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Devil's Dictionary: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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SEVERALTY, n. Separateness, as, lands in severalty, i.e., lands held individually, not in joint ownership. Certain tribes of Indians are believed now to be sufficiently civilized to have in severalty the lands that they have hitherto held as tribal organizations, and could not sell to the Whites for waxen beads and potato whiskey.

Lo! the poor Indian whose unsuited mind
Saw death before, hell and the grave behind;
Whom thrifty settler ne'er besought to stay –
His small belongings their appointed prey;
Whom Dispossession, with alluring wile,
Persuaded elsewhere every little while!
His fire unquenched and his undying worm
By "land in severalty" (charming term!)
Are cooled and killed, respectively, at last,
And he to his new holding anchored fast!

SHERIFF, n. In America the chief executive office of a country, whose most characteristic duties, in some of the Western and Southern States, are the catching and hanging of rogues.

John Elmer Pettibone Cajee
(I write of him with little glee)
Was just as bad as he could be.

'Twas frequently remarked: "I swon!
The sun has never looked upon
So bad a man as Neighbor John."

A sinner through and through, he had
This added fault: it made him mad
To know another man was bad.

In such a case he thought it right
To rise at any hour of night
And quench that wicked person's light.

Despite the town's entreaties, he
Would hale him to the nearest tree
And leave him swinging wide and free.

Or sometimes, if the humor came,
A luckless wight's reluctant frame
Was given to the cheerful flame.

While it was turning nice and brown,
All unconcerned John met the frown
Of that austere and righteous town.

"How sad," his neighbors said, "that he
So scornful of the law should be –
An anar c, h, i, s, t."

(That is the way that they preferred
To utter the abhorrent word,
So strong the aversion that it stirred.)

"Resolved," they said, continuing,
"That Badman John must cease this thing
Of having his unlawful fling.

"Now, by these sacred relics" – here
Each man had out a souvenir
Got at a lynching yesteryear –

"By these we swear he shall forsake
His ways, nor cause our hearts to ache
By sins of rope and torch and stake.

"We'll tie his red right hand until
He'll have small freedom to fulfil
The mandates of his lawless will."

So, in convention then and there,
They named him Sheriff. The affair
Was opened, it is said, with prayer.

J. Milton Sloluck

SIREN, n. One of several musical prodigies famous for a vain attempt to dissuade Odysseus from a life on the ocean wave. Figuratively, any lady of splendid promise, dissembled purpose and disappointing performance.

SLANG, n. The grunt of the human hog (Pignoramus intolerabilis) with an audible memory. The speech of one who utters with his tongue what he thinks with his ear, and feels the pride of a creator in accomplishing the feat of a parrot. A means (under Providence) of setting up as a wit without a capital of sense.

SMITHAREEN, n. A fragment, a decomponent part, a remain. The word is used variously, but in the following verse on a noted female reformer who opposed bicycle-riding by women because it "led them to the devil" it is seen at its best:

The wheels go round without a sound –
The maidens hold high revel;
In sinful mood, insanely gay,
True spinsters spin adown the way
From duty to the devil!
They laugh, they sing, and – ting-a-ling!
Their bells go all the morning;
Their lanterns bright bestar the night
Pedestrians a-warning.
With lifted hands Miss Charlotte stands,
Good-Lording and O-mying,
Her rheumatism forgotten quite,
Her fat with anger frying.
She blocks the path that leads to wrath,
Jack Satan's power defying.
The wheels go round without a sound
The lights burn red and blue and green.
What's this that's found upon the ground?
Poor Charlotte Smith's a smithareen!

John William Yope

SOPHISTRY, n. The controversial method of an opponent, distinguished from one's own by superior insincerity and fooling. This method is that of the later Sophists, a Grecian sect of philosophers who began by teaching wisdom, prudence, science, art and, in brief, whatever men ought to know, but lost themselves in a maze of quibbles and a fog of words.

His bad opponent's "facts" he sweeps away,
And drags his sophistry to light of day;
Then swears they're pushed to madness who resort
To falsehood of so desperate a sort.
Not so; like sods upon a dead man's breast,
He lies most lightly who the least is pressed.

Polydore Smith

SORCERY, n. The ancient prototype and forerunner of political influence. It was, however, deemed less respectable and sometimes was punished by torture and death. Augustine Nicholas relates that a poor peasant who had been accused of sorcery was put to the torture to compel a confession. After enduring a few gentle agonies the suffering simpleton admitted his guilt, but naively asked his tormentors if it were not possible to be a sorcerer without knowing it.

SOUL, n. A spiritual entity concerning which there hath been brave disputation. Plato held that those souls which in a previous state of existence (antedating Athens) had obtained the clearest glimpses of eternal truth entered into the bodies of persons who became philosophers. Plato himself was a philosopher. The souls that had least contemplated divine truth animated the bodies of usurpers and despots. Dionysius I, who had threatened to decapitate the broad-browed philosopher, was a usurper and a despot. Plato, doubtless, was not the first to construct a system of philosophy that could be quoted against his enemies; certainly he was not the last.


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The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, online at Fun-With-Words.com.

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