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The Devil's Dictionary - M
A staff of office signifying authority. Its form, that of a heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from dissent.
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.
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!
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 thoughtless spectators.
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 revisers.
An art of converting superstition into coin. There are other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them.
Something acted upon by magnetism.
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 human knowledge.
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.
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 to another.
A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone
that it might be taught to talk.
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!"
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.
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.
The chief factor in the progress of the human race.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
The ancient Persian doctrine of an incessant warfare
between Good and Evil. When Good gave up the fight the Persians
joined the victorious Opposition.
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.
The state or condition of a community consisting of a
master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
One who moves along the line of least reluctance to a
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.
The final and funniest folly of the rich.
One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a
The objectionable case of I. The personal pronoun in
English has three cases, the dominative, the objectionable and the
oppressive. Each is all three.
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.
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
A stone flung down the Bowery to kill a dog in Broadway.
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
(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.
Addicted to rhetoric.
One engaged in a commercial pursuit. A commercial
pursuit is one in which the thing pursued is a dollar.
An attribute beloved of detected offenders.
Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a carriage
and asked Incredulity to dinner.
A stronghold of provincialism.
The period of a thousand years when the lid is to be
screwed down, with all reformers on the under side.
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
Belonging to me if I can hold or seize it.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A dagger which in mediaeval warfare was used by the
foot soldier to remind an unhorsed knight that he was mortal.
The kind of fortune that never misses.
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.
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.
The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. (See
.) 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
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
In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.
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.
An arboreal animal which makes itself at home in
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
A high ecclesiastical title, of which the Founder of
our religion overlooked the advantages.
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.
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.
The comparative degree of too much.
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.
A long glove covering a part of the arm. Worn in
New Jersey. But "mousquetaire" is a might poor way to spell
In man, the gateway to the soul; in woman, the outlet of
In politics one afflicted with self-respect and addicted
to the vice of independence. A term of contempt.
A child of two races, ashamed of both.
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.
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?
An indocile horse of the western plains. In English
society, the American wife of an English nobleman.
A follower of Achilles -- particularly when he didn't
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.