The DevilsDictionary

AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1913)

 

Public Domain — Copyright Expired

 

 

M-N-O

 

M   |   N   |   0   |   Index

 


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[The Letter M]

 

MACE
n. A staff of office signifying authority. Its form, that of a heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from dissent.
 
MACHINATION
n. The method employed by one's opponents in baffling one's open and honorable efforts to do the right thing.
    So plain the advantages of machination
    It constitutes a moral obligation,
    And honest wolves who think upon't with loathing
    Feel bound to don the sheep's deceptive clothing.
    So prospers still the diplomatic art,
    And Satan bows, with hand upon his heart.
                                                           R.S.K.
MACROBIAN
n. 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!
                                                   Venable Strigg
MAD
adj. 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.
 
MAGDALENE
n. 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 Magdalen, and their Bedlam for Bethlehem, the English may justly boast themselves the greatest of revisers.
 
MAGIC
n. An art of converting superstition into coin. There are other arts serving the same high purpose, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them.
 
MAGNET
n. Something acted upon by magnetism.
 
MAGNETISM
n. 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.
MAGNIFICENT
adj. 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.
 
MAGNITUDE
n. 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.
 
MAGPIE
n. A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone that it might be taught to talk.
 
MAIDEN
n. 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!"
                                                    Opoline Jones
MAJESTY
n. 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.
 
MALE
n. 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.
 
MALEFACTOR
n. The chief factor in the progress of the human race.
 
MALTHUSIAN
adj. 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.
 
MAMMALIA
n. pl. 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.
 
MAMMON
n. 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.
                                                       Jared Oopf
MAN
n. 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 earth 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 régime,
    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."
                                                    Apperton Duke
MANES
n. 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.
 
MANICHEISM
n. The ancient Persian doctrine of an incessant warfare between Good and Evil. When Good gave up the fight the Persians joined the victorious Opposition.
 
MANNA
n. 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.
 
MARRIAGE
n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
 
MARTYR
n. One who moves along the line of least reluctance to a desired death.
 
MATERIAL
adj. 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.
                                                 Jamarach Holobom
MAUSOLEUM
n. The final and funniest folly of the rich.
 
MAYONNAISE
n. One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.
 
ME
pro. The objectionable case of I. The personal pronoun in English has three cases, the dominative, the objectionable and the oppressive. Each is all three.
 
MEANDER
n. 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.
MEDAL
n. 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
didn't.
MEDICINE
n. A stone flung down the Bowery to kill a dog in Broadway.
 
MEEKNESS
n. Uncommon patience in planning a revenge that is worth while.
    M is for Moses,
        Who slew the Egyptian.
    As sweet as a rose is
    The meekness of Moses.
    No monument shows his
        Post-mortem inscription,
    But M is for Moses
        Who slew the Egyptian.
                                        The Biographical Alphabet
MEERSCHAUM
n. (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.
                                                 Martin Bulstrode
MENDACIOUS
adj. Addicted to rhetoric.
 
MERCHANT
n. One engaged in a commercial pursuit. A commercial pursuit is one in which the thing pursued is a dollar.
 
MERCY
n. An attribute beloved of detected offenders.
 
MESMERISM
n. Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a carriage and asked Incredulity to dinner.
 
METROPOLIS
n. A stronghold of provincialism.
 
MILLENNIUM
n. The period of a thousand years when the lid is to be screwed down, with all reformers on the under side.
 
MIND
n. 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 conscia recti."
 
MINE
adj. Belonging to me if I can hold or seize it.
 
MINISTER
n. 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.
 
MINOR
adj. Less objectionable.
 
MINSTREL
adj. 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 bear.
 
MIRACLE
n. 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.
 
MISCREANT
n. 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.
 
MISDEMEANOR
n. An infraction of the law having less dignity than a felony and constituting no claim to admittance into the best criminal society.
    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.
                                                     S.V. Hanipur
MISERICORDE
n. A dagger which in mediaeval warfare was used by the foot soldier to remind an unhorsed knight that he was mortal.
 
MISFORTUNE
n. The kind of fortune that never misses.
 
MISS
n. 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.
 
MOLECULE
n. 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.
 
MONAD
n. The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. (See Molecule.) 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 gentleman. 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 species.
 
MONARCH
n. 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 own head.
 
MONARCHICAL GOVERNMENT
n. Government.
 
MONDAY
n. In Christian countries, the day after the baseball game.
 
MONEY
n. 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.
 
MONKEY
n. An arboreal animal which makes itself at home in genealogical trees.
 
MONOSYLLABIC
adj. 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
                                                         Judibras
MONSIGNOR
n. A high ecclesiastical title, of which the Founder of our religion overlooked the advantages.
 
MONUMENT
n. A structure intended to commemorate something which either needs no commemoration or cannot be commemorated.
    The bones of Agamemnon are a show,
    And ruined is his royal monument,

but Agamemnon'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.
MORAL
adj. 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. –-
Gooke's Meditations. 
MORE
adj. The comparative degree of too much.
 
MOUSE
n. 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.
 
MOUSQUETAIRE
n. A long glove covering a part of the arm. Worn in New Jersey. But "mousquetaire" is a might poor way to spell muskeeter.
 
MOUTH
n. In man, the gateway to the soul; in woman, the outlet of the heart.
 
MUGWUMP
n. In politics one afflicted with self-respect and addicted to the vice of independence. A term of contempt.
 
MULATTO
n. A child of two races, ashamed of both.
 
MULTITUDE
n. 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.
 
MUMMY
n. 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 animals.
    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?
                                                     Scopas Brune
MUSTANG
n. An indocile horse of the western plains. In English society, the American wife of an English nobleman.
 
MYRMIDON
n. A follower of Achilles — particularly when he didn't lead.
 
MYTHOLOGY
n. 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.

 

M-N-O


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[The Letter N]

 

 

NECTAR
n. A drink served at banquets of the Olympian deities. The secret of its preparation is lost, but the modern Kentuckians believe that they come pretty near to a knowledge of its chief ingredient.
    Juno drank a cup of nectar,
    But the draught did not affect her.
    Juno drank a cup of rye —
    Then she bad herself good-bye.
                                                             J.G.
NEGRO
n. The pièce de résistance in the American political problem. Representing him by the letter n, the Republicans begin to build their equation thus: "Let n = the white man." This, however, appears to give an unsatisfactory solution.
 
NEIGHBOR
n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
 
NEPOTISM
n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.
 
NEWTONIAN
adj. Pertaining to a philosophy of the universe invented by Newton, who discovered that an apple will fall to the ground, but was unable to say why. His successors and disciples have advanced so far as to be able to say when.
 
NIHILIST
n. A Russian who denies the existence of anything but Tolstoi. The leader of the school is Tolstoi.
 
NIRVANA
n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to understand it.
 
NOBLEMAN
n. Nature's provision for wealthy American minds ambitious to incur social distinction and suffer high life.
 
NOISE
n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.
 
NOMINATE
v. To designate for the heaviest political assessment. To put forward a suitable person to incur the mudgobbing and deadcatting of the opposition.
 
NOMINEE
n. A modest gentleman shrinking from the distinction of private life and diligently seeking the honorable obscurity of public office.
 
NON-COMBATANT
n. A dead Quaker.
 
NONSENSE
n. The objections that are urged against this excellent dictionary.
 
NOSE
n. The extreme outpost of the face. From the circumstance that great conquerors have great noses, Getius, whose writings antedate the age of humor, calls the nose the organ of quell. It has been observed that one's nose is never so happy as when thrust into the affairs of others, from which some physiologists have drawn the inference that the nose is devoid of the sense of smell.
        There's a man with a Nose,
        And wherever he goes
    The people run from him and shout:
        "No cotton have we
        For our ears if so be
    He blow that interminous snout!"

        So the lawyers applied
        For injunction. "Denied,"
    Said the Judge: "the defendant prefixion,
        Whate'er it portend,
        Appears to transcend
    The bounds of this court's jurisdiction."
                                                    Arpad Singiny
NOTORIETY
n. The fame of one's competitor for public honors. The kind of renown most accessible and acceptable to mediocrity. A Jacob's-ladder leading to the vaudeville stage, with angels ascending and descending.
 
NOUMENON
n. That which exists, as distinguished from that which merely seems to exist, the latter being a phenomenon. The noumenon is a bit difficult to locate; it can be apprehended only be a process of reasoning — which is a phenomenon. Nevertheless, the discovery and exposition of noumena offer a rich field for what Lewes calls "the endless variety and excitement of philosophic thought." Hurrah (therefore) for the noumenon!
 
NOVEL
n. A short story padded. A species of composition bearing the same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art. As it is too long to be read at a sitting the impressions made by its successive parts are successively effaced, as in the panorama. Unity, totality of effect, is impossible; for besides the few pages last read all that is carried in mind is the mere plot of what has gone before. To the romance the novel is what photography is to painting. Its distinguishing principle, probability, corresponds to the literal actuality of the photograph and puts it distinctly into the category of reporting; whereas the free wing of the romancer enables him to mount to such altitudes of imagination as he may be fitted to attain; and the first three essentials of the literary art are imagination, imagination and imagination. The art of writing novels, such as it was, is long dead everywhere except in Russia, where it is new. Peace to its ashes — some of which have a large sale.
 
NOVEMBER
n. The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.

 

M-N-O


.

[The Letter O]

 

OATH
n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury.
 
OBLIVION
n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy. A dormitory without an alarm clock.
 
OBSERVATORY
n. A place where astronomers conjecture away the guesses of their predecessors.
 
OBSESSED
pp. Vexed by an evil spirit, like the Gadarene swine and other critics. Obsession was once more common than it is now. Arasthus tells of a peasant who was occupied by a different devil for every day in the week, and on Sundays by two. They were frequently seen, always walking in his shadow, when he had one, but were finally driven away by the village notary, a holy man; but they took the peasant with them, for he vanished utterly. A devil thrown out of a woman by the Archbishop of Rheims ran through the trees, pursued by a hundred persons, until the open country was reached, where by a leap higher than a church spire he escaped into a bird. A chaplain in Cromwell's army exorcised a soldier's obsessing devil by throwing the soldier into the water, when the devil came to the surface. The soldier, unfortunately, did not.
 
OBSOLETE
adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words. A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer's attitude toward "obsolete" words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader.
 
OBSTINATE
adj. Inaccessible to the truth as it is manifest in the splendor and stress of our advocacy.
    The popular type and exponent of obstinacy is the mule, a most
intelligent animal.
OCCASIONAL
adj. Afflicting us with greater or less frequency. That, however, is not the sense in which the word is used in the phrase "occasional verses," which are verses written for an "occasion," such as an anniversary, a celebration or other event. True, they afflict us a little worse than other sorts of verse, but their name has no reference to irregular recurrence.
 
OCCIDENT
n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful sub-tribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.
 
OCEAN
n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.
 
OFFENSIVE
adj. Generating disagreeable emotions or sensations, as the advance of an army against its enemy.
    "Were the enemy's tactics offensive?" the king asked. "I should
say so!" replied the unsuccessful general. "The blackguard wouldn't
come out of his works!"
OLD
adj. In that stage of usefulness which is not inconsistent with general inefficiency, as an old man. Discredited by lapse of time and offensive to the popular taste, as an old book.
    "Old books? The devil take them!" Goby said.
    "Fresh every day must be my books and bread."
    Nature herself approves the Goby rule
    And gives us every moment a fresh fool.
                                                      Harley Shum
OLEAGINOUS
adj. Oily, smooth, sleek.
    Disraeli once described the manner of Bishop Wilberforce as
"unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous." And the good prelate was ever
afterward known as Soapy Sam. For every man there is something in the
vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies
have only to find it.
OLYMPIAN
adj. Relating to a mountain in Thessaly, once inhabited by gods, now a repository of yellowing newspapers, beer bottles and mutilated sardine cans, attesting the presence of the tourist and his appetite.
    His name the smirking tourist scrawls
    Upon Minerva's temple walls,
    Where thundered once Olympian Zeus,
    And marks his appetite's abuse.
                                                      Averil Joop
OMEN
n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.
 
ONCE
adv. Enough.
 
OPERA
n. A play representing life in another world, whose inhabitants have no speech but song, no motions but gestures and no postures but attitudes. All acting is simulation, and the word simulation is from simia, an ape; but in opera the actor takes for his model Simia audibilis (or Pithecanthropos stentor) — the ape that howls.
    The actor apes a man — at least in shape;
    The opera performer apes and ape.
OPIATE
n. An unlocked door in the prison of Identity. It leads into the jail yard.
 
OPPORTUNITY
n. A favorable occasion for grasping a disappointment.
 
OPPOSE
v. To assist with obstructions and objections.
    How lonely he who thinks to vex
    With bandinage the Solemn Sex!
    Of levity, Mere Man, beware;
    None but the Grave deserve the Unfair.
                                                Percy P. Orminder
OPPOSITION
n. In politics the party that prevents the Government from running amuck by hamstringing it.
    The King of Ghargaroo, who had been abroad to study the science
of government, appointed one hundred of his fattest subjects as
members of a parliament to make laws for the collection of revenue. 
Forty of these he named the Party of Opposition and had his Prime
Minister carefully instruct them in their duty of opposing every
royal measure. Nevertheless, the first one that was submitted passed
unanimously. Greatly displeased, the King vetoed it, informing the
Opposition that if they did that again they would pay for their 
obstinacy with their heads. The entire forty promptly disemboweled
themselves.
    "What shall we do now?" the King asked. "Liberal institutions
cannot be maintained without a party of Opposition."
    "Splendor of the universe," replied the Prime Minister, "it is
true these dogs of darkness have no longer their credentials, but all
is not lost. Leave the matter to this worm of the dust."
    So the Minister had the bodies of his Majesty's Opposition
embalmed and stuffed with straw, put back into the seats of power and
nailed there. Forty votes were recorded against every bill and the
nation prospered. But one day a bill imposing a tax on warts was
defeated — the members of the Government party had not been nailed to
their seats! This so enraged the King that the Prime Minister was put
to death, the parliament was dissolved with a battery of artillery,
and government of the people, by the people, for the people perished
from Ghargaroo.
OPTIMISM
n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof — an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.
 
OPTIMIST
n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.
    A pessimist applied to God for relief.
    "Ah, you wish me to restore your hope and cheerfulness," said God.
    "No," replied the petitioner, "I wish you to create something
that would justify them."
    "The world is all created," said God, "but you have overlooked
something — the mortality of the optimist."
ORATORY
n. A conspiracy between speech and action to cheat the understanding. A tyranny tempered by stenography.
 
ORPHAN
n. A living person whom death has deprived of the power of filial ingratitude — a privation appealing with a particular eloquence to all that is sympathetic in human nature. When young the orphan is commonly sent to an asylum, where by careful cultivation of its rudimentary sense of locality it is taught to know its place. It is then instructed in the arts of dependence and servitude and eventually turned loose to prey upon the world as a bootblack or scullery maid.
 
ORTHODOX
n. An ox wearing the popular religious joke.
 
ORTHOGRAPHY
n. The science of spelling by the eye instead of the ear. Advocated with more heat than light by the outmates of every asylum for the insane. They have had to concede a few things since the time of Chaucer, but are none the less hot in defence of those to be conceded hereafter.
    A spelling reformer indicted
    For fudge was before the court cicted.
        The judge said: "Enough —
        His candle we'll snough,
    And his sepulchre shall not be whicted."
OSTRICH
n. A large bird to which (for its sins, doubtless) nature has denied that hinder toe in which so many pious naturalists have seen a conspicuous evidence of design. The absence of a good working pair of wings is no defect, for, as has been ingeniously pointed out, the ostrich does not fly.
 
OTHERWISE
adv. No better.
 
OUTCOME
n. A particular type of disappointment. By the kind of intelligence that sees in an exception a proof of the rule the wisdom of an act is judged by the outcome, the result. This is immortal nonsense; the wisdom of an act is to be judged by the light that the doer had when he performed it.
 
OUTDO
v.t. To make an enemy.
 
OUT-OF-DOORS
n. That part of one's environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes. Chiefly useful to inspire poets.
    I climbed to the top of a mountain one day
        To see the sun setting in glory,
    And I thought, as I looked at his vanishing ray,
        Of a perfectly splendid story.

    'Twas about an old man and the ass he bestrode
        Till the strength of the beast was o'ertested;
    Then the man would carry him miles on the road
        Till Neddy was pretty well rested.

    The moon rising solemnly over the crest
        Of the hills to the east of my station
    Displayed her broad disk to the darkening west
        Like a visible new creation.

    And I thought of a joke (and I laughed till I cried)
        Of an idle young woman who tarried
    About a church-door for a look at the bride,
        Although 'twas herself that was married.

    To poets all Nature is pregnant with grand
        Ideas — with thought and emotion.
    I pity the dunces who don't understand
        The speech of earth, heaven and ocean.
                                                  Stromboli Smith
OVATION
n. In ancient Rome, a definite, formal pageant in honor of one who had been disserviceable to the enemies of the nation. A lesser "triumph." In modern English the word is improperly used to signify any loose and spontaneous expression of popular homage to the hero of the hour and place.
    "I had an ovation!" the actor man said,
        But I thought it uncommonly queer,
    That people and critics by him had been led
            By the ear.

    The Latin lexicon makes his absurd
        Assertion as plain as a peg;
    In "ovum" we find the true root of the word.
            It means egg.
                                                     Dudley Spink
OVEREAT
v. To dine.
    Hail, Gastronome, Apostle of Excess,
    Well skilled to overeat without distress!
    Thy great invention, the unfatal feast,
    Shows Man's superiority to Beast.
                                                        John Boop
OVERWORK
n. A dangerous disorder affecting high public functionaries who want to go fishing.
 
OWE
v. To have (and to hold) a debt. The word formerly signified not indebtedness, but possession; it meant "own," and in the minds of debtors there is still a good deal of confusion between assets and liabilities.
 
OYSTER
n. A slimy, gobby shellfish which civilization gives men the hardihood to eat without removing its entrails! The shells are sometimes given to the poor.

 

M-N-O


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