THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
The Devil's Dictionary was begun in a weekly paper in 1881, and was
continued in a desultory way at long intervals until 1906. In that
year a large part of it was published in covers with the title The
Cynic's Word Book, a name which the author had not the power to
reject or happiness to approve. To quote the publishers of the
"This more reverent title had previously been forced upon him by
the religious scruples of the last newspaper in which a part of the
work had appeared, with the natural consequence that when it came out
in covers the country already had been flooded by its imitators with a
score of 'cynic' books -- The Cynic's This, The Cynic's That, and
The Cynic's t'Other. Most of these books were merely stupid, though
some of them added the distinction of silliness. Among them, they
brought the word 'cynic' into disfavor so deep that any book bearing
it was discredited in advance of publication."
Meantime, too, some of the enterprising humorists of the country
had helped themselves to such parts of the work as served their needs,
and many of its definitions, anecdotes, phrases and so forth, had
become more or less current in popular speech. This explanation is
made, not with any pride of priority in trifles, but in simple denial
of possible charges of plagiarism, which is no trifle. In merely
resuming his own the author hopes to be held guiltless by those to
whom the work is addressed -- enlightened souls who prefer dry wines
to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humor and clean English to slang.
A conspicuous, and it is hoped not unpleasant, feature of the book
is its abundant illustrative quotations from eminent poets, chief of
whom is that learned and ingenius cleric, Father Gassalasca Jape,
S.J., whose lines bear his initials. To Father Jape's kindly
encouragement and assistance the author of the prose text is greatly
ABASEMENT, n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth of power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when
addressing an employer.
ABATIS, n. Rubbish in front of a fort, to prevent the rubbish outside
from molesting the rubbish inside.
ABDICATION, n. An act whereby a sovereign attests his sense of the
high temperature of the throne.
Poor Isabella's Dead, whose abdication
Set all tongues wagging in the Spanish nation.
For that performance 'twere unfair to scold her:
She wisely left a throne too hot to hold her.
To History she'll be no royal riddle --
Merely a plain parched pea that jumped the griddle.
ABDOMEN, n. The temple of the god Stomach, in whose worship, with
sacrificial rights, all true men engage. From women this ancient
faith commands but a stammering assent. They sometimes minister at
the altar in a half-hearted and ineffective way, but true reverence
for the one deity that men really adore they know not. If woman had a
free hand in the world's marketing the race would become
ABILITY, n. The natural equipment to accomplish some small part of
the meaner ambitions distinguishing able men from dead ones. In the
last analysis ability is commonly found to consist mainly in a high
degree of solemnity. Perhaps, however, this impressive quality is
rightly appraised; it is no easy task to be solemn.
ABNORMAL, adj. Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and
conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be
detested. Wherefore the lexicographer adviseth a striving toward the
straiter resemblance of the Average Man than he hath to himself.
Whoso attaineth thereto shall have peace, the prospect of death and
the hope of Hell.
ABORIGINIES, n. Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a
newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize.
By Abracadabra we signify
An infinite number of things.
'Tis the answer to What? and How? and Why?
And Whence? and Whither? -- a word whereby
The Truth (with the comfort it brings)
Is open to all who grope in night,
Crying for Wisdom's holy light.
Whether the word is a verb or a noun
Is knowledge beyond my reach.
I only know that 'tis handed down.
From sage to sage,
From age to age --
An immortal part of speech!
Of an ancient man the tale is told
That he lived to be ten centuries old,
In a cave on a mountain side.
(True, he finally died.)
The fame of his wisdom filled the land,
For his head was bald, and you'll understand
His beard was long and white
And his eyes uncommonly bright.
Philosophers gathered from far and near
To sit at his feet and hear and hear,
Though he never was heard
To utter a word
But "Abracadabra, abracadab,
Abraca, abrac, abra, ab!"
'Twas all he had,
'Twas all they wanted to hear, and each
Made copious notes of the mystical speech,
Which they published next --
A trickle of text
In the meadow of commentary.
Mighty big books were these,
In a number, as leaves of trees;
In learning, remarkably -- very!
As I said,
And the books of the sages have perished,
But his wisdom is sacredly cherished.
In Abracadabra it solemnly rings,
Like an ancient bell that forever swings.
O, I love to hear
That word make clear
Humanity's General Sense of Things.
ABRIDGE, v.t. To shorten.
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for
people to abridge their king, a decent respect for the opinions of
mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel
them to the separation.
ABRUPT, adj. Sudden, without ceremony, like the arrival of a cannon-
shot and the departure of the soldier whose interests are most
affected by it. Dr. Samuel Johnson beautifully said of another
author's ideas that they were "concatenated without abruption."
ABSCOND, v.i. To "move in a mysterious way," commonly with the
property of another.
Spring beckons! All things to the call respond;
The trees are leaving and cashiers abscond.
ABSENT, adj. Peculiarly exposed to the tooth of detraction; vilifed;
hopelessly in the wrong; superseded in the consideration and affection
To men a man is but a mind. Who cares
What face he carries or what form he wears?
But woman's body is the woman. O,
Stay thou, my sweetheart, and do never go,
But heed the warning words the sage hath said:
A woman absent is a woman dead.
ABSENTEE, n. A person with an income who has had the forethought to
remove himself from the sphere of exaction.
ABSOLUTE, adj. Independent, irresponsible. An absolute monarchy is
one in which the sovereign does as he pleases so long as he pleases
the assassins. Not many absolute monarchies are left, most of them
having been replaced by limited monarchies, where the sovereign's
power for evil (and for good) is greatly curtailed, and by republics,
which are governed by chance.
ABSTAINER, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying
himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from
everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the
affairs of others.
Said a man to a crapulent youth: "I thought
You a total abstainer, my son."
"So I am, so I am," said the scapegrace caught --
"But not, sir, a bigoted one."
ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with
one's own opinion.
ACADEME, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were
ACADEMY, n. [from ACADEME] A modern school where football is
ACCIDENT, n. An inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable
ACCOMPLICE, n. One associated with another in a crime, having guilty
knowledge and complicity, as an attorney who defends a criminal,
knowing him guilty. This view of the attorney's position in the
matter has not hitherto commanded the assent of attorneys, no one
having offered them a fee for assenting.
ACCORD, n. Harmony.
ACCORDION, n. An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an
ACCOUNTABILITY, n. The mother of caution.
"My accountability, bear in mind,"
Said the Grand Vizier: "Yes, yes,"
Said the Shah: "I do -- 'tis the only kind
Of ability you possess."
ACCUSE, v.t. To affirm another's guilt or unworth; most commonly as a
justification of ourselves for having wronged him.
ACEPHALOUS, adj. In the surprising condition of the Crusader who
absently pulled at his forelock some hours after a Saracen scimitar
had, unconsciously to him, passed through his neck, as related by de
ACHIEVEMENT, n. The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.
ACKNOWLEDGE, v.t. To confess. Acknowledgement of one another's
faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.
ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight
when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or
ACTUALLY, adv. Perhaps; possibly.
ADAGE, n. Boned wisdom for weak teeth.
ADAMANT, n. A mineral frequently found beneath a corset. Soluble in
solicitate of gold.
ADDER, n. A species of snake. So called from its habit of adding
funeral outlays to the other expenses of living.
ADHERENT, n. A follower who has not yet obtained all that he expects
ADMINISTRATION, n. An ingenious abstraction in politics, designed to
receive the kicks and cuffs due to the premier or president. A man of
straw, proof against bad-egging and dead-catting.
ADMIRAL, n. That part of a war-ship which does the talking while the
figure-head does the thinking.
ADMIRATION, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to
ADMONITION, n. Gentle reproof, as with a meat-axe. Friendly warning.
Consigned by way of admonition,
His soul forever to perdition.
ADORE, v.t. To venerate expectantly.
ADVICE, n. The smallest current coin.
"The man was in such deep distress,"
Said Tom, "that I could do no less
Than give him good advice." Said Jim:
"If less could have been done for him
I know you well enough, my son,
To know that's what you would have done."
AFFIANCED, pp. Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain.
AFFLICTION, n. An acclimatizing process preparing the soul for
another and bitter world.
AFRICAN, n. A nigger that votes our way.
AGE, n. That period of life in which we compound for the vices that
we still cherish by reviling those that we have no longer the
enterprise to commit.
AGITATOR, n. A statesman who shakes the fruit trees of his neighbors
-- to dislodge the worms.
AIM, n. The task we set our wishes to.
"Cheer up! Have you no aim in life?"
She tenderly inquired.
"An aim? Well, no, I haven't, wife;
The fact is -- I have fired."
AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for
the fattening of the poor.
ALDERMAN, n. An ingenious criminal who covers his secret thieving
with a pretence of open marauding.
ALIEN, n. An American sovereign in his probationary state.
ALLAH, n. The Mahometan Supreme Being, as distinguished from the
Christian, Jewish, and so forth.
Allah's good laws I faithfully have kept,
And ever for the sins of man have wept;
And sometimes kneeling in the temple I
Have reverently crossed my hands and slept.
This thing Allegiance, as I suppose,
Is a ring fitted in the subject's nose,
Whereby that organ is kept rightly pointed
To smell the sweetness of the Lord's anointed.
ALLIANCE, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who
have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pockets that they
cannot separately plunder a third.
ALLIGATOR, n. The crocodile of America, superior in every detail to
the crocodile of the effete monarchies of the Old World. Herodotus
says the Indus is, with one exception, the only river that produces
crocodiles, but they appear to have gone West and grown up with the
other rivers. From the notches on his back the alligator is called a
ALONE, adj. In bad company.
In contact, lo! the flint and steel,
By spark and flame, the thought reveal
That he the metal, she the stone,
Had cherished secretly alone.
ALTAR, n. The place whereupon the priest formerly raveled out the
small intestine of the sacrificial victim for purposes of divination
and cooked its flesh for the gods. The word is now seldom used,
except with reference to the sacrifice of their liberty and peace by a
male and a female tool.
They stood before the altar and supplied
The fire themselves in which their fat was fried.
In vain the sacrifice! -- no god will claim
An offering burnt with an unholy flame.
AMBIDEXTROUS, adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket
or a left.
AMBITION, n. An overmastering desire to be vilified by enemies while
living and made ridiculous by friends when dead.
AMNESTY, n. The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would
be too expensive to punish.
ANOINT, v.t. To grease a king or other great functionary already
As sovereigns are anointed by the priesthood,
So pigs to lead the populace are greased good.
ANTIPATHY, n. The sentiment inspired by one's friend's friend.
APHORISM, n. Predigested wisdom.
The flabby wine-skin of his brain
Yields to some pathologic strain,
And voids from its unstored abysm
The driblet of an aphorism.
"The Mad Philosopher," 1697
APOLOGIZE, v.i. To lay the foundation for a future offence.
APOSTATE, n. A leech who, having penetrated the shell of a turtle
only to find that the creature has long been dead, deems it expedient
to form a new attachment to a fresh turtle.
APOTHECARY, n. The physician's accomplice, undertaker's benefactor
and grave worm's provider.
When Jove sent blessings to all men that are,
And Mercury conveyed them in a jar,
That friend of tricksters introduced by stealth
Disease for the apothecary's health,
Whose gratitude impelled him to proclaim:
"My deadliest drug shall bear my patron's name!"
APPEAL, v.t. In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.
APPETITE, n. An instinct thoughtfully implanted by Providence as a
solution to the labor question.
APPLAUSE, n. The echo of a platitude.
APRIL FOOL, n. The March fool with another month added to his folly.
ARCHBISHOP, n. An ecclesiastical dignitary one point holier than a
If I were a jolly archbishop,
On Fridays I'd eat all the fish up --
Salmon and flounders and smelts;
On other days everything else.
ARCHITECT, n. One who drafts a plan of your house, and plans a draft
of your money.
ARDOR, n. The quality that distinguishes love without knowledge.
ARENA, n. In politics, an imaginary rat-pit in which the statesman
wrestles with his record.
ARISTOCRACY, n. Government by the best men. (In this sense the word
is obsolete; so is that kind of government.) Fellows that wear downy
hats and clean shirts -- guilty of education and suspected of bank
ARMOR, n. The kind of clothing worn by a man whose tailor is a
ARRAYED, pp. Drawn up and given an orderly disposition, as a rioter
hanged to a lamppost.
ARREST, v.t. Formally to detain one accused of unusualness.
God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh.
--The Unauthorized Version
ARSENIC, n. A kind of cosmetic greatly affected by the ladies, whom
it greatly affects in turn.
"Eat arsenic? Yes, all you get,"
Consenting, he did speak up;
"'Tis better you should eat it, pet,
Than put it in my teacup."
ART, n. This word has no definition. Its origin is related as
follows by the ingenious Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.
One day a wag -- what would the wretch be at? --
Shifted a letter of the cipher RAT,
And said it was a god's name! Straight arose
Fantastic priests and postulants (with shows,
And mysteries, and mummeries, and hymns,
And disputations dire that lamed their limbs)
To serve his temple and maintain the fires,
Expound the law, manipulate the wires.
Amazed, the populace that rites attend,
Believe whate'er they cannot comprehend,
And, inly edified to learn that two
Half-hairs joined so and so (as Art can do)
Have sweeter values and a grace more fit
Than Nature's hairs that never have been split,
Bring cates and wines for sacrificial feasts,
And sell their garments to support the priests.
ARTLESSNESS, n. A certain engaging quality to which women attain by
long study and severe practice upon the admiring male, who is pleased
to fancy it resembles the candid simplicity of his young.
ASPERSE, v.t. Maliciously to ascribe to another vicious actions which
one has not had the temptation and opportunity to commit.
ASS, n. A public singer with a good voice but no ear. In Virginia
City, Nevada, he is called the Washoe Canary, in Dakota, the Senator,
and everywhere the Donkey. The animal is widely and variously
celebrated in the literature, art and religion of every age and
country; no other so engages and fires the human imagination as this
noble vertebrate. Indeed, it is doubted by some (Ramasilus, lib.
II., De Clem., and C. Stantatus, De Temperamente) if it is not a
god; and as such we know it was worshiped by the Etruscans, and, if we
may believe Macrobious, by the Cupasians also. Of the only two
animals admitted into the Mahometan Paradise along with the souls of
men, the ass that carried Balaam is one, the dog of the Seven Sleepers
the other. This is no small distinction. From what has been written
about this beast might be compiled a library of great splendor and
magnitude, rivalling that of the Shakespearean cult, and that which
clusters about the Bible. It may be said, generally, that all
literature is more or less Asinine.
"Hail, holy Ass!" the quiring angels sing;
"Priest of Unreason, and of Discords King!"
Great co-Creator, let Thy glory shine:
God made all else, the Mule, the Mule is thine!"
AUCTIONEER, n. The man who proclaims with a hammer that he has picked a pocket with his tongue.
AUSTRALIA, n. A country lying in the South Sea, whose industrial and
commercial development has been unspeakably retarded by an unfortunate dispute among geographers as to whether it is a continent or an island.
AVERNUS, n. The lake by which the ancients entered the infernal
regions. The fact that access to the infernal regions was obtained by
a lake is believed by the learned Marcus Ansello Scrutator to have
suggested the Christian rite of baptism by immersion. This, however,
has been shown by Lactantius to be an error.
Facilis descensus Averni,
The poet remarks; and the sense
Of it is that when down-hill I turn I
Will get more of punches than pence.
Jehal Dai Lupe
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.
Ere babes were invented
The girls were contended.
Now man is tormented
Until to buy babes he has squandered
His money. And so I have pondered
This thing, and thought may be
'T were better that Baby
The First had been eagled or condored.
BACCHUS, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse
for getting drunk.
Is public worship, then, a sin,
That for devotions paid to Bacchus
The lictors dare to run us in,
And resolutely thump and whack us?
BACK, n. That part of your friend which it is your privilege to
contemplate in your adversity.
BACKBITE, v.t. To speak of a man as you find him when he can't find
BAIT, n. A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The
best kind is beauty.
BAPTISM, n. A sacred rite of such efficacy that he who finds himself
in heaven without having undergone it will be unhappy forever. It is
performed with water in two ways -- by immersion, or plunging, and by
aspersion, or sprinkling.
But whether the plan of immersion
Is better than simple aspersion
Let those immersed
And those aspersed
Decide by the Authorized Version,
And by matching their agues tertian.
BAROMETER, n. An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of
weather we are having.
BARRACK, n. A house in which soldiers enjoy a portion of that of
which it is their business to deprive others.
BASILISK, n. The cockatrice. A sort of serpent hatched from the egg
of a cock. The basilisk had a bad eye, and its glance was fatal.
Many infidels deny this creature's existence, but Semprello Aurator
saw and handled one that had been blinded by lightning as a punishment
for having fatally gazed on a lady of rank whom Jupiter loved. Juno
afterward restored the reptile's sight and hid it in a cave. Nothing
is so well attested by the ancients as the existence of the basilisk,
but the cocks have stopped laying.
BASTINADO, n. The act of walking on wood without exertion.
BATH, n. A kind of mystic ceremony substituted for religious worship,
with what spiritual efficacy has not been determined.
The man who taketh a steam bath
He loseth all the skin he hath,
And, for he's boiled a brilliant red,
Thinketh to cleanliness he's wed,
Forgetting that his lungs he's soiling
With dirty vapors of the boiling.
BATTLE, n. A method of untying with the teeth of a political knot
that would not yield to the tongue.
BEARD, n. The hair that is commonly cut off by those who justly
execrate the absurd Chinese custom of shaving the head.
BEAUTY, n. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a
BEFRIEND, v.t. To make an ingrate.
BEG, v. To ask for something with an earnestness proportioned to the
belief that it will not be given.
Who is that, father?
A mendicant, child,
Haggard, morose, and unaffable -- wild!
See how he glares through the bars of his cell!
With Citizen Mendicant all is not well.
Why did they put him there, father?
Obeying his belly he struck at the laws.
Oh, well, he was starving, my boy --
A state in which, doubtless, there's little of joy.
No bite had he eaten for days, and his cry
Was "Bread!" ever "Bread!"
What's the matter with pie?
With little to wear, he had nothing to sell;
To beg was unlawful -- improper as well.
Why didn't he work?
He would even have done that,
But men said: "Get out!" and the State remarked: "Scat!"
I mention these incidents merely to show
That the vengeance he took was uncommonly low.
Revenge, at the best, is the act of a Siou,
But for trifles --
Pray what did bad Mendicant do?
Stole two loaves of bread to replenish his lack
And tuck out the belly that clung to his back.
Is that all father dear?
There's little to tell:
They sent him to jail, and they'll send him to -- well,
The company's better than here we can boast,
And there's --
Bread for the needy, dear father?
Um -- toast.
BEGGAR, n. One who has relied on the assistance of his friends.
BEHAVIOR, n. Conduct, as determined, not by principle, but by
breeding. The word seems to be somewhat loosely used in Dr. Jamrach
Holobom's translation of the following lines from the Dies Irae:
Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae.
Ne me perdas illa die.
Pray remember, sacred Savior,
Whose the thoughtless hand that gave your
Death-blow. Pardon such behavior.
BELLADONNA, n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly
poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two
BENEDICTINES, n. An order of monks otherwise known as black friars.
She thought it a crow, but it turn out to be
A monk of St. Benedict croaking a text.
"Here's one of an order of cooks," said she --
"Black friars in this world, fried black in the next."
"The Devil on Earth" (London, 1712)
BENEFACTOR, n. One who makes heavy purchases of ingratitude, without, however, materially affecting the price, which is still within the
means of all.
BERENICE'S HAIR, n. A constellation (Coma Berenices) named in honor
of one who sacrificed her hair to save her husband.
Her locks an ancient lady gave
Her loving husband's life to save;
And men -- they honored so the dame --
Upon some stars bestowed her name.
But to our modern married fair,
Who'd give their lords to save their hair,
No stellar recognition's given.
There are not stars enough in heaven.
BIGAMY, n. A mistake in taste for which the wisdom of the future will
adjudge a punishment called trigamy.
BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion
that you do not entertain.
BILLINGSGATE, n. The invective of an opponent.
BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters. As to the nature of
it there appears to be no uniformity. Castor and Pollux were born
from the egg. Pallas came out of a skull. Galatea was once a block
of stone. Peresilis, who wrote in the tenth century, avers that he
grew up out of the ground where a priest had spilled holy water. It
is known that Arimaxus was derived from a hole in the earth, made by a
stroke of lightning. Leucomedon was the son of a cavern in Mount
Aetna, and I have myself seen a man come out of a wine cellar.
BLACKGUARD, n. A man whose qualities, prepared for display like a box
of berries in a market -- the fine ones on top -- have been opened on
the wrong side. An inverted gentleman.
BLANK-VERSE, n. Unrhymed iambic pentameters -- the most difficult
kind of English verse to write acceptably; a kind, therefore, much
affected by those who cannot acceptably write any kind.
BODY-SNATCHER, n. A robber of grave-worms. One who supplies the
young physicians with that with which the old physicians have supplied
the undertaker. The hyena.
"One night," a doctor said, "last fall,
I and my comrades, four in all,
When visiting a graveyard stood
Within the shadow of a wall.
"While waiting for the moon to sink
We saw a wild hyena slink
About a new-made grave, and then
Begin to excavate its brink!
"Shocked by the horrid act, we made
A sally from our ambuscade,
And, falling on the unholy beast,
Dispatched him with a pick and spade."
Bettel K. Jhones
BONDSMAN, n. A fool who, having property of his own, undertakes to
become responsible for that entrusted to another to a third.
Philippe of Orleans wishing to appoint one of his favorites, a
dissolute nobleman, to a high office, asked him what security he would
be able to give. "I need no bondsmen," he replied, "for I can give
you my word of honor." "And pray what may be the value of that?"
inquired the amused Regent. "Monsieur, it is worth its weight in gold."
BORE, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
BOTANY, n. The science of vegetables -- those that are not good to
eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers,
which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-
BOTTLE-NOSED, adj. Having a nose created in the image of its maker.
BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two
nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary
rights of the other.
BOUNTY, n. The liberality of one who has much, in permitting one who
has nothing to get all that he can.
A single swallow, it is said, devours ten millions of insects
every year. The supplying of these insects I take to be a signal
instance of the Creator's bounty in providing for the lives of His
creatures.--Henry Ward Beecher
BRAHMA, n. He who created the Hindoos, who are preserved by Vishnu
and destroyed by Siva -- a rather neater division of labor than is
found among the deities of some other nations. The Abracadabranese,
for example, are created by Sin, maintained by Theft and destroyed by
Folly. The priests of Brahma, like those of Abracadabranese, are holy
and learned men who are never naughty.
O Brahma, thou rare old Divinity,
First Person of the Hindoo Trinity,
You sit there so calm and securely,
With feet folded up so demurely --
You're the First Person Singular, surely.
BRAIN, n. An apparatus with which we think what we think. That which
distinguishes the man who is content to be something from the man
who wishes to do something. A man of great wealth, or one who has
been pitchforked into high station, has commonly such a headful of
brain that his neighbors cannot keep their hats on. In our
civilization, and under our republican form of government, brain is so
highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of
BRANDY, n. A cordial composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one
part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the-
grave and four parts clarified Satan. Dose, a headful all the time.
Brandy is said by Dr. Johnson to be the drink of heroes. Only a hero
will venture to drink it.
BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
BRUTE, n. See HUSBAND.
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
CALLOUS, adj. Gifted with great fortitude to bear the evils
When Zeno was told that one of his enemies was no more he was
observed to be deeply moved. "What!" said one of his disciples, "you
weep at the death of an enemy?" "Ah, 'tis true," replied the great
Stoic; "but you should see me smile at the death of a friend."
CALUMNUS, n. A graduate of the School for Scandal.
CAMEL, n. A quadruped (the Splaypes humpidorsus) of great value to
the show business. There are two kinds of camels -- the camel proper
and the camel improper. It is the latter that is always exhibited.
CANNIBAL, n. A gastronome of the old school who preserves the simple
tastes and adheres to the natural diet of the pre-pork period.
CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national
CANONICALS, n. The motley worm by Jesters of the Court of Heaven.
CAPITAL, n. The seat of misgovernment. That which provides the fire,
the pot, the dinner, the table and the knife and fork for the
anarchist; the part of the repast that himself supplies is the
disgrace before meat. Capital Punishment, a penalty regarding the
justice and expediency of which many worthy persons -- including all
the assassins -- entertain grave misgivings.
CARMELITE, n. A mendicant friar of the order of Mount Carmel.
As Death was a-rising out one day,
Across Mount Camel he took his way,
Where he met a mendicant monk,
Some three or four quarters drunk,
With a holy leer and a pious grin,
Ragged and fat and as saucy as sin,
Who held out his hands and cried:
"Give, give in Charity's name, I pray.
Give in the name of the Church. O give,
Give that her holy sons may live!"
And Death replied,
Smiling long and wide:
"I'll give, holy father, I'll give thee -- a ride."
With a rattle and bang
Of his bones, he sprang
From his famous Pale Horse, with his spear;
By the neck and the foot
Seized the fellow, and put
Him astride with his face to the rear.
The Monarch laughed loud with a sound that fell
Like clods on the coffin's sounding shell:
"Ho, ho! A beggar on horseback, they say,
Will ride to the devil!" -- and thump
Fell the flat of his dart on the rump
Of the charger, which galloped away.
Faster and faster and faster it flew,
Till the rocks and the flocks and the trees that grew
By the road were dim and blended and blue
To the wild, wild eyes
Of the rider -- in size
Resembling a couple of blackberry pies.
Death laughed again, as a tomb might laugh
At a burial service spoiled,
And the mourners' intentions foiled
By the body erecting
Its head and objecting
To further proceedings in its behalf.
Many a year and many a day
Have passed since these events away.
The monk has long been a dusty corse,
And Death has never recovered his horse.
For the friar got hold of its tail,
And steered it within the pale
Of the monastery gray,
Where the beast was stabled and fed
With barley and oil and bread
Till fatter it grew than the fattest friar,
And so in due course was appointed Prior.
CARNIVOROUS, adj. Addicted to the cruelty of devouring the timorous
vegetarian, his heirs and assigns.
CARTESIAN, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author
of the celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum -- whereby he was pleased
to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum
might be improved, however, thus: Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum --
"I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;" as close an
approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.
CAT, n. A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be
kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle.
This is a dog,
This is a cat.
This is a frog,
This is a rat.
Run, dog, mew, cat.
Jump, frog, gnaw, rat.
CAVILER, n. A critic of our own work.
CEMETERY, n. An isolated suburban spot where mourners match lies,
poets write at a target and stone-cutters spell for a wager. The
inscriptions following will serve to illustrate the success attained
in these Olympian games:
His virtues were so conspicuous that his enemies, unable to
overlook them, denied them, and his friends, to whose loose lives
they were a rebuke, represented them as vices. They are here
commemorated by his family, who shared them.
In the earth we here prepare a
Place to lay our little Clara.
Thomas M. and Mary Frazer
P.S. -- Gabriel will raise her.
CENTAUR, n. One of a race of persons who lived before the division of
labor had been carried to such a pitch of differentiation, and who
followed the primitive economic maxim, "Every man his own horse." The
best of the lot was Chiron, who to the wisdom and virtues of the horse
added the fleetness of man. The scripture story of the head of John
the Baptist on a charger shows that pagan myths have somewhat
sophisticated sacred history.
CERBERUS, n. The watch-dog of Hades, whose duty it was to guard the
entrance -- against whom or what does not clearly appear; everybody,
sooner or later, had to go there, and nobody wanted to carry off the
entrance. Cerberus is known to have had three heads, and some of the
poets have credited him with as many as a hundred. Professor
Graybill, whose clerky erudition and profound knowledge of Greek give
his opinion great weight, has averaged all the estimates, and makes
the number twenty-seven -- a judgment that would be entirely
conclusive is Professor Graybill had known (a) something about dogs,
and (b) something about arithmetic.
CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the
idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth -- two removes from the sin
of manhood and three from the remorse of age.
CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely
inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not
inconsistent with a life of sin.
I dreamed I stood upon a hill, and, lo!
The godly multitudes walked to and fro
Beneath, in Sabbath garments fitly clad,
With pious mien, appropriately sad,
While all the church bells made a solemn din --
A fire-alarm to those who lived in sin.
Then saw I gazing thoughtfully below,
With tranquil face, upon that holy show
A tall, spare figure in a robe of white,
Whose eyes diffused a melancholy light.
"God keep you, strange," I exclaimed. "You are
No doubt (your habit shows it) from afar;
And yet I entertain the hope that you,
Like these good people, are a Christian too."
He raised his eyes and with a look so stern
It made me with a thousand blushes burn
Replied -- his manner with disdain was spiced:
"What! I a Christian? No, indeed! I'm Christ."
CIRCUS, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted
to see men, women and children acting the fool.
CLAIRVOYANT, n. A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of
seeing that which is invisible to her patron, namely, that he is a
CLARIONET, n. An instrument of torture operated by a person with
cotton in his ears. There are two instruments that are worse than a
clarionet -- two clarionets.
CLERGYMAN, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual
affairs as a method of better his temporal ones.
CLIO, n. One of the nine Muses. Clio's function was to preside over
history -- which she did with great dignity, many of the prominent
citizens of Athens occupying seats on the platform, the meetings being
addressed by Messrs. Xenophon, Herodotus and other popular speakers.
CLOCK, n. A machine of great moral value to man, allaying his concern
for the future by reminding him what a lot of time remains to him.
A busy man complained one day:
"I get no time!" "What's that you say?"
Cried out his friend, a lazy quiz;
"You have, sir, all the time there is.
There's plenty, too, and don't you doubt it --
We're never for an hour without it."
CLOSE-FISTED, adj. Unduly desirous of keeping that which many
meritorious persons wish to obtain.
"Close-fisted Scotchman!" Johnson cried
To thrifty J. Macpherson;
"See me -- I'm ready to divide
With any worthy person."
Sad Jamie: "That is very true --
The boast requires no backing;
And all are worthy, sir, to you,
Who have what you are lacking."
Anita M. Bobe
COENOBITE, n. A man who piously shuts himself up to meditate upon the sin of wickedness; and to keep it fresh in his mind joins a
brotherhood of awful examples.
O Coenobite, O coenobite,
You differ from the anchorite,
With vollied prayers you wound Old Nick;
With dropping shots he makes him sick.
COMFORT, n. A state of mind produced by contemplation of a neighbor's
COMMENDATION, n. The tribute that we pay to achievements that
resembles, but do not equal, our own.
COMMERCE, n. A kind of transaction in which A plunders from B the
goods of C, and for compensation B picks the pocket of D of money
belonging to E.
COMMONWEALTH, n. An administrative entity operated by an incalculable multitude of political parasites, logically active but fortuitously
This commonwealth's capitol's corridors view,
So thronged with a hungry and indolent crew
Of clerks, pages, porters and all attaches
Whom rascals appoint and the populace pays
That a cat cannot slip through the thicket of shins
Nor hear its own shriek for the noise of their chins.
On clerks and on pages, and porters, and all,
Misfortune attend and disaster befall!
May life be to them a succession of hurts;
May fleas by the bushel inhabit their shirts;
May aches and diseases encamp in their bones,
Their lungs full of tubercles, bladders of stones;
May microbes, bacilli, their tissues infest,
And tapeworms securely their bowels digest;
May corn-cobs be snared without hope in their hair,
And frequent impalement their pleasure impair.
Disturbed be their dreams by the awful discourse
Of audible sofas sepulchrally hoarse,
By chairs acrobatic and wavering floors --
The mattress that kicks and the pillow that snores!
Sons of cupidity, cradled in sin!
Your criminal ranks may the death angel thin,
Avenging the friend whom I couldn't work in.
COMPROMISE, n. Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives
each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought
not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his
COMPULSION, n. The eloquence of power.
CONDOLE, v.i. To show that bereavement is a smaller evil than
CONFIDANT, CONFIDANTE, n. One entrusted by A with the secrets of B, confided by him to C.
CONGRATULATION, n. The civility of envy.
CONGRESS, n. A body of men who meet to repeal laws.
CONNOISSEUR, n. A specialist who knows everything about something and nothing about anything else.
An old wine-bibber having been smashed in a railway collision,
some wine was pouted on his lips to revive him. "Pauillac, 1873," he
murmured and died.
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as
distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with
CONSOLATION, n. The knowledge that a better man is more unfortunate
CONSUL, n. In American politics, a person who having failed to secure
an office from the people is given one by the Administration on
condition that he leave the country.
CONSULT, v.i. To seek another's disapproval of a course already
CONTEMPT, n. The feeling of a prudent man for an enemy who is too
formidable safely to be opposed.
CONTROVERSY, n. A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the
injurious cannon-ball and the inconsiderate bayonet.
In controversy with the facile tongue --
That bloodless warfare of the old and young --
So seek your adversary to engage
That on himself he shall exhaust his rage,
And, like a snake that's fastened to the ground,
With his own fangs inflict the fatal wound.
You ask me how this miracle is done?
Adopt his own opinions, one by one,
And taunt him to refute them; in his wrath
He'll sweep them pitilessly from his path.
Advance then gently all you wish to prove,
Each proposition prefaced with, "As you've
So well remarked," or, "As you wisely say,
And I cannot dispute," or, "By the way,
This view of it which, better far expressed,
Runs through your argument." Then leave the rest
To him, secure that he'll perform his trust
And prove your views intelligent and just.
Conmore Apel Brune
CONVENT, n. A place of retirement for woman who wish for leisure to
meditate upon the vice of idleness.
CONVERSATION, n. A fair to the display of the minor mental
commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of
his own wares to observe those of his neighbor.
CORONATION, n. The ceremony of investing a sovereign with the outward
and visible signs of his divine right to be blown skyhigh with a
CORPORAL, n. A man who occupies the lowest rung of the military
Fiercely the battle raged and, sad to tell,
Our corporal heroically fell!
Fame from her height looked down upon the brawl
And said: "He hadn't very far to fall."
CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit
without individual responsibility.
CORSAIR, n. A politician of the seas.
COURT FOOL, n. The plaintiff.
COWARD, n. One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his legs.
CRAYFISH, n. A small crustacean very much resembling the lobster, but
In this small fish I take it that human wisdom is admirably
figured and symbolized; for whereas the crayfish doth move only
backward, and can have only retrospection, seeing naught but the
perils already passed, so the wisdom of man doth not enable him to
avoid the follies that beset his course, but only to apprehend
their nature afterward.
Sir James Merivale
CREDITOR, n. One of a tribe of savages dwelling beyond the Financial
Straits and dreaded for their desolating incursions.
CREMONA, n. A high-priced violin made in Connecticut.
CRITIC, n. A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody
tries to please him.
There is a land of pure delight,
Beyond the Jordan's flood,
Where saints, apparelled all in white,
Fling back the critic's mud.
And as he legs it through the skies,
His pelt a sable hue,
He sorrows sore to recognize
The missiles that he threw.
CROSS, n. An ancient religious symbol erroneously supposed to owe its
significance to the most solemn event in the history of Christianity,
but really antedating it by thousands of years. By many it has been
believed to be identical with the crux ansata of the ancient phallic
worship, but it has been traced even beyond all that we know of that,
to the rites of primitive peoples. We have to-day the White Cross as
a symbol of chastity, and the Red Cross as a badge of benevolent
neutrality in war. Having in mind the former, the reverend Father
Gassalasca Jape smites the lyre to the effect following:
"Be good, be good!" the sisterhood
Cry out in holy chorus,
And, to dissuade from sin, parade
Their various charms before us.
But why, O why, has ne'er an eye
Seen her of winsome manner
And youthful grace and pretty face
Flaunting the White Cross banner?
Now where's the need of speech and screed
To better our behaving?
A simpler plan for saving man
(But, first, is he worth saving?)
Is, dears, when he declines to flee
From bad thoughts that beset him,
Ignores the Law as 't were a straw,
And wants to sin -- don't let him.
CUI BONO? [Latin] What good would that do me?
CUNNING, n. The faculty that distinguishes a weak animal or person
from a strong one. It brings its possessor much mental satisfaction
and great material adversity. An Italian proverb says: "The furrier
gets the skins of more foxes than asses."
CUPID, n. The so-called god of love. This bastard creation of a
barbarous fancy was no doubt inflicted upon mythology for the sins of
its deities. Of all unbeautiful and inappropriate conceptions this is
the most reasonless and offensive. The notion of symbolizing sexual
love by a semisexless babe, and comparing the pains of passion to the
wounds of an arrow -- of introducing this pudgy homunculus into art
grossly to materialize the subtle spirit and suggestion of the work --
this is eminently worthy of the age that, giving it birth, laid it on
the doorstep of prosperity.
CURIOSITY, n. An objectionable quality of the female mind. The
desire to know whether or not a woman is cursed with curiosity is one
of the most active and insatiable passions of the masculine soul.
CURSE, v.t. Energetically to belabor with a verbal slap-stick. This
is an operation which in literature, particularly in the drama, is
commonly fatal to the victim. Nevertheless, the liability to a
cursing is a risk that cuts but a small figure in fixing the rates of
CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are,
not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of
plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.
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.
A savage beast which, when it sleeps,
Man girds at and despises,
But takes himself away by leaps
And bounds when it arises.
DARING, n. One of the most conspicuous qualities of a man in
DATARY, n. A high ecclesiastic official of the Roman Catholic Church,
whose important function is to brand the Pope's bulls with the words
Datum Romae. He enjoys a princely revenue and the friendship of
DAWN, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men
prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk
with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then
point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy
health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old,
not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find
only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the
others who have tried it.
DAY, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent. This period
is divided into two parts, the day proper and the night, or day
improper -- the former devoted to sins of business, the latter
consecrated to the other sort. These two kinds of social activity
Done with the work of breathing; done
With all the world; the mad race run
Though to the end; the golden goal
Attained and found to be a hole!
DEBAUCHEE, n. One who has so earnestly pursued pleasure that he has
had the misfortune to overtake it.
DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-
As, pent in an aquarium, the troutlet
Swims round and round his tank to find an outlet,
Pressing his nose against the glass that holds him,
Nor ever sees the prison that enfolds him;
So the poor debtor, seeing naught around him,
Yet feels the narrow limits that impound him,
Grieves at his debt and studies to evade it,
And finds at last he might as well have paid it.
Barlow S. Vode
DECALOGUE, n. A series of commandments, ten in number -- just enough
to permit an intelligent selection for observance, but not enough to
embarrass the choice. Following is the revised edition of the
Decalogue, calculated for this meridian.
Thou shalt no God but me adore:
'Twere too expensive to have more.
No images nor idols make
For Robert Ingersoll to break.
Take not God's name in vain; select
A time when it will have effect.
Work not on Sabbath days at all,
But go to see the teams play ball.
Honor thy parents. That creates
For life insurance lower rates.
Kill not, abet not those who kill;
Thou shalt not pay thy butcher's bill.
Kiss not thy neighbor's wife, unless
Thine own thy neighbor doth caress
Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete
Successfully in business. Cheat.
Bear not false witness -- that is low --
But "hear 'tis rumored so and so."
Cover thou naught that thou hast not
By hook or crook, or somehow, got.
DECIDE, v.i. To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences
over another set.
A leaf was riven from a tree,
"I mean to fall to earth," said he.
The west wind, rising, made him veer.
"Eastward," said he, "I now shall steer."
The east wind rose with greater force.
Said he: "'Twere wise to change my course."
With equal power they contend.
He said: "My judgment I suspend."
Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,
Cried: "I've decided to fall straight."
"First thoughts are best?" That's not the moral;
Just choose your own and we'll not quarrel.
Howe'er your choice may chance to fall,
You'll have no hand in it at all.
DEFAME, v.t. To lie about another. To tell the truth about another.
DEFENCELESS, adj. Unable to attack.
DEGENERATE, adj. Less conspicuously admirable than one's ancestors.
The contemporaries of Homer were striking examples of degeneracy; it
required ten of them to raise a rock or a riot that one of the heroes
of the Trojan war could have raised with ease. Homer never tires of
sneering at "men who live in these degenerate days," which is perhaps
why they suffered him to beg his bread -- a marked instance of
returning good for evil, by the way, for if they had forbidden him he
would certainly have starved.
DEGRADATION, n. One of the stages of moral and social progress from
private station to political preferment.
DEINOTHERIUM, n. An extinct pachyderm that flourished when the
Pterodactyl was in fashion. The latter was a native of Ireland, its
name being pronounced Terry Dactyl or Peter O'Dactyl, as the man
pronouncing it may chance to have heard it spoken or seen it printed.
DEJEUNER, n. The breakfast of an American who has been in Paris.
DELEGATION, n. In American politics, an article of merchandise that
comes in sets.
DELIBERATION, n. The act of examining one's bread to determine which
side it is buttered on.
DELUGE, n. A notable first experiment in baptism which washed away
the sins (and sinners) of the world.
DELUSION, n. The father of a most respectable family, comprising
Enthusiasm, Affection, Self-denial, Faith, Hope, Charity and many
other goodly sons and daughters.
All hail, Delusion! Were it not for thee
The world turned topsy-turvy we should see;
For Vice, respectable with cleanly fancies,
Would fly abandoned Virtue's gross advances.
DENTIST, n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth,
pulls coins out of your pocket.
DEPENDENT, adj. Reliant upon another's generosity for the support
which you are not in a position to exact from his fears.
DEPUTY, n. A male relative of an office-holder, or of his bondsman.
The deputy is commonly a beautiful young man, with a red necktie and
an intricate system of cobwebs extending from his nose to his desk.
When accidentally struck by the janitor's broom, he gives off a cloud
"Chief Deputy," the Master cried,
"To-day the books are to be tried
By experts and accountants who
Have been commissioned to go through
Our office here, to see if we
Have stolen injudiciously.
Please have the proper entries made,
The proper balances displayed,
Conforming to the whole amount
Of cash on hand -- which they will count.
I've long admired your punctual way --
Here at the break and close of day,
Confronting in your chair the crowd
Of business men, whose voices loud
And gestures violent you quell
By some mysterious, calm spell --
Some magic lurking in your look
That brings the noisiest to book
And spreads a holy and profound
Tranquillity o'er all around.
So orderly all's done that they
Who came to draw remain to pay.
But now the time demands, at last,
That you employ your genius vast
In energies more active. Rise
And shake the lightnings from your eyes;
Inspire your underlings, and fling
Your spirit into everything!"
The Master's hand here dealt a whack
Upon the Deputy's bent back,
When straightway to the floor there fell
A shrunken globe, a rattling shell
A blackened, withered, eyeless head!
The man had been a twelvemonth dead.
DESTINY, n. A tyrant's authority for crime and fool's excuse for
DIAGNOSIS, n. A physician's forecast of the disease by the patient's
pulse and purse.
DIAPHRAGM, n. A muscular partition separating disorders of the chest
from disorders of the bowels.
DIARY, n. A daily record of that part of one's life, which he can
relate to himself without blushing.
Hearst kept a diary wherein were writ
All that he had of wisdom and of wit.
So the Recording Angel, when Hearst died,
Erased all entries of his own and cried:
"I'll judge you by your diary." Said Hearst:
"Thank you; 'twill show you I am Saint the First" --
Straightway producing, jubilant and proud,
That record from a pocket in his shroud.
The Angel slowly turned the pages o'er,
Each stupid line of which he knew before,
Glooming and gleaming as by turns he hit
On Shallow sentiment and stolen wit;
Then gravely closed the book and gave it back.
"My friend, you've wandered from your proper track:
You'd never be content this side the tomb --
For big ideas Heaven has little room,
And Hell's no latitude for making mirth,"
He said, and kicked the fellow back to earth.
"The Mad Philosopher"
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