by Richard Kostelanetz (March 2014)
In memory of B(rian). S. Johnson (1933-1973).
Long an admirer of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, I’m here appropriating him, much as I’ve appropriated other literary heroes, in this case rewriting some of his entries to make them mine and adding a few of my own reflecting his influence, not just what I wish I wrote but what I rewrote. Humor I like to rewrite mostly to be mine. Some of my own entries, written in 1958, became the earliest text ever reprinted by me (in Skeptical Essays ) and thus stands in retrospect as my first piece of serious writing. These appear here boldfaced. Other entries, some more personal, were written recently and distributed without my credits alphabetically.
--Richard Kostelanetz, RidgeWood-SoHo, NY 11385-5751.
A thick Brtish accent, n. A prime prerequisite for a television appearance by a delegate to the U.N. from a newly created nation in Africa or Asia.
ABASEMENT, n. A customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth or power that is peculiarly necessary for an underling whenever addressing an insecure superior.
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.
ABORIGINIES, n. Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. Soon ceasing to cumber, they fertilize.
ABRUPT, adj. Sudden, without ceremony, like the arrival first of a cannon-shot and then the departure of the soldier whose interests are most affected by it.
ABSCOND, v.i. To "move in a mysterious way," commonly with the property of another.
ABSOLUTE, adj. A position undermined if firmly taken in quicksand.
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.
ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.
ACADEME, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were emphasized.
ACADEMY, LITERARY, n. A gathering of dead writers, some of whom, wonder of wonders, are still living and then when they gather together are surprised to find others still alive.
ACADEMY, n. [from ACADEME] A modern school where football is emphasized.
ACCIDENT, n. An inevitable occurrence resulting from immutable natural laws.
ACCOMPLICE, n. An associate in crime, having guilty knowledge and complicity, such as an attorney who defends a criminal while knowing him guilty. This view of the attorney's complicity has not hitherto commanded the assent of attorneys, as no one has offered them a fee for assenting.
ACCORDION, n. An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.
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 called intimate when he is rich or famous.
ACTION, n. Whatever produces reaction without which the purported action need not happen at all.
ACTUALLY, adv. Perhaps; possibly.
ADMINISTRATION, n. An ingenious abstraction in politics, designed to receive the kicks and cuffs due to the premier or president.
ADMIRAL, n. That part of a warship that does the talking while the figure-head does the thinking.
ADMIRATION, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.
ADMONITION, n. Gentle reproof, as with a meat-axe.
ADORATION, n. Admiration’s residue.
ADORE, v.t. To venerate expectantly.
AFFIANCED, pp. Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain.
AFFLICTION, n. An acclimatizing process preparing a soul for another and bitter world.
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, initially to dislodge the worms.
AIMLESS, adj. Someone who repeatedly misfires.
AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.
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.
ALPHABETIACLLY, adv. The most convenient way to organize a group of equals.
ALUMINUM, n. An otherwise innocuous word that, as native-English speakers pronounce it differently, reveal someone’s country of origin.
ALUMNI, n. Graduates of a school predisposed to remember it, as distinct from those who’d rather forget.
AMBIDEXTROUS, adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.
AMBIENCE, n. A surrounding aura often putative, especially if invisible.
AMBIENCE, n. An expensive aura.
AMBITION, n. An overmastering desire to be vilified by enemies while living and made ridiculous by friends when dead.
AMBITION, n. That without which nothing special would happen.
AMBROSE (BIERCE), n. An independent American writer whose aphoristic writing from a century ago remains a continuing inspiration.
AMNESTY, n. The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.
AMPHIBIAN, n. Whatever can thrive in more than one universe.
AMPLIFICATION, n. A technology new to the 20th Century that can make even initially modest sound intolerable.
AMUSE, v. t. What only a few can do to many, though not all.
AND/OR, conj. A compound word that ought to exist in English if only to avoid clumsy locutions.
ANGELING, n. Nice work if you get it, but don’t be disappointed if you can’t. Not to be confused with Angling which defines the catching of fish not with an extended net but with a single rod.
ANIMALS, n. Not people, some sentimental publicity to the contrary notwithstanding.
ANOINT, v.t. To grease a king or other great functionary already sufficiently slippery.
APOLOGIES, n. Sentiments laying an opportune 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.
APPLAUSE, n. The echo of a platitude.
ARCHITECT, n. One who drafts a plan of your house, and plans a draft of your money.
ARDOR, n. The quality that distinguishes love devoid of 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.)
ARMAGEDDON, n. If been, whew; if not, wow.
ARMOR, n. Clothing worn by a man whose tailor is a blacksmith.
ARREST, v.t. Formally to detain one accused of unusualness.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, n. Imprisoning whatever it is that proposes radical growth.
AUCTIONEER, n. The man who proclaims with a hammer that he has picked a pocket with his tongue.
AUDIENCES, n. For a stage actor, best seen; for a writer, better unseen. For radio and film performers, necessarily imagined.
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.
BACCHUS, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.
BACHELOR, n. Someone, of any sex, who is liked more than he likes.
BACKBITE, v.t. To speak of a man as you find him when he can't find you.
BAIT, n. A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is physical beauty.
Bandaranaike, n. A word that all foreign service applicants are required to know about, spell, pronounce, and tell the history of.
BARGAIN, n. Whatever you purchased for yourself with someone else’s money.
BARN, adj. A woman unable to bear children.
BATH, n. A kind of mystic ceremony substituted for religious worship, whose spiritual efficacy has not yet been determined.
BATTLE, n. A method of untying with the teeth of a political knot that would not yield to the tongue.
BEAUTY, n. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.
BEAUTY, n. Ideals so variable over history, especially for women, that no “standard”
can be deemed objective.
BEG, v. To ask for something with an earnestness proportioned to the belief that it will not be given.
BELLADONNA, n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison--a striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.
BENEFACTOR, n. One who makes heavy purchases of ingratitude, without, however, materially affecting the price, which is still within the means of all.
BEST UNIVERSITIES, n. Ideally measured by wherever many, if not most, of the teachers believe that their students can be as good as they are; otherwise, a “reputation” commonly credited to the activity of its publicity machinery.
BIERCEAN, n. The quality of high literary humor admired by some readers while mostly deplored by others.
BIGAMY, n. A serious defamation of vows worse than trigamy.
BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion not your own.
BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters.
BLANK-VERSE, n. As unrhymed iambic pentameters is the most difficult kind of English verse to write acceptably, it is, therefore, favored by those who cannot acceptably write any other kind.
BOGUS, adj. Fake to a higher measure.
BOOKS, n. Traditionally the richest repository of the accumulated wisdom of mankind, even with a succession of challenges from newer media.
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-smelling.
BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the fantasies of the other; variable unless a body of water.
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.
BRANDY, n. A cordial composed of one quarter thunder-and-lightning, one quarter remorse, two quarters bloody murder, one quarter death-hell-and-the grave and quarter parts clarified Satan, all of which add up to give it twice the potency of any other liquid.
BRASSIERE, n. An early 20th-century development whose changing forms invariably surprise.
BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
Brink of War, n. A phrase used in popular news magazines to describe a grade "F" diplomatic tactic. But if records of courts of justice are admissible, it can easily be proved that powerful and malevolent magicians once existed and were a scourge to mankind.
BUTT-KISSERS, n. People who inevitably disappoint to the surprise only of those whose butts were kissed.
CABBAGE, n. A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head.
CALIBER, adj. A measure too accurate for comfort.
CANNIBAL, n. A gastronome of the old school who preserves simple tastes, adhering to the natural diet of the pre-pork period.
CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of purportedly national boundaries.
CANNY, adj. Able to see not just one step but two or more steps beyond a contemplated action.
CAPITAL, n. Money that can disappear if not invested safely.
CAPITOL, 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.
Career diplomats, n. Ambassadors to strategic countries.
CARNIVOROUS, adj. Addicted to the cruelty of devouring the timorous vegetarian as well as his heirs and assigns.
CEMETERY, n. A bucolic suburban spot where mourners match lies, poets write at a target, and stone-cutters spell for a wager.
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.
CHAIN, n. A de facto weapon favored by those strong to intimidate the weak, whether as a whip or as a fence.
CHARACTER, n. Courage in confronting evil—nothing less; keeping one’s nose clean is finally not enough.
CHARM, n. Inauthentic flattery.
CHAS(T)E, adj. Without sex, temporarily.
CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth and thus two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age.
CHILDREN n. The principal argument against creating them is the sheer nuttiness they generate in parents; in grandparents, even more so.
CHOICES, n. What can never be too numerous.
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 insofar as they are not inconsistent with sinning.
CIGAR, n. An oral toy more acceptable if observed from afar (or in pictures) than smelled up close.
CIRCLES, n. What everyone wants most to avoid running around in.
CIRCUS, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women, and children acting like fools.
CLAIRVOYANT, n. A person, commonly female, who has the power of seeing what is invisible to her patron--namely, that he is a blockhead.
CLASSICAL MUSIC, n. From those below a certain age a sure measure of cultural class.
Classified, n. A document that an opposition party shouldn't see.
CLEAVAGE, FEMALE, n. What has acceptably attracted male eyes for centuries.
CLEAVAGE, MALE, n. Above falling trousers, what no one wants to see.
CLERGYMAN, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.
CLOSE-FISTED, adj. Unduly desirous of keeping securely in his hand what many meritorious persons wish to obtain.
CLUTTERED CLATTER, n. Noisy junk.
COENOBITE, n. A man who piously shuts himself up in order to meditate upon the sin of wickedness; and thus to keep such sin fresh in his mind joins a brotherhood of likeminded examples.
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 inadvertently efficient.
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 due.
CONCAVE, n. Where white collar crooks prefer to hide.
CONGRESS, n. A body of men who meet to repeal laws.
Congressional investigations, n. Much like March, they come me in like a lion and go out like a lamb.
CONNOISSEUR, n. A specialist who knows everything about something and nothing about anything else.
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
CONSPIRACIES, n. Anyone routinely denying their likely existence in human affairs is consigning himself to an intellectual dustbin.
CONSUL, n. In American politics, a person who having failed to secure an office from the people is rewarded with one on the condition that he leave the country.
CONTRACTS, n. Requisite of people you can’t trust, the more elaborate the better.
CONTROL, n. Easier with pets and infants than with contemporaries or teenage children.
CONTROVERSY, n. A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the injurious cannon-ball and the inconsiderate bayonet.
CONVENT, n. A retirement home for woman who wish for leisure on someone else’s money, all 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 sky high with a dynamite bomb.
CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
COUNTRY, n. Where urban people move to have no friends.
COURAGE, n. The first requirement for the production of extraordinary work; intelligence and imagination are secondary.
Crackpot, n. A person with definite positions.
CRAZY, adj. A platitudinous dismissal requiring more specific diagnoses.
CRIME, n. Something everyone has done at one time or another, albeit mostly to trivial degrees, for which some unfortunates go to jail, usually for longer than necessary.
CRITIC, n. A writer obliged to tell truths, as distinct from pleasing publishers, if he expects readers’ respect.
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 back to the rites of primitive peoples.
CRUTCH, n. Upon which cripples both physical and mental depend.
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 unreasonable and offensive. The notions of symbolizing sexual love by a semisexless babe and then 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. All this is eminently worthy of the age that, giving it birth, laid it on the doorstep of prosperity.
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.
Daughters of the American Revolution, n. An organization composed of people whose ancestors left the right country first.
Deal, n An old American expression, as in Square Deal, New Deal, Fair Deal, and You Deal.
DEGRADATION, n. One of the stages of moral and social progress from private station to political preferment.
DELUGE, n. A notable first experiment in wholesale baptism that 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 comparably goodly sons and daughters.
Democracy, n. The name banner under which opponents of the system try legally to undermine the system.
DEPRESSION, PSYCHOLOGICAL, n. An unfortunate mental condition made worse by most “cures” developed in the 20th Century.
DIAGNOSIS, n. A physician's forecast of a disease based on his measuring the patient's pulse and purse. Otherwise, he licensed physician’s best guess(es) within currently acceptable circumscriptions.
Dictator, n. An unelected despotic heading a government unfriendly to us.
DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. Otherwise, a
thick book whose small-print asides can be much funnier than its authors intended and perhaps know.
DIET, n. Neurotic eating.
DIGITAL, adj. Any entity with parts fewer than the fingers on both hands.
DIPLOMAT, n. A slippery operator.
DISADVANTAGES, n. Misfortunes afflicting everyone but overcome only by some.
DISEASE, n. Disability more serious if not diagnosed.
DISTANCE, n. The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep; what some, such as myself, would sooner swim than run nor walk.
DOG, n. A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world's worship. This Divine Being in some of his smaller and silkier incarnations takes, in the affection of Woman, the place to which no human male can aspire. Also “a man’s best friend” unless an unacceptably ugly woman.
DOWNSTAIRS, n. A polite euphemism for genital domains both male and female.
DUEL, n. A formal ceremony preliminary to the reconciliation of two enemies. Great skill is necessary to its satisfactory observance; if awkwardly performed the most unexpected and deplorable consequences can sometimes ensue.
DULLARD, n. A member of the reigning dynasty in letters and life. The Dullards came in with Adam, and being both numerous and sturdy have overrun the habitable world. The secret of their power is their insensibility to blows; tickle them with a bludgeon and they laugh with a platitude. The Dullards came originally from Boeotia, whence they were driven by stress of starvation, their dullness having blighted the crops. For some centuries they infested Philistia, and many of them are called Philistines to this day. In the turbulent times of the Crusades they withdrew thence and gradually overspread all Europe, occupying most of the high places in politics, art, literature, science and theology. Since a detachment of Dullards came over with the Pilgrims in the Mayflower and made a favorable report of the country, their increase by birth, immigration, and conversion has been rapid and steady. According to the most trustworthy statistics the number of adult Dullards in the United States is but little short of thirty millions, including the statisticians.
DUMB, adj. A condition unawares of itself.
DUTY, n. That which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along with a dose of desire.
EARS, n. Sound’s eyes and just as unreliable in processing extrinsic information.
EAT, v.i. To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation, and deglutition.
EATING, n. One of my life’s greatest pleasures, after being a necessity.
ECCENTRICITY, n. A method of distinction so cheap that it is employed by cheap fools to accentuate their incapacity.
ECOLOGY, n. A fearsome word that precedes righteous schemes for social planning that frighten me more.
ECONOMICS, ANARCHIST, n. Its key tenet holds that the best things in life are free, beginning with friendship and sunshine.
ECONOMY, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.
EDIBLE, adj. Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
EDITOR, n. A person who combines the
EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
EEK, inj. Whatever people exclaim when frightened by a mouse, as distinct from Eke.
EFFECT, n. The second of two phenomena that always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other. This is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in the pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of a dog.
EGO, n. A mistaken substitute for form in poetry especially and sometimes in other arts.
EGOTIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
ELEGY, n. A composition in verse, in which, without employing any of humor’s methods, the writer aims to produce in the reader's mind the dampest kind of dejection.
ELEVATORS, n. Mechanical wings.
EMBALM, v.i. To cheat vegetation by locking up the gases upon which it feeds. By embalming their dead and thereby deranging the natural balance between animal and vegetable life, the Egyptians made their once fertile and populous country barren and incapable of supporting more than a meager crew.
EMOTION, n. A prostrating disease caused by a determination sent from the heart to the head. It is sometimes accompanied by a copious discharge of hydrated chloride of sodium from the eyes.
Engels, n. The celestial beings of communist heaven.
ENTHUSIASM, n. A distemper of youth, curable by small doses of repentance in connection with outward applications of experience.
ENTRANCE, v.t., n. Seduce with or through a doorway.
ENTRIES, DICTIONARY, n. The toughest and thus the most poetic constraint for prose.
ENTRY, n. Exit’s real end.
ENVELOPE, n. The coffin of a document; the scabbard of a bill; the husk of a remittance; the bed-gown of a love-letter.
ENVY, n. Emulation adapted to the meanest capacity.
EPAULET, n. An ornamented badge, serving to distinguish a military officer from the enemy—that is to say, from the officer of lower rank to whom his death would give promotion.
EPIGRAM, n. A short, sharp saying in prose or verse, frequently characterized by acidity or acerbity, sometimes by wisdom.
ERRANT, adj. Misguided screaming.
ERROR, n. To some people, an impossible outcome.
ESOTERIC, adj. Very particularly abstruse and consummately occult. The ancient philosophies were of two kinds—exoteric, those that the philosophers themselves could partly understand, and esoteric, those that nobody can understand. The latter has most profoundly affected modern thought and found greatest acceptance in our time.
ESSAYS, n. Containers of sentences strung together, perhaps coherently.
ESTABLISHMENT, n. In America, an institution wishing it was older than it is; in political criticism, some other guys conspiring together.
ETHNOLOGY, n. The science that treats of the various tribes of Man as robbers, thieves, swindlers, dunces, lunatics, idiots, and ethnologists.
EXECUTIVE, n. An officer of the Government, whose duty it is to enforce the wishes of the legislative power until such time as the judicial department shall be pleased to pronounce them invalid and ineffectual.
EXHIBITIONISM, n. Making whatever was private public.
EXHORT, v.t. In religious affairs, to put the conscience of another upon a spit and then roast it to a nut-brown discomfort.
EXILE, n. One who better serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador.
EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance a certain folly that we have already embraced.
EXTRAVAGANCE, n. Excess not necessarily noticed by everyone, though scarcely invisible.
EXURBIA, n. Spacious residential neighborhoods preferred by sometime urban families favoring property over friends.
FACILITY, n. A talent that depends upon a predisposition to pursue the least resistant path.
FACT, n. What is verifiable and thus indisputable, often uncomfortably so to some.
FARBLUNDJET, n. A favorite Yiddish that should be English, because it’s such an appropriate epithet for confused, really confused.
FEAST, n. A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness. In the Roman Catholic Church feasts are "movable" and "immovable," but the celebrants are uniformly immovable until they are full.
FELON, n. A person of greater enterprise than discretion, who pursued an inviting opportunity to an unfortunate result.
FEMALE, n. A member of the opposing, or unfair, sex.
FIDDLE, n. An instrument designed to tickle human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat.
FINANCE, n. The art or science of managing revenues and resources for the best advantage of the manager; monetary legerdemain.
FOOL, n. A person who as he pervades the domain of intellectual speculation diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscient, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude, and the circle of the sciences. In addition to creating patriotism and taught the nations war he founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine, and Chicago.
FORECASTS, n. Essentially were, not is.
FORK, n. An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting bits of dead animals into the mouth. Formerly the knife was employed for this purpose, and by many worthy persons is still thought to have many advantages over the later tool, which, however, they do not altogether reject, but use to assist in abetting the knife.
FORTITUDE: One prerequisite for overcoming adversity.
FREEMASONS, n. An order with secret rites, grotesque ceremonies, and fantastic costumes, which, originating among working artisans of London in the reign of Charles II, has been joined successively by the dead of past centuries in unbroken retrogression until now it embraces all the generations of man on all sides of Adam.
FRENETIC, adj. Movement initially recorded at four frames per second.
FRIENDSHIP: What should be earned through admiration and affection, rather than power and abuse.
FROG, n. A reptile with edible legs.
FRYING-PAN, n. One part of the penal apparatus employed in that punitive institution known as a woman's kitchen. The frying-pan was invented by Calvin, and by him used in cooking span-long infants that had died without baptism; and observing one day the horrible torment of a tramp who had incautiously pulled a fried babe from the waste-dump and devoured, it occurred to the great divine to rob death of its terrors by introducing the frying-pan into every household in Geneva. Thence spread to all corners of the world, it has been of invaluable assistance in the propagation of his somber faith.
FUN(D)RAISING, n. Two fundamentally different activities, notwithstanding nearly identical spellings.
FUNERAL, n. A pageant whereby we attest our respect for the dead by enriching the undertaker and his minions in the cemetery, and strengthen our grief by an expenditure that while it deepens our groans also doubles our tears.
GARGOYLE, n. A rain-spout projecting from the eaves of mediaeval buildings, commonly fashioned into a grotesque caricature of some personal enemy of the architect or owner of the building.
GENEALOGY, n. An account of one's descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own.
General, n. A position from which one can successfully enter politics for lack of past political blunders.
Generalissimo, no. An unelected despostic head of a government friendly to us.
GENEROSITY, n. Always worth extending as much as one can afford.
GENEROUS, adj. Originally this word meant noble by birth and was rightly applied to a great multitude of persons. It now means noble by nature and is taking a bit of a rest.
GEOLOGY, n. The science of the earth's crust—to which, doubtless, will be added that of its interior whenever a man shall come up garrulous out of a well. The geological formations of the globe already noted are catalogued thus: The Primary, or lower one, consists of rocks, bones or mired mules, gas-pipes, miners' tools, antique statues minus the nose, Spanish doubloons and ancestors. The Secondary is largely made up of red worms and moles. The Tertiary comprises railway tracks, patent pavements, grass, snakes, mouldy boots, beer bottles, tomato cans, intoxicated citizens, garbage, anarchists, snap-dogs and fools.
GERBILS, n. Dump dogs.
GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.
GHOUL, n. A demon addicted to the reprehensible habit of devouring the dead. The existence of ghouls has been disputed by that class of controversialists who are more concerned to deprive the world of comforting beliefs than to offer it anything good in their place.
GIRLS, n. What many women wish they still were.
GLUTTON, n. A person who escapes the evils of moderation by committing dyspepsia.
GNOME, n. In North-European mythology, a dwarfish imp inhabiting the interior parts of the earth and having special custody of mineral treasures.
GODALMIGHTY, n. A fiction, alas.
Golf, n. The sport of Presidents.
GOUT, n. A physician's name for the rheumatism of a rich patient.
GRACES, n. Three beautiful goddesses named Aglaia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne, who attend upon Venus, serving without salary. With no budget for board and clothing, they ate nothing to speak of and dressed according to the weather, wearing whatever breeze happened to be blowing.
GRAMMAR, n. A system of pitfalls thoughtfully prepared for the mouth of a self-made man, along the path by which he advances to distinction.
GRAVE, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student.
GRAVITATION, n. The tendency of all bodies to approach one another with a strength proportionate to the quantity of matter they contain— the quantity of matter they contain being ascertained by the strength of their tendency to approach one another. This is a lovely and edifying illustration of how science, having made A the proof of B, makes B the proof of A.
GRAY, adj. A color whose shades can measure a life.
GRAZE GRAZE, v. What happens when a bullet hits sheep eating grass.
GREEN, adj. Money’s color, at least in America.
GROVE, n. Where only fruits can thrive.
GUNPOWDER, n. An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes that might become troublesome if left unadjusted. By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not with very convincing evidence. John Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels.
HABEAS CORPUS. A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime.
HABIT, n. A shackle for the free.
HAG, n. An elderly lady whom you do not happen to like; sometimes called, also, a hen, or cat. Old witches, sorceresses, etc., were called hags from the belief that their heads were surrounded by a kind of baleful lumination or nimbus—hag being the popular name of that peculiar electrical light sometimes observed in the hair.
HALF-BREED, n. Half-blonde, half-brunette, and, by extension, the offspring of comparable matings of radically different visages.
HALLELUJAH, n. An exclamation customarily spoken too soon.
HALO, n. Properly, a luminous ring encircling an astronomical body, but not infrequently confounded with "aureola," or "nimbus," a somewhat similar phenomenon worn as a head-dress by divinities and saints. The halo is a purely optical illusion, produced by moisture in the air, in the manner of a rainbow; but the aureola is conferred as a sign of superior sanctity, in the same way as a bishop's miter, or the Pope's tiara.
HAND, n. A singular instrument perched at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody's pocket.
HANDKERCHIEF, n. A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears. The handkerchief is of recent invention; our ancestors knew nothing of it, having entrusted its duties to the sleeve.
HANDSHOES, n. Such a good literal translation of the German word for gloves that it should become accredited English.
HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another; otherwise, a quality hard to measure, even if purportedly felt..
HARANGUE, n. A speech by an opponent, who is known as a harangue-outang.
HARBOR, n. A place where ships taking shelter from stores are exposed to the fury of the customs; where boats nap.
HARMONISTS, n. A sect of Protestants, now extinct, who came from Europe in the beginning of the last century and were distinguished for the bitterness of their internal controversies and dissensions.
HASH, x. There is no definition for this word, as nobody knows what hash is.
HEARSE, n. Death's baby-carriage.
HEART, n. An automatic, muscular blood-pump. Figuratively, this useful organ is said to be the seat of emotions and sentiments—a very pretty fancy which, however, is nothing but a survival of a once universal belief. It is now known that the sentiments and emotions reside in the stomach, being evolved from food by chemical action of the gastric fluid.
HEAVEN, n. A gated community whose key can only be obtained once the supplicant has been admitted inside.
HEAVEN, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
Heavy campaign contributors, n. Ambassadors to non-strategic nations.
HEBREW, n. A male Jew, as distinguished from the Shebrew, an altogether superior creation.
HEMP, n. A plant from whose fibrous bark is made an article of neckwear that is frequently put on after public speaking in the open air and thus prevents the wearer from taking cold.
HERMIT, n. A person whose vices and follies are not sociable.
HIBERNATE, v.i. To pass the winter season in domestic seclusion. There have been many singular popular notions about the hibernation of various animals. Many believe that the bear hibernates during the whole winter and subsists by mechanically sucking its paws. It is admitted that it comes out of its retirement in the spring so lean that it had to try twice before it can cast a shadow.
HISTORIAN, n. A broad-gauge gossip.
HISTORY, n. An account mostly false
HOLOGRAPHY, n. A awesome technology new in the 1960s, but nearly dead after 2000, not because it became obsolete but because it was so difficult that, as fewer people worked at it, the necessary film was no longer manufactured.
HOME, n. The firmament of everyone’s world.
HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homocide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another. This classification exists only for advantage of the lawyers.
HOMILETICS, n. The science of adapting sermons to the spiritual needs, capacities, and conditions of the congregation.
HOMOEOPATHY, n. A school of medicine midway between Allopathy and Christian Science. To the last both the others are distinctly inferior, for Christian Science will cure imaginary diseases, and H. cannot.
HOPE, n. Desire and expectation rolled into one.
Horse racing, n. The sport of Kings.
HORSE, n. A transport vehicle whose excrement contaminated urban life until the dissemination of the automobile whose exhaust currently contaminates urban life.
HORSEBACK, n. Sitting in a saddle with your head facing the tail and thus looking behind as the horse moves forward.
HOSE, n. Stockings also able to funnel water.
HOSPITALITY, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge gratis certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.
HOST, n. Someone generous to those from whom a favor is expected in return.
HOSTILITY, n. A peculiarly sharp and specially applied sense of the earth's overpopulation. Hostility is classified as active and passive—respectively, the feeling of a woman for her female friends, and that which she entertains for all the rest of her sex.
HOT DOG, n. A beloved condiment whose retail price can vary widely; distinct from Hot Dawg, which is an enthusiastic explicative.
HOUSE, n. A hollow edifice erected for the habitation of man, rat, mouse, beetle, cockroach, fly, mosquito, flea, bacillus, and microbe. House of Correction, a place of reward for political and personal service, and for the detention of offenders and appropriations. House of God, a building with a steeple and a mortgage on it. House-dog, a pestilent beast kept on domestic premises to insult persons passing by and appall the hardy visitor. House-maid, a youngish person of the opposing sex employed to be variously disagreeable and ingeniously unclean in the station in which it has pleased God to place her.
HOUSEBOUND, adj. Imprisonment unless the subject likes to read favorite books or watch treasured films.
HOUSELESS, adj. Having paid all taxes on household goods.
HOVEL, n. The bum fruit of a flower called the Palace.
HUMORLESSLESS, n. The great downer, especially if afflicting people close to you.
HUNGER: A permanent condition.
HYPOCRITE, n. One who, professing virtues that he does not respect, secures the advantage of seeming to be what he ostensibly despises.
Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.
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