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Posts Tagged ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’

The Devil’s Dictionary – “Z”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

ZANY, n. A popular character in old Italian plays, who imitated with

ludicrous incompetence the _buffone_, or clown, and was therefore the

ape of an ape; for the clown himself imitated the serious characters

of the play. The zany was progenitor to the specialist in humor, as

we to-day have the unhappiness to know him. In the zany we see an

example of creation; in the humorist, of transmission. Another

excellent specimen of the modern zany is the curate, who apes the

rector, who apes the bishop, who apes the archbishop, who apes the

devil.

ZANZIBARI, n. An inhabitant of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, off the Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “Y”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

YANKEE, n. In Europe, an American. In the Northern States of our

Union, a New Englander. In the Southern States the word is unknown.

(See DAMNYANK.)

YEAR, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

YESTERDAY, n. The infancy of youth, the youth of manhood, the entire

past of age.

But yesterday I should have thought me blest

To stand high-pinnacled upon the peak

Of middle life and look adown the bleak

And unfamiliar foreslope to the West,

Where solemn shadows all the land invest Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “X”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

X in our alphabet being a needless letter has an added invincibility

to the attacks of the spelling reformers, and like them, will

doubtless last as long as the language. X is the sacred symbol of ten

dollars, and in such words as Xmas, Xn, etc., stands for Christ, not,

as is popular supposed, because it represents a cross, but because the

corresponding letter in the Greek alphabet is the initial of his name

— _Xristos_. If it represented a cross it would stand for St.

Andrew, who “testified” upon one of that shape. In the algebra of

psychology x stands for Woman’s mind. Words beginning with X are

Grecian and will not be defined in this standard English dictionary.

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “W”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

W (double U) has, of all the letters in our alphabet, the only

cumbrous name, the names of the others being monosyllabic. This

advantage of the Roman alphabet over the Grecian is the more valued

after audibly spelling out some simple Greek word, like

_epixoriambikos_. Still, it is now thought by the learned that other

agencies than the difference of the two alphabets may have been

concerned in the decline of “the glory that was Greece” and the rise

of “the grandeur that was Rome.” There can be no doubt, however, that

by simplifying the name of W (calling it “wow,” for example) our

civilization could be, if not promoted, at least better endured.

WALL STREET, n. A symbol for sin for every devil to rebuke. That

Wall Street is a den of thieves is a belief that serves every

unsuccessful thief in place of a hope in Heaven. Even the great and

good Andrew Carnegie has made his profession of faith in the matter.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “V”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

VALOR, n. A soldierly compound of vanity, duty and the gambler’s

hope.

“Why have you halted?” roared the commander of a division and

Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge; “move forward, sir, at once.”

“General,” said the commander of the delinquent brigade, “I am

persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring

them into collision with the enemy.”

VANITY, n. The tribute of a fool to the worth of the nearest ass.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “U”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

UBIQUITY, n. The gift or power of being in all places at one time,

but not in all places at all times, which is omnipresence, an

attribute of God and the luminiferous ether only. This important

distinction between ubiquity and omnipresence was not clear to the

mediaeval Church and there was much bloodshed about it. Certain

Lutherans, who affirmed the presence everywhere of Christ’s body were

known as Ubiquitarians. For this error they were doubtless damned,

for Christ’s body is present only in the eucharist, though that

sacrament may be performed in more than one place simultaneously. In

recent times ubiquity has not always been understood — not even by

Sir Boyle Roche, for example, who held that a man cannot be in two

places at once unless he is a bird.

UGLINESS, n. A gift of the gods to certain women, entailing virtue

without humility.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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, Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “S”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

SABBATH, n. A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God

made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh. Among the

Jews observance of the day was enforced by a Commandment of which this

is the Christian version: “Remember the seventh day to make thy

neighbor keep it wholly.” To the Creator it seemed fit and expedient

that the Sabbath should be the last day of the week, but the Early

Fathers of the Church held other views. So great is the sanctity of

the day that even where the Lord holds a doubtful and precarious

jurisdiction over those who go down to (and down into) the sea it is

reverently recognized, as is manifest in the following deep-water

version of the Fourth Commandment:

Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,

And on the seventh holystone the deck and scrape the cable.

Decks are no longer holystoned, but the cable still supplies the

captain with opportunity to attest a pious respect for the divine

ordinance.

SACERDOTALIST, n. One who holds the belief that a clergyman is a

priest. Denial of this momentous doctrine is the hardest challenge Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “R”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

RABBLE, n. In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority

tempered by fraudulent elections. The rabble is like the sacred

Simurgh, of Arabian fable — omnipotent on condition that it do

nothing. (The word is Aristocratese, and has no exact equivalent in

our tongue, but means, as nearly as may be, “soaring swine.”)

RACK, n. An argumentative implement formerly much used in persuading

devotees of a false faith to embrace the living truth. As a call to

the unconverted the rack never had any particular efficacy, and is now

held in light popular esteem.

RANK, n. Relative elevation in the scale of human worth.

He held at court a rank so high

That other noblemen asked why. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “Q”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

QUEEN, n. A woman by whom the realm is ruled when there is a king,

and through whom it is ruled when there is not.

QUILL, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly

wielded by an ass. This use of the quill is now obsolete, but its

modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting

Presence.

QUIVER, n. A portable sheath in which the ancient statesman and the Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “P”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

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

as “benefactions.”

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

it aloud.

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.

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “O”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “N”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

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.

J.G.

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “M”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

MACE, n. A staff of office signifying authority. Its form, that of a

heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from

dissent.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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

exist.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “J”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “H”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

HABEAS CORPUS. A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when

confined for the wrong crime.

HABIT, n. A shackle for the free.

HADES, n. The lower world; the residence of departed spirits; the

place where the dead live.

Among the ancients the idea of Hades was not synonymous with our

Hell, many of the most respectable men of antiquity residing there in

a very comfortable kind of way. Indeed, the Elysian Fields themselves

were a part of Hades, though they have since been removed to Paris.

When the Jacobean version of the New Testament was in process of

evolution the pious and learned men engaged in the work insisted by a

majority vote on translating the Greek word “Aides” as “Hell”; Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “G”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

GALLOWS, n. A stage for the performance of miracle plays, in which

the leading actor is translated to heaven. In this country the

gallows is chiefly remarkable for the number of persons who escape it.

Whether on the gallows high

Or where blood flows the reddest,

The noblest place for man to die —

Is where he died the deadest.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “F”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

FAIRY, n. A creature, variously fashioned and endowed, that formerly

inhabited the meadows and forests. It was nocturnal in its habits,

and somewhat addicted to dancing and the theft of children. The

fairies are now believed by naturalist to be extinct, though a

clergyman of the Church of England saw three near Colchester as lately

as 1855, while passing through a park after dining with the lord of

the manor. The sight greatly staggered him, and he was so affected

that his account of it was incoherent. In the year 1807 a troop of

fairies visited a wood near Aix and carried off the daughter of a

peasant, who had been seen to enter it with a bundle of clothing. The

son of a wealthy _bourgeois_ disappeared about the same time, but

afterward returned. He had seen the abduction been in pursuit of the

fairies. Justinian Gaux, a writer of the fourteenth century, avers

that so great is the fairies’ power of transformation that he saw one

change itself into two opposing armies and fight a battle with great

slaughter, and that the next day, after it had resumed its original

shape and gone away, there were seven hundred bodies of the slain

which the villagers had to bury. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “E”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

EAT, v.i. To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of

mastication, humectation, and deglutition.

“I was in the drawing-room, enjoying my dinner,” said Brillat-

Savarin, beginning an anecdote. “What!” interrupted Rochebriant;

“eating dinner in a drawing-room?” “I must beg you to observe,

monsieur,” explained the great gastronome, “that I did not say I was

eating my dinner, but enjoying it. I had dined an hour before.”

EAVESDROP, v.i. Secretly to overhear a catalogue of the crimes and

vices of another or yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “I”

Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007

I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language,

the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In

grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its

plural is said to be _We_, but how there can be more than one myself

is doubtless clearer the grammarians than it is to the author of this

incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but

fine. The frank yet graceful use of “I” distinguishes a good writer

from a bad; the latter carries it with the manner of a thief trying to

cloak his loot.

ICHOR, n. A fluid that serves the gods and goddesses in place of

blood.

Fair Venus, speared by Diomed,

Restrained the raging chief and said: Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “K”

Posted by eGZact on October 25, 2007

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 puns. As each theory seems probable enough, I see no

objection to believing both — and Dr. Snedeker arrayed himself on

that side of the question. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “D”

Posted by eGZact on October 25, 2007

DAMN, v. A word formerly much used by the Paphlagonians, the meaning

of which is lost. By the learned Dr. Dolabelly Gak it is believed to

have been a term of satisfaction, implying the highest possible degree

of mental tranquillity. Professor Groke, on the contrary, thinks it

expressed an emotion of tumultuous delight, because it so frequently

occurs in combination with the word _jod_ or _god_, meaning “joy.” It

would be with great diffidence that I should advance an opinion

conflicting with that of either of these formidable authorities.

DANCE, v.i. To leap about to the sound of tittering music, preferably

with arms about your neighbor’s wife or daughter. There are many

kinds of dances, but all those requiring the participation of the two

sexes have two characteristics in common: they are conspicuously

innocent, and warmly loved by the vicious.

DANGER, n.

A savage beast which, when it sleeps,

Man girds at and despises, Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “C”

Posted by eGZact on October 24, 2007

CAABA, n. A large stone presented by the archangel Gabriel to the

patriarch Abraham, and preserved at Mecca. The patriarch had perhaps

asked the archangel for bread.

CABBAGE, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and

wise as a man’s head.

The cabbage is so called from Cabagius, a prince who on ascending

the throne issued a decree appointing a High Council of Empire

consisting of the members of his predecessor’s Ministry and the

cabbages in the royal garden. When any of his Majesty’s measures of

state policy miscarried conspicuously it was gravely announced that

several members of the High Council had been beheaded, and his

murmuring subjects were appeased.

CALAMITY, n. A more than commonly plain and unmistakable reminder

that the affairs of this life are not of our own ordering. Calamities

are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to

others. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Devil’s Dictionary – “B”

Posted by eGZact on October 24, 2007

BAAL, n. An old deity formerly much worshiped under various names.

As Baal he was popular with the Phoenicians; as Belus or Bel he had

the honor to be served by the priest Berosus, who wrote the famous

account of the Deluge; as Babel he had a tower partly erected to his

glory on the Plain of Shinar. From Babel comes our English word

“babble.” Under whatever name worshiped, Baal is the Sun-god. As

Beelzebub he is the god of flies, which are begotten of the sun’s rays

on the stagnant water. In Physicia Baal is still worshiped as Bolus,

and as Belly he is adored and served with abundant sacrifice by the

priests of Guttledom.

BABE or BABY, n. A misshapen creature of no particular age, sex, or

condition, chiefly remarkable for the violence of the sympathies and

antipathies it excites in others, itself without sentiment or emotion.

There have been famous babes; for example, little Moses, from whose

adventure in the bulrushes the Egyptian hierophants of seven centuries

before doubtless derived their idle tale of the child Osiris being

preserved on a floating lotus leaf. Read the rest of this entry »

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