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The Devil’s Dictionary – “L”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

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

another’s treasure.

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

substantial welfare.

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.

Gargo Repsky

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._)

LAW, n.

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

impoverishment 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.”

Sigismund Smith

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.”

Martha Braymance

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

successful controversy.

“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.

Han Soper

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;

therefore —

_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

twice blessed.

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.

LONGANIMITY, 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

the Universe!”

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!

Farquharson Harris

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