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The Devil’s Dictionary – “T”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

T, the twentieth letter of the English alphabet, was by the Greeks

absurdly called _tau_. In the alphabet whence ours comes it had the

form of the rude corkscrew of the period, and when it stood alone

(which was more than the Phoenicians could always do) signified

_Tallegal_, translated by the learned Dr. Brownrigg, “tanglefoot.”

TABLE D’HOTE, n. A caterer’s thrifty concession to the universal

passion for irresponsibility.

Old Paunchinello, freshly wed,

Took Madam P. to table,

And there deliriously fed

As fast as he was able.

“I dote upon good grub,” he cried,

Intent upon its throatage.

“Ah, yes,” said the neglected bride,

“You’re in your _table d’hotage_.”

Associated Poets

TAIL, n. The part of an animal’s spine that has transcended its

natural limitations to set up an independent existence in a world of

its own. Excepting in its foetal state, Man is without a tail, a

privation of which he attests an hereditary and uneasy consciousness

by the coat-skirt of the male and the train of the female, and by a

marked tendency to ornament that part of his attire where the tail

should be, and indubitably once was. This tendency is most observable

in the female of the species, in whom the ancestral sense is strong

and persistent. The tailed men described by Lord Monboddo are now

generally regarded as a product of an imagination unusually

susceptible to influences generated in the golden age of our pithecan


TAKE, v.t. To acquire, frequently by force but preferably by stealth.

TALK, v.t. To commit an indiscretion without temptation, from an

impulse without purpose.

TARIFF, n. A scale of taxes on imports, designed to protect the

domestic producer against the greed of his consumer.

The Enemy of Human Souls

Sat grieving at the cost of coals;

For Hell had been annexed of late,

And was a sovereign Southern State.

“It were no more than right,” said he,

“That I should get my fuel free.

The duty, neither just nor wise,

Compels me to economize —

Whereby my broilers, every one,

Are execrably underdone.

What would they have? — although I yearn

To do them nicely to a turn,

I can’t afford an honest heat.

This tariff makes even devils cheat!

I’m ruined, and my humble trade

All rascals may at will invade:

Beneath my nose the public press

Outdoes me in sulphureousness;

The bar ingeniously applies

To my undoing my own lies;

My medicines the doctors use

(Albeit vainly) to refuse

To me my fair and rightful prey

And keep their own in shape to pay;

The preachers by example teach

What, scorning to perform, I teach;

And statesmen, aping me, all make

More promises than they can break.

Against such competition I

Lift up a disregarded cry.

Since all ignore my just complaint,

By Hokey-Pokey! I’ll turn saint!”

Now, the Republicans, who all

Are saints, began at once to bawl

Against _his_ competition; so

There was a devil of a go!

They locked horns with him, tete-a-tete

In acrimonious debate,

Till Democrats, forlorn and lone,

Had hopes of coming by their own.

That evil to avert, in haste

The two belligerents embraced;

But since ’twere wicked to relax

A tittle of the Sacred Tax,

‘Twas finally agreed to grant

The bold Insurgent-protestant

A bounty on each soul that fell

Into his ineffectual Hell.

Edam Smith

TECHNICALITY, n. In an English court a man named Home was tried for

slander in having accused his neighbor of murder. His exact words

were: “Sir Thomas Holt hath taken a cleaver and stricken his cook

upon the head, so that one side of the head fell upon one shoulder and

the other side upon the other shoulder.” The defendant was acquitted

by instruction of the court, the learned judges holding that the words

did not charge murder, for they did not affirm the death of the cook,

that being only an inference.

TEDIUM, n. Ennui, the state or condition of one that is bored. Many

fanciful derivations of the word have been affirmed, but so high an

authority as Father Jape says that it comes from a very obvious

source — the first words of the ancient Latin hymn _Te Deum

Laudamus_. In this apparently natural derivation there is something

that saddens.

TEETOTALER, n. One who abstains from strong drink, sometimes totally,

sometimes tolerably totally.

TELEPHONE, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the

advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

TELESCOPE, n. A device having a relation to the eye similar to that

of the telephone to the ear, enabling distant objects to plague us

with a multitude of needless details. Luckily it is unprovided with a

bell summoning us to the sacrifice.

TENACITY, n. A certain quality of the human hand in its relation to

the coin of the realm. It attains its highest development in the hand

of authority and is considered a serviceable equipment for a career in

politics. The following illustrative lines were written of a

Californian gentleman in high political preferment, who has passed to

his accounting:

Of such tenacity his grip

That nothing from his hand can slip.

Well-buttered eels you may o’erwhelm

In tubs of liquid slippery-elm

In vain — from his detaining pinch

They cannot struggle half an inch!

‘Tis lucky that he so is planned

That breath he draws not with his hand,

For if he did, so great his greed

He’d draw his last with eager speed.

Nay, that were well, you say. Not so

He’d draw but never let it go!

THEOSOPHY, n. An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion

and all the mystery of science. The modern Theosophist holds, with

the Buddhists, that we live an incalculable number of times on this

earth, in as many several bodies, because one life is not long enough

for our complete spiritual development; that is, a single lifetime

does not suffice for us to become as wise and good as we choose to

wish to become. To be absolutely wise and good — that is perfection;

and the Theosophist is so keen-sighted as to have observed that

everything desirous of improvement eventually attains perfection.

Less competent observers are disposed to except cats, which seem

neither wiser nor better than they were last year. The greatest and

fattest of recent Theosophists was the late Madame Blavatsky, who had

no cat.

TIGHTS, n. An habiliment of the stage designed to reinforce the

general acclamation of the press agent with a particular publicity.

Public attention was once somewhat diverted from this garment to Miss

Lillian Russell’s refusal to wear it, and many were the conjectures as

to her motive, the guess of Miss Pauline Hall showing a high order of

ingenuity and sustained reflection. It was Miss Hall’s belief that

nature had not endowed Miss Russell with beautiful legs. This theory

was impossible of acceptance by the male understanding, but the

conception of a faulty female leg was of so prodigious originality as

to rank among the most brilliant feats of philosophical speculation!

It is strange that in all the controversy regarding Miss Russell’s

aversion to tights no one seems to have thought to ascribe it to what

was known among the ancients as “modesty.” The nature of that

sentiment is now imperfectly understood, and possibly incapable of

exposition with the vocabulary that remains to us. The study of lost

arts has, however, been recently revived and some of the arts

themselves recovered. This is an epoch of _renaissances_, and there

is ground for hope that the primitive “blush” may be dragged from its

hiding-place amongst the tombs of antiquity and hissed on to the


TOMB, n. The House of Indifference. Tombs are now by common consent

invested with a certain sanctity, but when they have been long

tenanted it is considered no sin to break them open and rifle them,

the famous Egyptologist, Dr. Huggyns, explaining that a tomb may be

innocently “glened” as soon as its occupant is done “smellynge,” the

soul being then all exhaled. This reasonable view is now generally

accepted by archaeologists, whereby the noble science of Curiosity has

been greatly dignified.

TOPE, v. To tipple, booze, swill, soak, guzzle, lush, bib, or swig.

In the individual, toping is regarded with disesteem, but toping

nations are in the forefront of civilization and power. When pitted

against the hard-drinking Christians the abstemious Mahometans go down

like grass before the scythe. In India one hundred thousand beef-

eating and brandy-and-soda guzzling Britons hold in subjection two

hundred and fifty million vegetarian abstainers of the same Aryan

race. With what an easy grace the whisky-loving American pushed the

temperate Spaniard out of his possessions! From the time when the

Berserkers ravaged all the coasts of western Europe and lay drunk in

every conquered port it has been the same way: everywhere the nations

that drink too much are observed to fight rather well and not too

righteously. Wherefore the estimable old ladies who abolished the

canteen from the American army may justly boast of having materially

augmented the nation’s military power.

TORTOISE, n. A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for

the following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso:


My friend, you are not graceful — not at all;

Your gait’s between a stagger and a sprawl.

Nor are you beautiful: your head’s a snake’s

To look at, and I do not doubt it aches.

As to your feet, they’d make an angel weep.

‘Tis true you take them in whene’er you sleep.

No, you’re not pretty, but you have, I own,

A certain firmness — mostly you’re [sic] backbone.

Firmness and strength (you have a giant’s thews)

Are virtues that the great know how to use —

I wish that they did not; yet, on the whole,

You lack — excuse my mentioning it — Soul.

So, to be candid, unreserved and true,

I’d rather you were I than I were you.

Perhaps, however, in a time to be,

When Man’s extinct, a better world may see

Your progeny in power and control,

Due to the genesis and growth of Soul.

So I salute you as a reptile grand

Predestined to regenerate the land.

Father of Possibilities, O deign

To accept the homage of a dying reign!

In the far region of the unforeknown

I dream a tortoise upon every throne.

I see an Emperor his head withdraw

Into his carapace for fear of Law;

A King who carries something else than fat,

Howe’er acceptably he carries that;

A President not strenuously bent

On punishment of audible dissent —

Who never shot (it were a vain attack)

An armed or unarmed tortoise in the back;

Subject and citizens that feel no need

To make the March of Mind a wild stampede;

All progress slow, contemplative, sedate,

And “Take your time” the word, in Church and State.

O Tortoise, ’tis a happy, happy dream,

My glorious testudinous regime!

I wish in Eden you’d brought this about

By slouching in and chasing Adam out.

TREE, n. A tall vegetable intended by nature to serve as a penal

apparatus, though through a miscarriage of justice most trees bear

only a negligible fruit, or none at all. When naturally fruited, the

tree is a beneficient agency of civilization and an important factor

in public morals. In the stern West and the sensitive South its fruit

(white and black respectively) though not eaten, is agreeable to the

public taste and, though not exported, profitable to the general

welfare. That the legitimate relation of the tree to justice was no

discovery of Judge Lynch (who, indeed, conceded it no primacy over the

lamp-post and the bridge-girder) is made plain by the following

passage from Morryster, who antedated him by two centuries:

While in yt londe I was carried to see ye Ghogo tree, whereof

I had hearde moch talk; but sayynge yt I saw naught remarkabyll in

it, ye hed manne of ye villayge where it grewe made answer as


“Ye tree is not nowe in fruite, but in his seasonne you shall

see dependynge fr. his braunches all soch as have affroynted ye

King his Majesty.”

And I was furder tolde yt ye worde “Ghogo” sygnifyeth in yr

tong ye same as “rapscal” in our owne.

_Trauvells in ye Easte_

TRIAL, n. A formal inquiry designed to prove and put upon record the

blameless characters of judges, advocates and jurors. In order to

effect this purpose it is necessary to supply a contrast in the person

of one who is called the defendant, the prisoner, or the accused. If

the contrast is made sufficiently clear this person is made to undergo

such an affliction as will give the virtuous gentlemen a comfortable

sense of their immunity, added to that of their worth. In our day the

accused is usually a human being, or a socialist, but in mediaeval

times, animals, fishes, reptiles and insects were brought to trial. A

beast that had taken human life, or practiced sorcery, was duly

arrested, tried and, if condemned, put to death by the public

executioner. Insects ravaging grain fields, orchards or vineyards

were cited to appeal by counsel before a civil tribunal, and after

testimony, argument and condemnation, if they continued _in

contumaciam_ the matter was taken to a high ecclesiastical court,

where they were solemnly excommunicated and anathematized. In a

street of Toledo, some pigs that had wickedly run between the

viceroy’s legs, upsetting him, were arrested on a warrant, tried and

punished. In Naples and ass was condemned to be burned at the stake,

but the sentence appears not to have been executed. D’Addosio relates

from the court records many trials of pigs, bulls, horses, cocks,

dogs, goats, etc., greatly, it is believed, to the betterment of their

conduct and morals. In 1451 a suit was brought against the leeches

infesting some ponds about Berne, and the Bishop of Lausanne,

instructed by the faculty of Heidelberg University, directed that some

of “the aquatic worms” be brought before the local magistracy. This

was done and the leeches, both present and absent, were ordered to

leave the places that they had infested within three days on pain of

incurring “the malediction of God.” In the voluminous records of this

_cause celebre_ nothing is found to show whether the offenders braved

the punishment, or departed forthwith out of that inhospitable


TRICHINOSIS, n. The pig’s reply to proponents of porcophagy.

Moses Mendlessohn having fallen ill sent for a Christian

physician, who at once diagnosed the philosopher’s disorder as

trichinosis, but tactfully gave it another name. “You need and

immediate change of diet,” he said; “you must eat six ounces of pork

every other day.”

“Pork?” shrieked the patient — “pork? Nothing shall induce me to

touch it!”

“Do you mean that?” the doctor gravely asked.

“I swear it!”

“Good! — then I will undertake to cure you.”

TRINITY, n. In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches,

three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate

deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not

dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually

their claims to adoration and propitiation. The Trinity is one of the

most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because

it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of

theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not

understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that

contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the

former as a part of the latter.

TROGLODYTE, n. Specifically, a cave-dweller of the paleolithic

period, after the Tree and before the Flat. A famous community of

troglodytes dwelt with David in the Cave of Adullam. The colony

consisted of “every one that was in distress, and every one that was

in debt, and every one that was discontented” — in brief, all the

Socialists of Judah.

TRUCE, n. Friendship.

TRUTH, n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance.

Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the

most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of

existing with increasing activity to the end of time.

TRUTHFUL, adj. Dumb and illiterate.

TRUST, n. In American politics, a large corporation composed in

greater part of thrifty working men, widows of small means, orphans in

the care of guardians and the courts, with many similar malefactors

and public enemies.

TURKEY, n. A large bird whose flesh when eaten on certain religious

anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and

gratitude. Incidentally, it is pretty good eating.

TWICE, adv. Once too often.

TYPE, n. Pestilent bits of metal suspected of destroying

civilization and enlightenment, despite their obvious agency in this

incomparable dictionary.

TZETZE (or TSETSE) FLY, n. An African insect (_Glossina morsitans_)

whose bite is commonly regarded as nature’s most efficacious remedy

for insomnia, though some patients prefer that of the American

novelist (_Mendax interminabilis_).

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