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The Devil's Dictionary - 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.
A fluid that serves the gods and goddesses in place of
Fair Venus, speared by Diomed,
Restrained the raging chief and said:
"Behold, rash mortal, whom you've bled --
Your soul's stained white with ichorshed!"
A breaker of idols, the worshipers whereof are
imperfectly gratified by the performance, and most strenuously protest
that he unbuildeth but doth not reedify, that he pulleth down but
pileth not up. For the poor things would have other idols in place of
those he thwacketh upon the mazzard and dispelleth. But the
iconoclast saith: "Ye shall have none at all, for ye need them not;
and if the rebuilder fooleth round hereabout, behold I will depress
the head of him and sit thereon till he squawk it."
A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in
human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's
activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action,
but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in
everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and
opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes
conduct with a dead-line.
A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of
new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices.
A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge
familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know
Dumble was an ignoramus,
Mumble was for learning famous.
Mumble said one day to Dumble:
"Ignorance should be more humble.
Not a spark have you of knowledge
That was got in any college."
Dumble said to Mumble: "Truly
You're self-satisfied unduly.
Of things in college I'm denied
A knowledge -- you of all beside."
A sect of Spanish heretics of the latter part of the
sixteenth century; so called because they were light weights --
Suitably placed for the shafts of malice, envy and
A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint
A kind of divine inspiration, or sacred fire affecting
censorious critics of this dictionary.
An unenlightened person who thinks one country better
Having a strong sense of one's own merit, coupled with
a feeble conception of worth in others.
There was once a man in Ispahan
Ever and ever so long ago,
And he had a head, the phrenologists said,
That fitted him for a show.
For his modesty's bump was so large a lump
(Nature, they said, had taken a freak)
That its summit stood far above the wood
Of his hair, like a mountain peak.
So modest a man in all Ispahan,
Over and over again they swore --
So humble and meek, you would vainly seek;
None ever was found before.
Meantime the hump of that awful bump
Into the heavens contrived to get
To so great a height that they called the wight
The man with the minaret.
There wasn't a man in all Ispahan
Prouder, or louder in praise of his chump:
With a tireless tongue and a brazen lung
He bragged of that beautiful bump
Till the Shah in a rage sent a trusty page
Bearing a sack and a bow-string too,
And that gentle child explained as he smiled:
"A little present for you."
The saddest man in all Ispahan,
Sniffed at the gift, yet accepted the same.
"If I'd lived," said he, "my humility
Had given me deathless fame!"
Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard
to the greater number of instances men find to be generally
inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral. If man's
notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of
expediency; if they originated, or could have originated, in any other
way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from, and
nowise dependent on, their consequences -- then all philosophy is a
lie and reason a disorder of the mind.
A toy which people cry for,
And on their knees apply for,
Dispute, contend and lie for,
And if allowed
Would be right proud
Eternally to die for.
In popular usage to pierce with any weapon which remains
fixed in the wound. This, however, is inaccurate; to imaple is,
properly, to put to death by thrusting an upright sharp stake into the
body, the victim being left in a sitting position. This was a common
mode of punishment among many of the nations of antiquity, and is
still in high favor in China and other parts of Asia. Down to the
beginning of the fifteenth century it was widely employed in
"churching" heretics and schismatics. Wolecraft calls it the "stoole
of repentynge," and among the common people it was jocularly known as
"riding the one legged horse." Ludwig Salzmann informs us that in
Thibet impalement is considered the most appropriate punishment for
crimes against religion; and although in China it is sometimes awarded
for secular offences, it is most frequently adjudged in cases of
sacrilege. To the person in actual experience of impalement it must
be a matter of minor importance by what kind of civil or religious
dissent he was made acquainted with its discomforts; but doubtless he
would feel a certain satisfaction if able to contemplate himself in
the character of a weather-cock on the spire of the True Church.
Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage
from espousing either side of a controversy or adopting either of two
A state of mind intermediate in point of time between
sin and punishment.
Your irreverence toward my deity.
The act of blessing or consecrating by the laying on
of hands -- a ceremony common to many ecclesiastical systems, but
performed with the frankest sincerity by the sect known as Thieves.
"Lo! by the laying on of hands,"
Say parson, priest and dervise,
"We consecrate your cash and lands
To ecclesiastical service.
No doubt you'll swear till all is blue
At such an imposition. Do."
A rival aspirant to public honors.
His tale he told with a solemn face
And a tender, melancholy grace.
Improbable 'twas, no doubt,
When you came to think it out,
But the fascinated crowd
Their deep surprise avowed
And all with a single voice averred
'Twas the most amazing thing they'd heard --
All save one who spake never a word,
But sat as mum
As if deaf and dumb,
Serene, indifferent and unstirred.
Then all the others turned to him
And scrutinized him limb from limb --
Scanned him alive;
But he seemed to thrive
And tranquiler grow each minute,
As if there were nothing in it.
"What! what!" cried one, "are you not amazed
At what our friend has told?" He raised
Soberly then his eyes and gazed
In a natural way
And proceeded to say,
As he crossed his feet on the mantel-shelf:
"O no -- not at all; I'm a liar myself."
Provision for the needs of to-day from the revenues
Not competent to be considered. Said of certain
kinds of testimony which juries are supposed to be unfit to be
entrusted with, and which judges, therefore, rule out, even of
proceedings before themselves alone. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible
because the person quoted was unsworn and is not before the court for
examination; yet most momentous actions, military, political,
commercial and of every other kind, are daily undertaken on hearsay
evidence. There is no religion in the world that has any other basis
than hearsay evidence. Revelation is hearsay evidence; that the
Scriptures are the word of God we have only the testimony of men long
dead whose identity is not clearly established and who are not known
to have been sworn in any sense. Under the rules of evidence as they
now exist in this country, no single assertion in the Bible has in its
support any evidence admissible in a court of law. It cannot be
proved that the battle of Blenheim ever was fought, that there was
such as person as Julius Caesar, such an empire as Assyria.
But as records of courts of justice are admissible, it can easily
be proved that powerful and malevolent magicians once existed and were
a scourge to mankind. The evidence (including confession) upon which
certain women were convicted of witchcraft and executed was without a
flaw; it is still unimpeachable. The judges' decisions based on it
were sound in logic and in law. Nothing in any existing court was
ever more thoroughly proved than the charges of witchcraft and sorcery
for which so many suffered death. If there were no witches, human
testimony and human reason are alike destitute of value.
In an unpromising manner, the auspices being
unfavorable. Among the Romans it was customary before undertaking any
important action or enterprise to obtain from the augurs, or state
prophets, some hint of its probable outcome; and one of their favorite
and most trustworthy modes of divination consisted in observing the
flight of birds -- the omens thence derived being called auspices.
Newspaper reporters and certain miscreant lexicographers have decided
that the word -- always in the plural -- shall mean "patronage" or
"management"; as, "The festivities were under the auspices of the
Ancient and Honorable Order of Body-Snatchers"; or, "The hilarities
were auspicated by the Knights of Hunger."
A Roman slave appeared one day
Before the Augur. "Tell me, pray,
If --" here the Augur, smiling, made
A checking gesture and displayed
His open palm, which plainly itched,
For visibly its surface twitched.
A denarius (the Latin nickel)
Successfully allayed the tickle,
And then the slave proceeded: "Please
Inform me whether Fate decrees
Success or failure in what I
To-night (if it be dark) shall try.
Its nature? Never mind -- I think
'Tis writ on this" -- and with a wink
Which darkened half the earth, he drew
Another denarius to view,
Its shining face attentive scanned,
Then slipped it into the good man's hand,
Who with great gravity said: "Wait
While I retire to question Fate."
That holy person then withdrew
His scared clay and, passing through
The temple's rearward gate, cried "Shoo!"
Waving his robe of office. Straight
Each sacred peacock and its mate
(Maintained for Juno's favor) fled
With clamor from the trees o'erhead,
Where they were perching for the night.
The temple's roof received their flight,
For thither they would always go,
When danger threatened them below.
Back to the slave the Augur went:
"My son, forecasting the event
By flight of birds, I must confess
The auspices deny success."
That slave retired, a sadder man,
Abandoning his secret plan --
Which was (as well the craft seer
Had from the first divined) to clear
The wall and fraudulently seize
On Juno's poultry in the trees.
The natural and rational gauge and measure of
respectability, the commonly accepted standards being artificial,
arbitrary and fallacious; for, as "Sir Sycophas Chrysolater" in the
play has justly remarked, "the true use and function of property (in
whatsoever it consisteth -- coins, or land, or houses, or merchant-
stuff, or anything which may be named as holden of right to one's own
subservience) as also of honors, titles, preferments and place, and
all favor and acquaintance of persons of quality or ableness, are but
to get money. Hence it followeth that all things are truly to be
rated as of worth in measure of their serviceableness to that end; and
their possessors should take rank in agreement thereto, neither the
lord of an unproducing manor, howsoever broad and ancient, nor he who
bears an unremunerate dignity, nor yet the pauper favorite of a king,
being esteemed of level excellency with him whose riches are of daily
accretion; and hardly should they whose wealth is barren claim and
rightly take more honor than the poor and unworthy."
In matrimony a similarity of tastes, particularly
the taste for domination. Incompatibility may, however, consist of a
meek-eyed matron living just around the corner. It has even been
known to wear a moustache.
Unable to exist if something else exists. Two
things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for
one of them, but not enough for both -- as Walt Whitman's poetry and
God's mercy to man. Incompossibility, it will be seen, is only
incompatibility let loose. Instead of such low language as "Go heel
yourself -- I mean to kill you on sight," the words, "Sir, we are
incompossible," would convey and equally significant intimation and in
stately courtesy are altogether superior.
One of a race of highly improper demons who, though
probably not wholly extinct, may be said to have seen their best
nights. For a complete account of incubi
, see the Liber Demonorum
(Paris, 1328), which contains much curious information that would be
out of place in a dictionary intended as a text-book for the public
Victor Hugo relates that in the Channel Islands Satan himself --
tempted more than elsewhere by the beauty of the women, doubtless --
sometimes plays at incubus, greatly to the inconvenience and alarm
of the good dames who wish to be loyal to their marriage vows,
generally speaking. A certain lady applied to the parish priest to
learn how they might, in the dark, distinguish the hardy intruder from
their husbands. The holy man said they must feel his brow for horns;
but Hugo is ungallant enough to hint a doubt of the efficacy of the
A person of the liveliest interest to the outcumbents.
The chief element of success; "for whereas," saith Sir
Thomas Brewbold, "there is but one way to do nothing and divers way to
do something, whereof, to a surety, only one is the right way, it
followeth that he who from indecision standeth still hath not so many
chances of going astray as he who pusheth forwards" -- a most clear
and satisfactory exposition on the matter.
"Your prompt decision to attack," said Genera Grant on a certain
occasion to General Gordon Granger, "was admirable; you had but five
minutes to make up your mind in."
"Yes, sir," answered the victorious subordinate, "it is a great
thing to be know exactly what to do in an emergency. When in doubt
whether to attack or retreat I never hesitate a moment -- I toss us a
"Do you mean to say that's what you did this time?"
"Yes, General; but for Heaven's sake don't reprimand me: I
disobeyed the coin."
Imperfectly sensible to distinctions among things.
"You tiresome man!" cried Indolentio's wife,
"You've grown indifferent to all in life."
"Indifferent?" he drawled with a slow smile;
"I would be, dear, but it is not worth while."
Apuleius M. Gokul
A disease which the patient and his friends
frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the
salvation of mankind. As the simple Red Man of the western wild put
it, with, it must be confessed, a certain force: "Plenty well, no
pray; big bellyache, heap God."
The guilt of woman.
Not calculated to advance one's interests.
The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth,
"Heaven lies about us." The world begins lying about us pretty soon
Among the Greeks and Romans, sacrifices for
propitation of the Dii Manes
, or souls of the dead heroes; for the
pious ancients could not invent enough gods to satisfy their spiritual
needs, and had to have a number of makeshift deities, or, as a sailor
might say, jury-gods, which they made out of the most unpromising
materials. It was while sacrificing a bullock to the spirit of
Agamemnon that Laiaides, a priest of Aulis, was favored with an
audience of that illustrious warrior's shade, who prophetically
recounted to him the birth of Christ and the triumph of Christianity,
giving him also a rapid but tolerably complete review of events down
to the reign of Saint Louis. The narrative ended abruptly at the
point, owing to the inconsiderate crowing of a cock, which compelled
the ghosted King of Men to scamper back to Hades. There is a fine
mediaeval flavor to this story, and as it has not been traced back
further than Pere Brateille, a pious but obscure writer at the court
of Saint Louis, we shall probably not err on the side of presumption
in considering it apocryphal, though Monsignor Capel's judgment of the
matter might be different; and to that I bow -- wow.
In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian
religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See GIAOUR.) A kind of
scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to,
divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs,
voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbes, nuns,
missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests,
muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders,
primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries,
clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors,
preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs,
bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans,
deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons,
hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins,
postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons,
reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains,
mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas,
sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals,
prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, cures, sophis, mutifs and
In politics, a visionary quo
given in exchange for a
One who ventures to believe that Adam need not have
sinned unless he had a mind to -- in opposition to the
Supralapsarians, who hold that that luckless person's fall was decreed
from the beginning. Infralapsarians are sometimes called
Sublapsarians without material effect upon the importance and lucidity
of their views about Adam.
Two theologues once, as they wended their way
To chapel, engaged in colloquial fray --
An earnest logomachy, bitter as gall,
Concerning poor Adam and what made him fall.
"'Twas Predestination," cried one -- "for the Lord
Decreed he should fall of his own accord."
"Not so -- 'twas Free will," the other maintained,
"Which led him to choose what the Lord had ordained."
So fierce and so fiery grew the debate
That nothing but bloodshed their dudgeon could sate;
So off flew their cassocks and caps to the ground
And, moved by the spirit, their hands went round.
Ere either had proved his theology right
By winning, or even beginning, the fight,
A gray old professor of Latin came by,
A staff in his hand and a scowl in his eye,
And learning the cause of their quarrel (for still
As they clumsily sparred they disputed with skill
Of foreordination freedom of will)
Cried: "Sirrahs! this reasonless warfare compose:
Atwixt ye's no difference worthy of blows.
The sects ye belong to -- I'm ready to swear
Ye wrongly interpret the names that they bear.
You -- Infralapsarian son of a clown! --
Should only contend that Adam slipped down;
While you -- you Supralapsarian pup! --
Should nothing aver but that Adam slipped up.
It's all the same whether up or down
You slip on a peel of banana brown.
Even Adam analyzed not his blunder,
But thought he had slipped on a peal of thunder!
One who receives a benefit from another, or is otherwise
an object of charity.
"All men are ingrates," sneered the cynic. "Nay,"
The good philanthropist replied;
"I did great service to a man one day
Who never since has cursed me to repay,
"Ho!" cried the cynic, "lead me to him straight --
With veneration I am overcome,
And fain would have his blessing." "Sad your fate --
He cannot bless you, for AI grieve to state
This man is dumb."
An offense next in degree of enormity to a slight.
A burden which of all those that we load upon others
and carry ourselves is lightest in the hands and heaviest upon the
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.
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
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
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."
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
An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection's failure
to substitute misrule for bad government.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels,
levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
The principal one of the great faiths of the world.
The patriotism of a Scotchman.