumes that shape. This is the origin of the letter, as
expounded by the renowned Dr. Jocolpus Bumer, of the University of
Belgrade, who established his conclusions on the subject in a work of
three quarto volumes and committed suicide on being reminded that the
j in the Roman alphabet had originally no curl.
JEALOUS, adj. Unduly concerned about the preservation of that which
can be lost only if not worth keeping.
JESTER, n. An officer formerly attached to a king's household, whose
business it was to amuse the court by ludicrous actions and
utterances, the absurdity being attested by his motley costume. The
king himself being attired with dignity, it took the world some
centuries to discover that his own conduct and decrees were
sufficiently ridiculous for the amusement not only of his court but of
all mankind. The jester was commonly called a fool, but the poets and
romancers have ever delighted to represent him as a singularly wise
and witty person. In the circus of to-day the melancholy ghost of the
court fool effects the dejection of humbler audiences with the same
jests wherewith in life he gloomed the marble hall, panged the
patrician sense of humor and tapped the tank of royal tears.
The widow-queen of Portugal
Had an audacious jester
Who entered the confessional
Disguised, and there confessed her.
"Father," she said, "thine ear bend down --
My sins are more than scarlet:
I love my fool -- blaspheming clown,
And common, base-born varlet."
"Daughter," the mimic priest replied,
"That sin, indeed, is awful:
The church's pardon is denied
To love that is unlawful.
"But since thy stubborn heart will be
For him forever pleading,
Thou'dst better make him, by decree,
A man of birth and breeding."
She made the fool a duke, in hope
With Heaven's taboo to palter;
Then told a priest, who told the Pope,
Who damned her from the altar!
JEWS-HARP, n. An unmusical instrument, played by holding it fast with
the teeth and trying to brush it away with the finger.
JOSS-STICKS, n. Small sticks burned by the Chinese in their pagan
tomfoolery, in imitation of certain sacred rites of our holy religion.
JUSTICE, n. A commodity which is a more or less adulterated condition
the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes
and personal service.
K is a consonant that we get from the Greeks, but it can be traced
away back beyond them to the Cerathians, a small commercial nation
inhabiting the peninsula of Smero. In their tongue it was called
_Klatch_, which means "destroyed." The form of the letter was
originally precisely that of our H, but the erudite Dr. Snedeker
explains that it was altered to its present shape to commemorate the
destruction of the great temple of Jarute by an earthquake, _circa_
730 B.C. This building was famous for the two lofty columns of its
portico, one of which was broken in half by the catastrophe, the other
remaining intact. As the earlier form of the letter is supposed to
have been suggested by these pillars, so, it is thought by the great
antiquary, its later was adopted as a simple and natural -- not to say
touching -- means of keeping the calamity ever in the national memory.
It is not known if the name of the letter was altered as an additional
mnemonic, or if the name was always _Klatch_ and the destruction one
of nature's pums. As each theory seems probable enough, I see no
objection to believing both -- and Dr. Snedeker arrayed himself on
that side of the question.
He willed away his whole estate,
And then in death he fell asleep,
Murmuring: "Well, at any rate,
My name unblemished I shall keep."
But when upon the tomb 'twas wrought
Whose was it? -- for the dead keep naught.
Durang Gophel Arn
KILL, v.t. To create a vacancy without nominating a successor.
KILT, n. A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and
Americans in Scotland.
KINDNESS, n. A brief preface to ten volumes of exaction.
KING, n. A male person commonly known in America as a "crowned head,"
although he never wears a crown and has usually no head to speak of.
A king, in times long, long gone by,
Said to his lazy jester:
"If I were you and you were I
My moments merrily would fly --
Nor care nor grief to pester."
"The reason, Sire, that you would thrive,"
The fool said -- "if you'll hear it --
Is that of all the fools alive
Who own you for their sovereign, I've
The most forgiving spirit."
KING'S EVIL, n. A malady that was formerly cured by the touch of the
sovereign, but has now to be treated by the physicians. Thus 'the
most pious Edward" of England used to lay his royal hand upon the
ailing subjects and make them whole --
a crowd of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great essay of art; but at his touch,
Such sanctity hath Heaven given his hand,
They presently amend,
as the "Doctor" in _Macbeth_ hath it. This useful property of the
royal hand could, it appears, be transmitted along with other crown
properties; for according to "Malcolm,"
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction.
But the gift somewhere dropped out of the line of succession: the
later sovereigns of England have not been tactual healers, and the
disease once honored with the name "king's evil" now bears the humbler
one of "scrofula," from _scrofa_, a sow. The date and author of the
following epigram are known only to the author of this dictionary, but
it is old enough to show that the jest about Scotland's national
disorder is not a thing of yesterday.
Ye Kynge his evill in me laye,
Wh. he of Scottlande charmed awaye.
He layde his hand on mine and sayd:
"Be gone!" Ye ill no longer stayd.
But O ye wofull plyght in wh.
I'm now y-pight: I have ye itche!
The superstition that maladies can be cured by royal taction is
dead, but like many a departed conviction it has left a monument of
custom to keep its memory green. The practice of forming a line and
shaking the President's hand had no other origin, and when that great
dignitary bestows his healing salutation on
strangely visited people,
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery,
he and his patients are handing along an extinguished torch which once
was kindled at the altar-fire of a faith long held by all classes of
men. It is a beautiful and edifying "survival" -- one which brings
the sainted past close home in our "business and bosoms."
KISS, n. A word invented by the poets as a rhyme for "bliss." It is
supposed to signify, in a general way, some kind of rite or ceremony
appertaining to a good understanding; but the manner of its
performance is unknown to this lexicographer.
KLEPTOMANIAC, n. A rich thief.
Once a warrior gentle of birth,
Then a person of civic worth,
Now a fellow to move our mirth.
Warrior, person, and fellow -- no more:
We must knight our dogs to get any lower.
Brave Knights Kennelers then shall be,
Noble Knights of the Golden Flea,
Knights of the Order of St. Steboy,
Knights of St. Gorge and Sir Knights Jawy.
God speed the day when this knighting fad
Shall go to the dogs and the dogs go mad.
KORAN, n. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been
written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a
wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.
LABOR, n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.
LAND, n. A part of the earth's surface, considered as property. The
theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control
is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the
superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some
have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own
implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass
are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that
if the whole area of _terra firma_ is owned by A, B and C, there will
be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to
A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
For the spark the nature gave
I have there the right to keep.
They give me the cat-o'-nine
Whenever I go ashore.
Then ho! for the flashing brine --
I'm a natural commodore!
LANGUAGE, n. The music with which we charm the serpents guarding
LAOCOON, n. A famous piece of antique scripture representing a priest
of that name and his two sons in the folds of two enormous serpents.
The skill and diligence with which the old man and lads support the
serpents and keep them up to their work have been justly regarded as
one of the noblest artistic illustrations of the mastery of human
intelligence over brute inertia.
LAP, n. One of the most important organs of the female system -- an
admirable provision of nature for the repose of infancy, but chiefly
useful in rural festivities to support plates of cold chicken and
heads of adult males. The male of our species has a rudimentary lap,
imperfectly developed and in no way contributing to the animal's
LAST, n. A shoemaker's implement, named by a frowning Providence as
opportunity to the maker of puns.
Ah, punster, would my lot were cast,
Where the cobbler is unknown,
So that I might forget his last
And hear your own.
LAUGHTER, n. An interior convulsion, producing a distortion of the
features and accompanied by inarticulate noises. It is infectious
and, though intermittent, incurable. Liability to attacks of laughter
is one of the characteristics distinguishing man from the animals --
these being not only inaccessible to the provocation of his example,
but impregnable to the microbes having original jurisdiction in
bestowal of the disease. Whether laughter could be imparted to
animals by inoculation from the human patient is a question that has
not been answered by experimentation. Dr. Meir Witchell holds that
the infection character of laughter is due to the instantaneous
fermentation of _sputa_ diffused in a spray. From this peculiarity he
names the disorder _Convulsio spargens_.
LAUREATE, adj. Crowned with leaves of the laurel. In England the
Poet Laureate is an officer of the sovereign's court, acting as
dancing skeleton at every royal feast and singing-mute at every royal
funeral. Of all incumbents of that high office, Robert Southey had
the most notable knack at drugging the Samson of public joy and
cutting his hair to the quick; and he had an artistic color-sense
which enabled him so to blacken a public grief as to give it the
aspect of a national crime.
LAUREL, n. The _laurus_, a vegetable dedicated to Apollo, and
formerly defoliated to wreathe the brows of victors and such poets as
had influence at court. (_Vide supra._)
Once Law was sitting on the bench,
And Mercy knelt a-weeping.
"Clear out!" he cried, "disordered wench!
Nor come before me creeping.
Upon your knees if you appear,
'Tis plain your have no standing here."
Then Justice came. His Honor cried:
"_Your_ status? -- devil seize you!"
"_Amica curiae,_" she replied --
"Friend of the court, so please you."
"Begone!" he shouted -- "there's the door --
I never saw your face before!"
LAWFUL, adj. Compatible with the will of a judge having jurisdiction.
LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
LAZINESS, n. Unwarranted repose of manner in a person of low degree.
LEAD, n. A heavy blue-gray metal much used in giving stability to
light lovers -- particularly to those who love not wisely but other
men's wives. Lead is also of great service as a counterpoise to an
argument of such weight that it turns the scale of debate the wrong
way. An interesting fact in the chemistry of international
controversy is that at the point of contact of two patriotisms lead is
precipitated in great quantities.
Hail, holy Lead! -- of human feuds the great
And universal arbiter; endowed
With penetration to pierce any cloud
Fogging the field of controversial hate,
And with a sift, inevitable, straight,
Searching precision find the unavowed
But vital point. Thy judgment, when allowed
By the chirurgeon, settles the debate.
O useful metal! -- were it not for thee
We'd grapple one another's ears alway:
But when we hear thee buzzing like a bee
We, like old Muhlenberg, "care not to stay."
And when the quick have run away like pellets
Jack Satan smelts the dead to make new bullets.
LEARNING, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
LECTURER, n. One with his hand in your pocket, his tongue in your ear
and his faith in your patience.
LEGACY, n. A gift from one who is legging it out of this vale of
LEONINE, adj. Unlike a menagerie lion. Leonine verses are those in
which a word in the middle of a line rhymes with a word at the end, as
in this famous passage from Bella Peeler Silcox:
The electric light invades the dunnest deep of Hades.
Cries Pluto, 'twixt his snores: "O tempora! O mores!"
It should be explained that Mrs. Silcox does not undertake to
teach pronunciation of the Greek and Latin tongues. Leonine verses
are so called in honor of a poet named Leo, whom prosodists appear to
find a pleasure in believing to have been the first to discover that a
rhyming couplet could be run into a single line.
LETTUCE, n. An herb of the genus _Lactuca_, "Wherewith," says that
pious gastronome, Hengist Pelly, "God has been pleased to reward the
good and punish the wicked. For by his inner light the righteous man
has discerned a manner of compounding for it a dressing to the
appetency whereof a multitude of gustible condiments conspire, being
reconciled and ameliorated with profusion of oil, the entire
comestible making glad the heart of the godly and causing his face to
shine. But the person of spiritual unworth is successfully tempted to
the Adversary to eat of lettuce with destitution of oil, mustard, egg,
salt and garlic, and with a rascal bath of vinegar polluted with
sugar. Wherefore the person of spiritual unworth suffers an
intestinal pang of strange complexity and raises the song."
LEVIATHAN, n. An enormous aquatic animal mentioned by Job. Some
suppose it to have been the whale, but that distinguished
ichthyologer, Dr. Jordan, of Stanford University, maintains with
considerable heat that it was a species of gigantic Tadpole (_Thaddeus
Polandensis_) or Polliwig -- _Maria pseudo-hirsuta_. For an
exhaustive description and history of the Tadpole consult the famous
monograph of Jane Potter, _Thaddeus of Warsaw_.
LEXICOGRAPHER, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of
recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does
what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and
mechanize its methods. For your lexicographer, having written his
dictionary, comes to be considered "as one having authority," whereas
his function is only to make a record, not to give a law. The natural
servility of the human understanding having invested him with judicial
power, surrenders its right of reason and submits itself to a
chronicle as if it were a statue. Let the dictionary (for example)
mark a good word as "obsolete" or "obsolescent" and few men
thereafter venture to use it, whatever their need of it and however
desirable its restoration to favor -- whereby the process of
improverishment is accelerated and speech decays. On the contrary,
recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow
at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has
no following and is tartly reminded that "it isn't in the dictionary"
-- although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven
forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that _was_ in the
dictionary. In the golden prime and high noon of English speech; when
from the lips of the great Elizabethans fell words that made their own
meaning and carried it in their very sound; when a Shakespeare and a
Bacon were possible, and the language now rapidly perishing at one end
and slowly renewed at the other was in vigorous growth and hardy
preservation -- sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion -- the
lexicographer was a person unknown, the dictionary a creation which
his Creator had not created him to create.
God said: "Let Spirit perish into Form,"
And lexicographers arose, a swarm!
Thought fled and left her clothing, which they took,
And catalogued each garment in a book.
Now, from her leafy covert when she cries:
"Give me my clothes and I'll return," they rise
And scan the list, and say without compassion:
"Excuse us -- they are mostly out of fashion."
LIAR, n. A lawyer with a roving commission.
LIBERTY, n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions.
The rising People, hot and out of breath,
Roared around the palace: "Liberty or death!"
"If death will do," the King said, "let me reign;
You'll have, I'm sure, no reason to complain."
LICKSPITTLE, n. A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing
a newspaper. In his character of editor he is closely allied to the
blackmailer by the tie of occasional identity; for in truth the
lickspittle is only the blackmailer under another aspect, although the
latter is frequently found as an independent species. Lickspittling
is more detestable than blackmailing, precisely as the business of a
confidence man is more detestable than that of a highway robber; and
the parallel maintains itself throughout, for whereas few robbers will
cheat, every sneak will plunder if he dare.
LIFE, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay. We live
in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed.
The question, "Is life worth living?" has been much discussed;
particularly by those who think it is not, many of whom have written
at great length in support of their view and by careful observance of
the laws of health enjoyed for long terms of years the honors of
"Life's not worth living, and that's the truth,"
Carelessly caroled the golden youth.
In manhood still he maintained that view
And held it more strongly the older he grew.
When kicked by a jackass at eighty-three,
"Go fetch me a surgeon at once!" cried he.
LIGHTHOUSE, n. A tall building on the seashore in which the
government maintains a lamp and the friend of a politician.
LIMB, n. The branch of a tree or the leg of an American woman.
'Twas a pair of boots that the lady bought,
And the salesman laced them tight
To a very remarkable height --
Higher, indeed, than I think he ought --
Higher than _can_ be right.
For the Bible declares -- but never mind:
It is hardly fit
To censure freely and fault to find
With others for sins that I'm not inclined
Myself to commit.
Each has his weakness, and though my own
Is freedom from every sin,
It still were unfair to pitch in,
Discharging the first censorious stone.
Besides, the truth compels me to say,
The boots in question were _made_ that way.
As he drew the lace she made a grimace,
And blushingly said to him:
"This boot, I'm sure, is too high to endure,
It hurts my -- hurts my -- limb."
The salesman smiled in a manner mild,
Like an artless, undesigning child;
Then, checking himself, to his face he gave
A look as sorrowful as the grave,
Though he didn't care two figs
For her paints and throes,
As he stroked her toes,
Remarking with speech and manner just
Befitting his calling: "Madam, I trust
That it doesn't hurt your twigs."
B. Percival Dike
LINEN, n. "A kind of cloth the making of which, when made of hemp,
entails a great waste of hemp." -- Calcraft the Hangman.
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.
LIVER, n. A large red organ thoughtfully provided by nature to be
bilious with. The sentiments and emotions which every literary
anatomist now knows to haunt the heart were anciently believed to
infest the liver; and even Gascoygne, speaking of the emotional side
of human nature, calls it "our hepaticall parte." It was at one time
considered the seat of life; hence its name -- liver, the thing we
live with. The liver is heaven's best gift to the goose; without it
that bird would be unable to supply us with the Strasbourg _pate_.
LL.D. Letters indicating the degree _Legumptionorum Doctor_, one
learned in laws, gifted with legal gumption. Some suspicion is cast
upon this derivation by the fact that the title was formerly _LL.d._,
and conferred only upon gentlemen distinguished for their wealth. At
the date of this writing Columbia University is considering the
expediency of making another degree for clergymen, in place of the old
D.D. -- _Damnator Diaboli_. The new honor will be known as _Sanctorum
Custus_, and written _$$c_. The name of the Rev. John Satan has been
suggested as a suitable recipient by a lover of consistency, who
points out that Professor Harry Thurston Peck has long enjoyed the
advantage of a degree.
LOCK-AND-KEY, n. The distinguishing device of civilization and
LODGER, n. A less popular name for the Second Person of that
delectable newspaper Trinity, the Roomer, the Bedder, and the Mealer.
LOGIC, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with
the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The
basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor
premise and a conclusion -- thus:
_Major Premise_: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as
quickly as one man.
_Minor Premise_: One man can dig a posthole in sixty seconds;
_Conclusion_: Sixty men can dig a posthole in one second.
This may be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by
combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are
LOGOMACHY, n. A war in which the weapons are words and the wounds
punctures in the swim-bladder of self-esteem -- a kind of contest in
which, the vanquished being unconscious of defeat, the victor is
denied the reward of success.
'Tis said by divers of the scholar-men
That poor Salmasius died of Milton's pen.
Alas! we cannot know if this is true,
For reading Milton's wit we perish too.
LOGANIMITY, n. The disposition to endure injury with meek forbearance
while maturing a plan of revenge.
LONGEVITY, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death.
LOOKING-GLASS, n. A vitreous plane upon which to display a fleeting
show for man's disillusion given.
The King of Manchuria had a magic looking-glass, whereon whoso
looked saw, not his own image, but only that of the king. A certain
courtier who had long enjoyed the king's favor and was thereby
enriched beyond any other subject of the realm, said to the king:
"Give me, I pray, thy wonderful mirror, so that when absent out of
thine august presence I may yet do homage before thy visible shadow,
prostrating myself night and morning in the glory of thy benign
countenance, as which nothing has so divine splendor, O Noonday Sun of
Please with the speech, the king commanded that the mirror be
conveyed to the courtier's palace; but after, having gone thither
without apprisal, he found it in an apartment where was naught but
idle lumber. And the mirror was dimmed with dust and overlaced with
cobwebs. This so angered him that he fisted it hard, shattering the
glass, and was sorely hurt. Enraged all the more by this mischance,
he commanded that the ungrateful courtier be thrown into prison, and
that the glass be repaired and taken back to his own palace; and this
was done. But when the king looked again on the mirror he saw not his
image as before, but only the figure of a crowned ass, having a bloody
bandage on one of its hinder hooves -- as the artificers and all who
had looked upon it had before discerned but feared to report. Taught
wisdom and charity, the king restored his courtier to liberty, had the
mirror set into the back of the throne and reigned many years with
justice and humility; and one day when he fell asleep in death while
on the throne, the whole court saw in the mirror the luminous figure
of an angel, which remains to this day.
LOQUACITY, n. A disorder which renders the sufferer unable to curb
his tongue when you wish to talk.
LORD, n. In American society, an English tourist above the state of a
costermonger, as, lord 'Aberdasher, Lord Hartisan and so forth. The
traveling Briton of lesser degree is addressed as "Sir," as, Sir 'Arry
Donkiboi, or 'Amstead 'Eath. The word "Lord" is sometimes used, also,
as a title of the Supreme Being; but this is thought to be rather
flattery than true reverence.
Miss Sallie Ann Splurge, of her own accord,
Wedded a wandering English lord --
Wedded and took him to dwell with her "paw,"
A parent who throve by the practice of Draw.
Lord Cadde I don't hesitate to declare
Unworthy the father-in-legal care
Of that elderly sport, notwithstanding the truth
That Cadde had renounced all the follies of youth;
For, sad to relate, he'd arrived at the stage
Of existence that's marked by the vices of age.
Among them, cupidity caused him to urge
Repeated demands on the pocket of Splurge,
Till, wrecked in his fortune, that gentleman saw
Inadequate aid in the practice of Draw,
And took, as a means of augmenting his pelf,
To the business of being a lord himself.
His neat-fitting garments he wilfully shed
And sacked himself strangely in checks instead;
Denuded his chin, but retained at each ear
A whisker that looked like a blasted career.
He painted his neck an incarnadine hue
Each morning and varnished it all that he knew.
The moony monocular set in his eye
Appeared to be scanning the Sweet Bye-and-Bye.
His head was enroofed with a billycock hat,
And his low-necked shoes were aduncous and flat.
In speech he eschewed his American ways,
Denying his nose to the use of his A's
And dulling their edge till the delicate sense
Of a babe at their temper could take no offence.
His H's -- 'twas most inexpressibly sweet,
The patter they made as they fell at his feet!
Re-outfitted thus, Mr. Splurge without fear
Began as Lord Splurge his recouping career.
Alas, the Divinity shaping his end
Entertained other views and decided to send
His lordship in horror, despair and dismay
From the land of the nobleman's natural prey.
For, smit with his Old World ways, Lady Cadde
Fell -- suffering Caesar! -- in love with her dad!
LORE, n. Learning -- particularly that sort which is not derived from
a regular course of instruction but comes of the reading of occult
books, or by nature. This latter is commonly designated as folk-lore
and embraces popularly myths and superstitions. In Baring-Gould's
_Curious Myths of the Middle Ages_ the reader will find many of these
traced backward, through various people son converging lines, toward a
common origin in remote antiquity. Among these are the fables of
"Teddy the Giant Killer," "The Sleeping John Sharp Williams," "Little
Red Riding Hood and the Sugar Trust," "Beauty and the Brisbane," "The
Seven Aldermen of Ephesus," "Rip Van Fairbanks," and so forth. The
fable with Goethe so affectingly relates under the title of "The Erl-
King" was known two thousand years ago in Greece as "The Demos and the
Infant Industry." One of the most general and ancient of these myths
is that Arabian tale of "Ali Baba and the Forty Rockefellers."
LOSS, n. Privation of that which we had, or had not. Thus, in the
latter sense, it is said of a defeated candidate that he "lost his
election"; and of that eminent man, the poet Gilder, that he has "lost
his mind." It is in the former and more legitimate sense, that the
word is used in the famous epitaph:
Here Huntington's ashes long have lain
Whose loss is our eternal gain,
For while he exercised all his powers
Whatever he gained, the loss was ours.
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of
the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder.
This disease, like _caries_ and many other ailments, is prevalent only
among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous
nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from
its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the
physician than to the patient.
LOW-BRED, adj. "Raised" instead of brought up.
LUMINARY, n. One who throws light upon a subject; as an editor by not
writing about it.
LUNARIAN, n. An inhabitant of the moon, as distinguished from
Lunatic, one whom the moon inhabits. The Lunarians have been
described by Lucian, Locke and other observers, but without much
agreement. For example, Bragellos avers their anatomical identity
with Man, but Professor Newcomb says they are more like the hill
tribes of Vermont.
LYRE, n. An ancient instrument of torture. The word is now used in a
figurative sense to denote the poetic faculty, as in the following
fiery lines of our great poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
I sit astride Parnassus with my lyre,
And pick with care the disobedient wire.
That stupid shepherd lolling on his crook
With deaf attention scarcely deigns to look.
I bide my time, and it shall come at length,
When, with a Titan's energy and strength,
I'll grab a fistful of the strings, and O,
The word shall suffer when I let them go!
MACE, n. A staff of office signifying authority. Its form, that of a
heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from
MACHINATION, n. The method employed by one's opponents in baffling
one's open and honorable efforts to do the right thing.
So plain the advantages of machination
It constitutes a moral obligation,
And honest wolves who think upon't with loathing
Feel bound to don the sheep's deceptive clothing.
So prospers still the diplomatic art,
And Satan bows, with hand upon his heart.
MACROBIAN, n. One forgotten of the gods and living to a great age.
History is abundantly supplied with examples, from Methuselah to Old
Parr, but some notable instances of longevity are less well known. A
Calabrian peasant named Coloni, born in 1753, lived so long that he
had what he considered a glimpse of the dawn of universal peace.
Scanavius relates that he knew an archbishop who was so old that he
could remember a time when he did not deserve hanging. In 1566 a
linen draper of Bristol, England, declared that he had lived five
hundred years, and that in all that time he had never told a lie.
There are instances of longevity (_macrobiosis_) in our own country.
Senator Chauncey Depew is old enough to know better. The editor of
_The American_, a newspaper in New York City, has a memory that goes
back to the time when he was a rascal, but not to the fact. The
President of the United States was born so long ago that many of the
friends of his youth have risen to high political and military
preferment without the assistance of personal merit. The verses
following were written by a macrobian:
When I was young the world was fair
And amiable and sunny.
A brightness was in all the air,
In all the waters, honey.
The jokes were fine and funny,
The statesmen honest in their views,
And in their lives, as well,
And when you heard a bit of news
'Twas true enough to tell.
Men were not ranting, shouting, reeking,
Nor women "generally speaking."
The Summer then was long indeed:
It lasted one whole season!
The sparkling Winter gave no heed
When ordered by Unreason
To bring the early peas on.
Now, where the dickens is the sense
In calling that a year
Which does no more than just commence
Before the end is near?
When I was young the year extended
From month to month until it ended.
I know not why the world has changed
To something dark and dreary,
And everything is now arranged
To make a fellow weary.
The Weather Man -- I fear he
Has much to do with it, for, sure,
The air is not the same:
It chokes you when it is impure,
When pure it makes you lame.
With windows closed you are asthmatic;
Open, neuralgic or sciatic.
Well, I suppose this new regime
Of dun degeneration
Seems eviler than it would seem
To a better observation,
And has for compensation
Some blessings in a deep disguise
Which mortal sight has failed
To pierce, although to angels' eyes
They're visible unveiled.
If Age is such a boon, good land!
He's costumed by a master hand!
MAD, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence;
not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by
the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority;
in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad
by officials destitute of evidence that themselves are sane. For
illustration, this present (and illustrious) lexicographer is no
firmer in the faith of his own sanity than is any inmate of any
madhouse in the land; yet for aught he knows to the contrary, instead
of the lofty occupation that seems to him to be engaging his powers he
may really be beating his hands against the window bars of an asylum
and declaring himself Noah Webster, to the innocent delight of many
MAGDALENE, n. An inhabitant of Magdala. Popularly, a woman found
out. This definition of the word has the authority of ignorance, Mary
of Magdala being another person than the penitent woman mentioned by
St. Luke. It has also the official sanction of the governments of
Great Britain and the United States. In England the word is
pronounced Maudlin, whence maudlin, adjective, unpleasantly
sentimental. With their Maudlin for Magdalene, and their Bedlam for
Bethlehem, the English may justly boast themselves the greatest of
MAGIC, n. An art of converting superstition into coin. There are
other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet
lexicographer does not name them.
MAGNET, n. Something acted upon by magnetism.
MAGNETISM, n. Something acting upon a magnet.
The two definitions immediately foregoing are condensed from the
works of one thousand eminent scientists, who have illuminated the
subject with a great white light, to the inexpressible advancement of
MAGNIFICENT, adj. Having a grandeur or splendor superior to that to
which the spectator is accustomed, as the ears of an ass, to a rabbit,
or the glory of a glowworm, to a maggot.
MAGNITUDE, n. Size. Magnitude being purely relative, nothing is
large and nothing small. If everything in the universe were increased
in bulk one thousand diameters nothing would be any larger than it was
before, but if one thing remain unchanged all the others would be
larger than they had been. To an understanding familiar with the
relativity of magnitude and distance the spaces and masses of the
astronomer would be no more impressive than those of the microscopist.
For anything we know to the contrary, the visible universe may be a
small part of an atom, with its component ions, floating in the life-
fluid (luminiferous ether) of some animal. Possibly the wee creatures
peopling the corpuscles of our own blood are overcome with the proper
emotion when contemplating the unthinkable distance from one of these
MAGPIE, n. A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone
that it might be taught to talk.
MAIDEN, n. A young person of the unfair sex addicted to clewless
conduct and views that madden to crime. The genus has a wide
geographical distribution, being found wherever sought and deplored
wherever found. The maiden is not altogether unpleasing to the eye,
nor (without her piano and her views) insupportable to the ear, though
in respect to comeliness distinctly inferior to the rainbow, and, with
regard to the part of her that is audible, bleating out of the field
by the canary -- which, also, is more portable.
A lovelorn maiden she sat and sang --
This quaint, sweet song sang she;
"It's O for a youth with a football bang
And a muscle fair to see!
The Captain he
Of a team to be!
On the gridiron he shall shine,
A monarch by right divine,
And never to roast on it -- me!"
MAJESTY, n. The state and title of a king. Regarded with a just
contempt by the Most Eminent Grand Masters, Grand Chancellors, Great
Incohonees and Imperial Potentates of the ancient and honorable orders
of republican America.
MALE, n. A member of the unconsidered, or negligible sex. The male
of the human race is commonly known (to the female) as Mere Man. The
genus has two varieties: good providers and bad providers.
MALEFACTOR, n. The chief factor in the progress of the human race.
MALTHUSIAN, adj. Pertaining to Malthus and his doctrines. Malthus
believed in artificially limiting population, but found that it could
not be done by talking. One of the most practical exponents of the
Malthusian idea was Herod of Judea, though all the famous soldiers
have been of the same way of thinking.
MAMMALIA, n.pl. A family of vertebrate animals whose females in a
state of nature suckle their young, but when civilized and enlightened
put them out to nurse, or use the bottle.
MAMMON, n. The god of the world's leading religion. The chief temple
is in the holy city of New York.
He swore that all other religions were gammon,
And wore out his knees in the worship of Mammon.
MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he
thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His
chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own
species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to
infest the whole habitable earh and Canada.
When the world was young and Man was new,
And everything was pleasant,
Distinctions Nature never drew
'Mongst kings and priest and peasant.
We're not that way at present,
Save here in this Republic, where
We have that old regime,
For all are kings, however bare
Their backs, howe'er extreme
Their hunger. And, indeed, each has a voice
To accept the tyrant of his party's choice.
A citizen who would not vote,
And, therefore, was detested,
Was one day with a tarry coat
(With feathers backed and breasted)
By patriots invested.
"It is your duty," cried the crowd,
"Your ballot true to cast
For the man o' your choice." He humbly bowed,
And explained his wicked past:
"That's what I very gladly would have done,
Dear patriots, but he has never run."
MANES, n. The immortal parts of dead Greeks and Romans. They were in
a state of dull discomfort until the bodies from which they had
exhaled were buried and burned; and they seem not to have been
particularly happy afterward.
MANICHEISM, n. The ancient Persian doctrine of an incessant warfare
between Good and Evil. When Good gave up the fight the Persians
joined the victorious Opposition.
MANNA, n. A food miraculously given to the Israelites in the
wilderness. When it was no longer supplied to them they settled
down and tilled the soil, fertilizing it, as a rule, with the bodies
of the original occupants.
MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a
master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
MARTYR, n. One who moves along the line of least reluctance to a
MATERIAL, adj. Having an actual existence, as distinguished from an
imaginary one. Important.
Material things I know, or fell, or see;
All else is immaterial to me.
MAUSOLEUM, n. The final and funniest folly of the rich.
MAYONNAISE, n. One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a
ME, pro. The objectionable case of I. The personal pronoun in
English has three cases, the dominative, the objectionable and the
oppressive. Each is all three.
MEANDER, n. To proceed sinuously and aimlessly. The word is the
ancient name of a river about one hundred and fifty miles south of
Troy, which turned and twisted in the effort to get out of hearing
when the Greeks and Trojans boasted of their prowess.
MEDAL, n. A small metal disk given as a reward for virtues,
attainments or services more or less authentic.
It is related of Bismark, who had been awarded a medal for
gallantly rescuing a drowning person, that, being asked the meaning of
the medal, he replied: "I save lives sometimes." And sometimes he
MEDICINE, n. A stone flung down the Bowery to kill a dog in Broadway.
MEEKNESS, n. Uncommon patience in planning a revenge that is worth
M is for Moses,
Who slew the Egyptian.
As sweet as a rose is
The meekness of Moses.
No monument shows his
But M is for Moses
Who slew the Egyptian.
_The Biographical Alphabet_
MEERSCHAUM, n. (Literally, seafoam, and by many erroneously supposed
to be made of it.) A fine white clay, which for convenience in
coloring it brown is made into tobacco pipes and smoked by the workmen
engaged in that industry. The purpose of coloring it has not been
disclosed by the manufacturers.
There was a youth (you've heard before,
This woeful tale, may be),
Who bought a meerschaum pipe and swore
That color it would he!
He shut himself from the world away,
Nor any soul he saw.
He smoke by night, he smoked by day,
As hard as he could draw.
His dog died moaning in the wrath
Of winds that blew aloof;
The weeds were in the gravel path,
The owl was on the roof.
"He's gone afar, he'll come no more,"
The neighbors sadly say.
And so they batter in the door
To take his goods away.
Dead, pipe in mouth, the youngster lay,
Nut-brown in face and limb.
"That pipe's a lovely white," they say,
"But it has colored him!"
The moral there's small need to sing --
'Tis plain as day to you:
Don't play your game on any thing
That is a gamester too.
MENDACIOUS, adj. Addicted to rhetoric.
MERCHANT, n. One engaged in a commercial pursuit. A commercial
pursuit is one in which the thing pursued is a dollar.
MERCY, n. An attribute beloved of detected offenders.
MESMERISM, n. Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a carriage
and asked Incredulity to dinner.
METROPOLIS, n. A stronghold of provincialism.
MILLENNIUM, n. The period of a thousand years when the lid is to be
screwed down, with all reformers on the under side.
MIND, n. A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its
chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature,
the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing
but itself to know itself with. From the Latin _mens_, a fact unknown
to that honest shoe-seller, who, observing that his learned competitor
over the way had displayed the motto "_Mens conscia recti_,"
emblazoned his own front with the words "Men's, women's and children's
MINE, adj. Belonging to me if I can hold or seize it.
MINISTER, n. An agent of a higher power with a lower responsibility.
In diplomacy and officer sent into a foreign country as the visible
embodiment of his sovereign's hostility. His principal qualification
is a degree of plausible inveracity next below that of an ambassador.
MINOR, adj. Less objectionable.
MINSTREL, adj. Formerly a poet, singer or musician; now a nigger with
a color less than skin deep and a humor more than flesh and blood can
MIRACLE, n. An act or event out of the order of nature and
unaccountable, as beating a normal hand of four kings and an ace with
four aces and a king.
MISCREANT, n. A person of the highest degree of unworth.
Etymologically, the word means unbeliever, and its present
signification may be regarded as theology's noblest contribution to
the development of our language.
MISDEMEANOR, n. An infraction of the law having less dignity than a
felony and constituting no claim to admittance into the best criminal
By misdemeanors he essays to climb
Into the aristocracy of crime.
O, woe was him! -- with manner chill and grand
"Captains of industry" refused his hand,
"Kings of finance" denied him recognition
And "railway magnates" jeered his low condition.
He robbed a bank to make himself respected.
They still rebuffed him, for he was detected.
MISERICORDE, n. A dagger which in mediaeval warfare was used by the
foot soldier to remind an unhorsed knight that he was mortal.
MISFORTUNE, n. The kind of fortune that never misses.
MISS, n. The title with which we brand unmarried women to indicate
that they are in the market. Miss, Missis (Mrs.) and Mister (Mr.) are
the three most distinctly disagreeable words in the language, in sound
and sense. Two are corruptions of Mistress, the other of Master. In
the general abolition of social titles in this our country they
miraculously escaped to plague us. If we must have them let us be
consistent and give one to the unmarried man. I venture to suggest
Mush, abbreviated to Mh.
MOLECULE, n. The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. It is
distinguished from the corpuscle, also the ultimate, indivisible unit
of matter, by a closer resemblance to the atom, also the ultimate,
indivisible unit of matter. Three great scientific theories of the
structure of the universe are the molecular, the corpuscular and the
atomic. A fourth affirms, with Haeckel, the condensation of
precipitation of matter from ether -- whose existence is proved by the
condensation of precipitation. The present trend of scientific
thought is toward the theory of ions. The ion differs from the
molecule, the corpuscle and the atom in that it is an ion. A fifth
theory is held by idiots, but it is doubtful if they know any more
about the matter than the others.
MONAD, n. The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. (See
_Molecule_.) According to Leibnitz, as nearly as he seems willing to
be understood, the monad has body without bulk, and mind without
manifestation -- Leibnitz knows him by the innate power of
considering. He has founded upon him a theory of the universe, which
the creature bears without resentment, for the monad is a gentlmean.
Small as he is, the monad contains all the powers and possibilities
needful to his evolution into a German philosopher of the first class
-- altogether a very capable little fellow. He is not to be
confounded with the microbe, or bacillus; by its inability to discern
him, a good microscope shows him to be of an entirely distinct
MONARCH, n. A person engaged in reigning. Formerly the monarch
ruled, as the derivation of the word attests, and as many subjects
have had occasion to learn. In Russia and the Orient the monarch has
still a considerable influence in public affairs and in the
disposition of the human head, but in western Europe political
administration is mostly entrusted to his ministers, he being
somewhat preoccupied with reflections relating to the status of his
MONARCHICAL GOVERNMENT, n. Government.
MONDAY, n. In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.
MONEY, n. A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we
part with it. An evidence of culture and a passport to polite
society. Supportable property.
MONKEY, n. An arboreal animal which makes itself at home in
MONOSYLLABIC, adj. Composed of words of one syllable, for literary
babes who never tire of testifying their delight in the vapid compound
by appropriate googoogling. The words are commonly Saxon -- that is
to say, words of a barbarous people destitute of ideas and incapable
of any but the most elementary sentiments and emotions.
The man who writes in Saxon
Is the man to use an ax on
MONSIGNOR, n. A high ecclesiastical title, of which the Founder of
our religion overlooked the advantages.
MONUMENT, n. A structure intended to commemorate something which
either needs no commemoration or cannot be commemorated.
The bones of Agammemnon are a show,
And ruined is his royal monument,
but Agammemnon's fame suffers no diminution in consequence. The
monument custom has its _reductiones ad absurdum_ in monuments "to the
unknown dead" -- that is to say, monuments to perpetuate the memory of
those who have left no memory.
MORAL, adj. Conforming to a local and mutable standard of right.
Having the quality of general expediency.
It is sayd there be a raunge of mountaynes in the Easte, on
one syde of the which certayn conducts are immorall, yet on the other
syde they are holden in good esteeme; wherebye the mountayneer is much
conveenyenced, for it is given to him to goe downe eyther way and act
as it shall suite his moode, withouten offence.
MORE, adj. The comparative degree of too much.
MOUSE, n. An animal which strews its path with fainting women. As in
Rome Christians were thrown to the lions, so centuries earlier in
Otumwee, the most ancient and famous city of the world, female
heretics were thrown to the mice. Jakak-Zotp, the historian, the only
Otumwump whose writings have descended to us, says that these martyrs
met their death with little dignity and much exertion. He even
attempts to exculpate the mice (such is the malice of bigotry) by
declaring that the unfortunate women perished, some from exhaustion,
some of broken necks from falling over their own feet, and some from
lack of restoratives. The mice, he avers, enjoyed the pleasures of
the chase with composure. But if "Roman history is nine-tenths
lying," we can hardly expect a smaller proportion of that rhetorical
figure in the annals of a people capable of so incredible cruelty to a
lovely women; for a hard heart has a false tongue.
MOUSQUETAIRE, n. A long glove covering a part of the arm. Worn in
New Jersey. But "mousquetaire" is a might poor way to spell
MOUTH, n. In man, the gateway to the soul; in woman, the outlet of
MUGWUMP, n. In politics one afflicted with self-respect and addicted
to the vice of independence. A term of contempt.
MULATTO, n. A child of two races, ashamed of both.
MULTITUDE, n. A crowd; the source of political wisdom and virtue. In
a republic, the object of the statesman's adoration. "In a multitude
of consellors there is wisdom," saith the proverb. If many men of
equal individual wisdom are wiser than any one of them, it must be
that they acquire the excess of wisdom by the mere act of getting
together. Whence comes it? Obviously from nowhere -- as well say
that a range of mountains is higher than the single mountains
composing it. A multitude is as wise as its wisest member if it obey
him; if not, it is no wiser than its most foolish.
MUMMY, n. An ancient Egyptian, formerly in universal use among modern
civilized nations as medicine, and now engaged in supplying art with
an excellent pigment. He is handy, too, in museums in gratifying the
vulgar curiosity that serves to distinguish man from the lower
By means of the Mummy, mankind, it is said,
Attests to the gods its respect for the dead.
We plunder his tomb, be he sinner or saint,
Distil him for physic and grind him for paint,
Exhibit for money his poor, shrunken frame,
And with levity flock to the scene of the shame.
O, tell me, ye gods, for the use of my rhyme:
For respecting the dead what's the limit of time?
MUSTANG, n. An indocile horse of the western plains. In English
society, the American wife of an English nobleman.
MYRMIDON, n. A follower of Achilles -- particularly when he didn't
MYTHOLOGY, n. The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its
origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished
from the true accounts which it invents later.
NECTAR, n. A drink served at banquets of the Olympian deities. The
secret of its preparation is lost, but the modern Kentuckians believe
that they come pretty near to a knowledge of its chief ingredient.
Juno drank a cup of nectar,
But the draught did not affect her.
Juno drank a cup of rye --
Then she bad herself good-bye.
NEGRO, n. The _piece de resistance_ in the American political
problem. Representing him by the letter n, the Republicans begin to
build their equation thus: "Let n = the white man." This, however,
appears to give an unsatisfactory solution.
NEIGHBOR, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who
does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
NEPOTISM, n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of
NEWTONIAN, adj. Pertaining to a philosophy of the universe invented
by Newton, who discovered that an apple will fall to the ground, but
was unable to say why. His successors and disciples have advanced so
far as to be able to say when.
NIHILIST, n. A Russian who denies the existence of anything but
Tolstoi. The leader of the school is Tolstoi.
NIRVANA, n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable
annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to
NOBLEMAN, n. Nature's provision for wealthy American minds ambitious
to incur social distinction and suffer high life.
NOISE, n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The chief
product and authenticating sign of civilization.
NOMINATE, v. To designate for the heaviest political assessment. To
put forward a suitable person to incur the mudgobbling and deadcatting
of the opposition.
NOMINEE, n. A modest gentleman shrinking from the distinction of
private life and diligently seeking the honorable obscurity of public
NON-COMBATANT, n. A dead Quaker.
NONSENSE, n. The objections that are urged against this excellent
NOSE, n. The extreme outpost of the face. From the circumstance that
great conquerors have great noses, Getius, whose writings antedate the
age of humor, calls the nose the organ of quell. It has been observed
that one's nose is never so happy as when thrust into the affairs of
others, from which some physiologists have drawn the inference that
the nose is devoid of the sense of smell.
There's a man with a Nose,
And wherever he goes
The people run from him and shout:
"No cotton have we
For our ears if so be
He blow that interminous snout!"
So the lawyers applied
For injunction. "Denied,"
Said the Judge: "the defendant prefixion,
Whate'er it portend,
Appears to transcend
The bounds of this court's jurisdiction."
NOTORIETY, n. The fame of one's competitor for public honors. The
kind of renown most accessible and acceptable to mediocrity. A
Jacob's-ladder leading to the vaudeville stage, with angels ascending
NOUMENON, n. That which exists, as distinguished from that which
merely seems to exist, the latter being a phenomenon. The noumenon is
a bit difficult to locate; it can be apprehended only be a process of
reasoning -- which is a phenomenon. Nevertheless, the discovery and
exposition of noumena offer a rich field for what Lewes calls "the
endless variety and excitement of philosophic thought." Hurrah
(therefore) for the noumenon!
NOVEL, n. A short story padded. A species of composition bearing the
same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art. As it is
too long to be read at a sitting the impressions made by its
successive parts are successively effaced, as in the panorama. Unity,
totality of effect, is impossible; for besides the few pages last read
all that is carried in mind is the mere plot of what has gone before.
To the romance the novel is what photography is to painting. Its
distinguishing principle, probability, corresponds to the literal
actuality of the photograph and puts it distinctly into the category
of reporting; whereas the free wing of the romancer enables him to
mount to such altitudes of imagination as he may be fitted to attain;
and the first three essentials of the literary art are imagination,
imagination and imagination. The art of writing novels, such as it
was, is long dead everywhere except in Russia, where it is new. Peace
to its ashes -- some of which have a large sale.
NOVEMBER, n. The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.
OATH, n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the
conscience by a penalty for perjury.
OBLIVION, n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from
struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground.
Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet
their works without pride and their betters without envy. A dormitory
without an alarm clock.
OBSERVATORY, n. A place where astronomers conjecture away the guesses
of their predecessors.
OBSESSED, p.p. Vexed by an evil spirit, like the Gadarene swine and
other critics. Obsession was once more common than it is now.
Arasthus tells of a peasant who was occupied by a different devil for
every day in the week, and on Sundays by two. They were frequently
seen, always walking in his shadow, when he had one, but were finally
driven away by the village notary, a holy man; but they took the
peasant with them, for he vanished utterly. A devil thrown out of a
woman by the Archbishop of Rheims ran through the trees, pursued by a
hundred persons, until the open country was reached, where by a leap
higher than a church spire he escaped into a bird. A chaplain in
Cromwell's army exorcised a soldier's obsessing devil by throwing the
soldier into the water, when the devil came to the surface. The
soldier, unfortunately, did not.
OBSOLETE, adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words.
A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter
an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a
good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good
enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer's attitude toward
"obsolete" words is as true a measure of his literary ability as
anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete
and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and
sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the
vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a
OBSTINATE, adj. Inaccessible to the truth as it is manifest in the
splendor and stress of our advocacy.
The popular type and exponent of obstinacy is the mule, a most
OCCASIONAL, adj. Afflicting us with greater or less frequency. That,
however, is not the sense in which the word is used in the phrase
"occasional verses," which are verses written for an "occasion," such
as an anniversary, a celebration or other event. True, they afflict
us a little worse than other sorts of verse, but their name has no
reference to irregular recurrence.
OCCIDENT, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the
Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful subtribe of
the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating,
which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are
the principal industries of the Orient.
OCEAN, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made
for man -- who has no gills.
OFFENSIVE, adj. Generating disagreeable emotions or sensations, as
the advance of an army against its enemy.
"Were the enemy's tactics offensive?" the king asked. "I should
say so!" replied the unsuccessful general. "The blackguard wouldn't
come out of his works!"
OLD, adj. In that stage of usefulness which is not inconsistent with
general inefficiency, as an _old man_. Discredited by lapse of time
and offensive to the popular taste, as an _old_ book.
"Old books? The devil take them!" Goby said.
"Fresh every day must be my books and bread."
Nature herself approves the Goby rule
And gives us every moment a fresh fool.
OLEAGINOUS, adj. Oily, smooth, sleek.
Disraeli once described the manner of Bishop Wilberforce as
"unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous." And the good prelate was ever
afterward known as Soapy Sam. For every man there is something in the
vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies
have only to find it.
OLYMPIAN, adj. Relating to a mountain in Thessaly, once inhabited by
gods, now a repository of yellowing newspapers, beer bottles and
mutilated sardine cans, attesting the presence of the tourist and his
His name the smirking tourist scrawls
Upon Minerva's temple walls,
Where thundered once Olympian Zeus,
And marks his appetite's abuse.
OMEN, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.
ONCE, adv. Enough.
OPERA, n. A play representing life in another world, whose
inhabitants have no speech but song, no motions but gestures and no
postures but attitudes. All acting is simulation, and the word
_simulation_ is from _simia_, an ape; but in opera the actor takes for
his model _Simia audibilis_ (or _Pithecanthropos stentor_) -- the ape
The actor apes a man -- at least in shape;
The opera performer apes and ape.
OPIATE, n. An unlocked door in the prison of Identity. It leads into
the jail yard.
OPPORTUNITY, n. A favorable occasion for grasping a disappointment.
OPPOSE, v. To assist with obstructions and objections.
How lonely he who thinks to vex
With bandinage the Solemn Sex!
Of levity, Mere Man, beware;
None but the Grave deserve the Unfair.
Percy P. Orminder
OPPOSITION, n. In politics the party that prevents the Government from
running amuck by hamstringing it.
The King of Ghargaroo, who had been abroad to study the science of
government, appointed one hundred of his fattest subjects as members
of a parliament to make laws for the collection of revenue. Forty of
these he named the Party of Opposition and had his Prime Minister
carefully instruct them in their duty of opposing every royal measure.
Nevertheless, the first one that was submitted passed unanimously.
Greatly displeased, the King vetoed it, informing the Opposition that
if they did that again they would pay for their obstinacy with their
heads. The entire forty promptly disemboweled themselves.
"What shall we do now?" the King asked. "Liberal institutions
cannot be maintained without a party of Opposition."
"Splendor of the universe," replied the Prime Minister, "it is
true these dogs of darkness have no longer their credentials, but all
is not lost. Leave the matter to this worm of the dust."
So the Minister had the bodies of his Majesty's Opposition
embalmed and stuffed with straw, put back into the seats of power and
nailed there. Forty votes were recorded against every bill and the
nation prospered. But one day a bill imposing a tax on warts was
defeated -- the members of the Government party had not been nailed to
their seats! This so enraged the King that the Prime Minister was put
to death, the parliament was dissolved with a battery of artillery,
and government of the people, by the people, for the people perished
OPTIMISM, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful,
including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and
everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by
those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and
is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a
blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof -- an
intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is
hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.
OPTIMIST, n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.
A pessimist applied to God for relief.
"Ah, you wish me to restore your hope and cheerfulness," said God.
"No," replied the petitioner, "I wish you to create something that
would justify them."
"The world is all created," said God, "but you have overlooked
something -- the mortality of the optimist."
ORATORY, n. A conspiracy between speech and action to cheat the
understanding. A tyranny tempered by stenography.
ORPHAN, n. A living person whom death has deprived of the power of
filial ingratitude -- a privation appealing with a particular
eloquence to all that is sympathetic in human nature. When young the
orphan is commonly sent to an asylum, where by careful cultivation of
its rudimentary sense of locality it is taught to know its place. It
is then instructed in the arts of dependence and servitude and
eventually turned loose to prey upon the world as a bootblack or
ORTHODOX, n. An ox wearing the popular religious joke.
ORTHOGRAPHY, n. The science of spelling by the eye instead of the
ear. Advocated with more heat than light by the outmates of every
asylum for the insane. They have had to concede a few things since
the time of Chaucer, but are none the less hot in defence of those to
be conceded hereafter.
A spelling reformer indicted
For fudge was before the court cicted.
The judge said: "Enough --
His candle we'll snough,
And his sepulchre shall not be whicted."
OSTRICH, n. A large bird to which (for its sins, doubtless) nature
has denied that hinder toe in which so many pious naturalists have
seen a conspicuous evidence of design. The absence of a good working
pair of wings is no defect, for, as has been ingeniously pointed out,
the ostrich does not fly.
OTHERWISE, adv. No better.
OUTCOME, n. A particular type of disappointment. By the kind of
intelligence that sees in an exception a proof of the rule the wisdom
of an act is judged by the outcome, the result. This is immortal
nonsense; the wisdom of an act is to be juded by the light that the
doer had when he performed it.
OUTDO, v.t. To make an enemy.
OUT-OF-DOORS, n. That part of one's environment upon which no
government has been able to collect taxes. Chiefly useful to inspire
I climbed to the top of a mountain one day
To see the sun setting in glory,
And I thought, as I looked at his vanishing ray,
Of a perfectly splendid story.
'Twas about an old man and the ass he bestrode
Till the strength of the beast was o'ertested;
Then the man would carry him miles on the road
Till Neddy was pretty well rested.
The moon rising solemnly over the crest
Of the hills to the east of my station
Displayed her broad disk to the darkening west
Like a visible new creation.
And I thought of a joke (and I laughed till I cried)
Of an idle young woman who tarried
About a church-door for a look at the bride,
Although 'twas herself that was married.
To poets all Nature is pregnant with grand
Ideas -- with thought and emotion.
I pity the dunces who don't understand
The speech of earth, heaven and ocean.
OVATION, n. n ancient Rome, a definite, formal pageant in honor of
one who had been disserviceable to the enemies of the nation. A
lesser "triumph." In modern English the word is improperly used to
signify any loose and spontaneous expression of popular homage to the
hero of the hour and place.
"I had an ovation!" the actor man said,
But I thought it uncommonly queer,
That people and critics by him had been led
By the ear.
The Latin lexicon makes his absurd
Assertion as plain as a peg;
In "ovum" we find the true root of the word.
It means egg.
OVEREAT, v. To dine.
Hail, Gastronome, Apostle of Excess,
Well skilled to overeat without distress!
Thy great invention, the unfatal feast,
Shows Man's superiority to Beast.
OVERWORK, n. A dangerous disorder affecting high public functionaries
who want to go fishing.
OWE, v. To have (and to hold) a debt. The word formerly signified
not indebtedness, but possession; it meant "own," and in the minds of
debtors there is still a good deal of confusion between assets and
OYSTER, n. A slimy, gobby shellfish which civilization gives men the
hardihood to eat without removing its entrails! The shells are
sometimes given to the poor.
PAIN, n. An uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical
basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely
mental, caused by the good fortune of another.
PAINTING, n. The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and
exposing them to the critic.
Formerly, painting and sculpture were combined in the same work:
the ancients painted their statues. The only present alliance between
the two arts is that the modern painter chisels his patrons.
PALACE, n. A fine and costly residence, particularly that of a great
official. The residence of a high dignitary of the Christian Church
is called a palace; that of the Founder of his religion was known as a
field, or wayside. There is progress.
PALM, n. A species of tree having several varieties, of which the
familiar "itching palm" (_Palma hominis_) is most widely distributed
and sedulously cultivated. This noble vegetable exudes a kind of
invisible gum, which may be detected by applying to the bark a piece
of gold or silver. The metal will adhere with remarkable tenacity.
The fruit of the itching palm is so bitter and unsatisfying that a
considerable percentage of it is sometimes given away in what are known
PALMISTRY, n. The 947th method (according to Mimbleshaw's
classification) of obtaining money by false pretences. It consists in
"reading character" in the wrinkles made by closing the hand. The
pretence is not altogether false; character can really be read very
accurately in this way, for the wrinkles in every hand submitted
plainly spell the word "dupe." The imposture consists in not reading
PANDEMONIUM, n. Literally, the Place of All the Demons. Most of them
have escaped into politics and finance, and the place is now used as a
lecture hall by the Audible Reformer. When disturbed by his voice the
ancient echoes clamor appropriate responses most gratifying to his
pride of distinction.
PANTALOONS, n. A nether habiliment of the adult civilized male. The
garment is tubular and unprovided with hinges at the points of
flexion. Supposed to have been invented by a humorist. Called
"trousers" by the enlightened and "pants" by the unworthy.
PANTHEISM, n. The doctrine that everything is God, in
contradistinction to the doctrine that God is everything.
PANTOMIME, n. A play in which the story is told without violence to
the language. The least disagreeable form of dramatic action.
PARDON, v. To remit a penalty and restore to the life of crime. To
add to the lure of crime the temptation of ingratitude.
PASSPORT, n. A document treacherously inflicted upon a citizen going
abroad, exposing him as an alien and pointing him out for special
reprobation and outrage.
PAST, n. That part of Eternity with some small fraction of which we
have a slight and regrettable acquaintance. A moving line called the
Present parts it from an imaginary period known as the Future. These
two grand divisions of Eternity, of which the one is continually
effacing the other, are entirely unlike. The one is dark with sorrow
and disappointment, the other bright with prosperity and joy. The
Past is the region of sobs, the Future is the realm of song. In the
one crouches Memory, clad in sackcloth and ashes, mumbling penitential
prayer; in the sunshine of the other Hope flies with a free wing,
beckoning to temples of success and bowers of ease. Yet the Past is
the Future of yesterday, the Future is the Past of to-morrow. They
are one -- the knowledge and the dream.
PASTIME, n. A device for promoting dejection. Gentle exercise for
PATIENCE, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.
PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to
those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one
ambitious to illuminate his name.
In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the
last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened
but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.
PEACE, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two
periods of fighting.
O, what's the loud uproar assailing
Mine ears without cease?
'Tis the voice of the hopeful, all-hailing
The horrors of peace.
Ah, Peace Universal; they woo it --
Would marry it, too.
If only they knew how to do it
'Twere easy to do.
They're working by night and by day
On their problem, like moles.
Have mercy, O Heaven, I pray,
On their meddlesome souls!
PEDESTRIAN, n. The variable (an audible) part of the roadway for an
PEDIGREE, n. The known part of the route from an arboreal ancestor
with a swim bladder to an urban descendant with a cigarette.
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