AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1913)
Public Domain Copyright
- n. A staff of office signifying authority. Its
form, that of a heavy club, indicates its original
purpose and use in dissuading from dissent.
- n. The method employed by one's opponents in
baffling one's open and honorable efforts to do the right
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- n. Something acted upon by 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.
- 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
- 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.
- n. A bird whose thievish disposition suggested to
someone that it might be taught to talk.
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- n. The chief factor in the progress of the human
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- n. The state or condition of a community
consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making
in all, two.
- n. One who moves along the line of least
reluctance to a desired death.
- 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.
- n. The final and funniest folly of the rich.
- n. One of the sauces which serve the French in
place of a state religion.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- n. A stone flung down the Bowery to kill a dog in
- n. Uncommon patience in planning a revenge that is
M is for Moses,
Who slew the Egyptian.
As sweet as a rose is
The meekness of Moses.
No monument shows his
But M is for Moses
Who slew the Egyptian.
The Biographical Alphabet
- 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
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.
- adj. Addicted to rhetoric.
- n. One engaged in a commercial pursuit. A
commercial pursuit is one in which the thing pursued is a
- n. An attribute beloved of detected offenders.
- n. Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a
carriage and asked Incredulity to dinner.
- n. A stronghold of provincialism.
- n. The period of a thousand years when the lid is
to be screwed down, with all reformers on the under side.
- 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."
- adj. Belonging to me if I can hold or seize it.
- 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
- adj. Less objectionable.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- n. A dagger which in mediaeval warfare was used by
the foot soldier to remind an unhorsed knight that he was
- n. The kind of fortune that never misses.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- n. Government.
- n. In Christian countries, the day after the
- 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.
- n. An arboreal animal which makes itself at home
in genealogical trees.
- 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
- n. A high ecclesiastical title, of which the
Founder of our religion overlooked the advantages.
- n. A structure intended to commemorate something
which either needs no commemoration or cannot be
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.
- 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. -
- adj. The comparative degree of too much.
- 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.
- n. A long glove covering a part of the arm. Worn
in New Jersey. But "mousquetaire" is a might
poor way to spell muskeeter.
- n. In man, the gateway to the soul; in woman, the
outlet of the heart.
- n. In politics one afflicted with self-respect and
addicted to the vice of independence. A term of contempt.
- n. A child of two races, ashamed of both.
- 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.
- 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?
- n. An indocile horse of the western plains. In
English society, the American wife of an English
- n. A follower of Achilles particularly when
he didn't lead.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves,
and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
- n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the
good of the party.
- 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.
- n. A Russian who denies the existence of anything
but Tolstoi. The leader of the school is Tolstoi.
- n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of
pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise,
particularly to those wise enough to understand it.
- n. Nature's provision for wealthy American minds
ambitious to incur social distinction and suffer high
- n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The
chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.
- v. To designate for the heaviest political
assessment. To put forward a suitable person to incur the
mudgobbing and deadcatting of the opposition.
- n. A modest gentleman shrinking from the
distinction of private life and diligently seeking the
honorable obscurity of public office.
- n. A dead Quaker.
- n. The objections that are urged against this
- 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
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."
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- n. The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.
- n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made
binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury.
- 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.
- n. A place where astronomers conjecture away the
guesses of their predecessors.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a
world made for man who has no gills.
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- n. A sign that something will happen if nothing
- adv. Enough.
- 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.
- n. An unlocked door in the prison of Identity. It
leads into the jail yard.
- n. A favorable occasion for grasping a
- 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
- 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
"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
- 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.
- n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is
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."
- n. A conspiracy between speech and action to cheat
the understanding. A tyranny tempered by stenography.
- 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.
- n. An ox wearing the popular religious joke.
- 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
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."
- 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.
- adv. No better.
- 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.
- v.t. To make an enemy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- n. A dangerous disorder affecting high public
functionaries who want to go fishing.
- 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
- 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.
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