I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We , but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine. The frank yet graceful use of “I” distinguishes a good writer from a bad; the latter carries it with the manner of a thief trying to cloak his loot.
ICONOCLAST, n. A breaker of idols, the worshipers whereof are imperfectly gratified by the performance, and most strenuously protest that he unbuildeth but doth not reedify, that he pulleth down but pileth not up. For the poor things would have other idols in place of those he thwacketh upon the mazzard and dispelleth. But the iconoclast saith: “Ye shall have none at all, for ye need them not; and if the rebuilder fooleth round hereabout, behold I will depress the head of him and sit thereon till he squawk it.”
IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.
IDLENESS, n. A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices.
IGNORAMUS, n. A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.
ILLUMINATI, n. A sect of Spanish heretics of the latter part of the sixteenth century; so called because they were light weights — cunctationes illuminati .
ILLUSTRIOUS, adj. Suitably placed for the shafts of malice, envy and detraction.
IMAGINATION, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.
IMBECILITY, n. A kind of divine inspiration, or sacred fire affecting censorious critics of this dictionary.
IMMIGRANT, n. An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.
IMMODEST, adj. Having a strong sense of one’s own merit, coupled with a feeble conception of worth in others.
IMMORAL, adj. Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral. If man’s notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of expediency; if they originated, or could have originated, in any other way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from, and nowise dependent on, their consequences — then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind.
A toy which people cry for, And on their knees apply for, Dispute, contend and lie for, And if allowed Would be right proud Eternally to die for. G.J.
IMPALE, v.t. In popular usage to pierce with any weapon which remains fixed in the wound. This, however, is inaccurate; to imaple is, properly, to put to death by thrusting an upright sharp stake into the body, the victim being left in a sitting position. This was a common mode of punishment among many of the nations of antiquity, and is still in high favor in China and other parts of Asia. Down to the beginning of the fifteenth century it was widely employed in “churching” heretics and schismatics. Wolecraft calls it the “stoole of repentynge,” and among the common people it was jocularly known as “riding the one legged horse.” Ludwig Salzmann informs us that in Thibet impalement is considered the most appropriate punishment for crimes against religion; and although in China it is sometimes awarded for secular offences, it is most frequently adjudged in cases of sacrilege. To the person in actual experience of impalement it must be a matter of minor importance by what kind of civil or religious dissent he was made acquainted with its discomforts; but doubtless he would feel a certain satisfaction if able to contemplate himself in the character of a weather-cock on the spire of the True Church.
IMPARTIAL, adj. Unable to perceive any promise of personal advantage from espousing either side of a controversy or adopting either of two conflicting opinions.
IMPENITENCE, n. A state of mind intermediate in point of time between sin and punishment.
IMPIETY, n. Your irreverence toward my deity.
IMPOSITION, n. The act of blessing or consecrating by the laying on of hands — a ceremony common to many ecclesiastical systems, but performed with the frankest sincerity by the sect known as Thieves.
IMPOSTOR n. A rival aspirant to public honors.
IMPROVIDENCE, n. Provision for the needs of to-day from the revenues of to-morrow.
IMPUNITY, n. Wealth.
INADMISSIBLE, adj. Not competent to be considered. Said of certain kinds of testimony which juries are supposed to be unfit to be entrusted with, and which judges, therefore, rule out, even of proceedings before themselves alone. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible because the person quoted was unsworn and is not before the court for examination; yet most momentous actions, military, political, commercial and of every other kind, are daily undertaken on hearsay evidence. There is no religion in the world that has any other basis than hearsay evidence. Revelation is hearsay evidence; that the Scriptures are the word of God we have only the testimony of men long dead whose identity is not clearly established and who are not known to have been sworn in any sense. Under the rules of evidence as they now exist in this country, no single assertion in the Bible has in its support any evidence admissible in a court of law. It cannot be proved that the battle of Blenheim ever was fought, that there was such as person as Julius Caesar, such an empire as Assyria. But as 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. The evidence (including confession) upon which certain women were convicted of witchcraft and executed was without a flaw; it is still unimpeachable. The judges’ decisions based on it were sound in logic and in law. Nothing in any existing court was ever more thoroughly proved than the charges of witchcraft and sorcery for which so many suffered death. If there were no witches, human testimony and human reason are alike destitute of value.
INAUSPICIOUSLY, adv. In an unpromising manner, the auspices being unfavorable. Among the Romans it was customary before undertaking any important action or enterprise to obtain from the augurs, or state prophets, some hint of its probable outcome; and one of their favorite and most trustworthy modes of divination consisted in observing the flight of birds — the omens thence derived being called auspices . Newspaper reporters and certain miscreant lexicographers have decided that the word — always in the plural — shall mean “patronage” or “management”; as, “The festivities were under the auspices of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Body-Snatchers”; or, “The hilarities were auspicated by the Knights of Hunger.”
INCOME, n. The natural and rational gauge and measure of respectability, the commonly accepted standards being artificial, arbitrary and fallacious; for, as “Sir Sycophas Chrysolater” in the play has justly remarked, “the true use and function of property (in whatsoever it consisteth — coins, or land, or houses, or merchant- stuff, or anything which may be named as holden of right to one’s own subservience) as also of honors, titles, preferments and place, and all favor and acquaintance of persons of quality or ableness, are but to get money. Hence it followeth that all things are truly to be rated as of worth in measure of their serviceableness to that end; and their possessors should take rank in agreement thereto, neither the lord of an unproducing manor, howsoever broad and ancient, nor he who bears an unremunerate dignity, nor yet the pauper favorite of a king, being esteemed of level excellency with him whose riches are of daily accretion; and hardly should they whose wealth is barren claim and rightly take more honor than the poor and unworthy.”
INCOMPATIBILITY, n. In matrimony a similarity of tastes, particularly the taste for domination. Incompatibility may, however, consist of a meek-eyed matron living just around the corner. It has even been known to wear a moustache.
INCOMPOSSIBLE, adj. Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both — as Walt Whitman’s poetry and God’s mercy to man. Incompossibility, it will be seen, is only incompatibility let loose. Instead of such low language as “Go heel yourself — I mean to kill you on sight,” the words, “Sir, we are incompossible,” would convey and equally significant intimation and in stately courtesy are altogether superior.
INCUBUS, n. One of a race of highly improper demons who, though probably not wholly extinct, may be said to have seen their best nights. For a complete account of incubi and succubi , including incubae and succubae , see the Liber Demonorum of Protassus (Paris, 1328), which contains much curious information that would be out of place in a dictionary intended as a text-book for the public schools. Victor Hugo relates that in the Channel Islands Satan himself — tempted more than elsewhere by the beauty of the women, doubtless — sometimes plays at incubus , greatly to the inconvenience and alarm of the good dames who wish to be loyal to their marriage vows, generally speaking. A certain lady applied to the parish priest to learn how they might, in the dark, distinguish the hardy intruder from their husbands. The holy man said they must feel his brown for horns; but Hugo is ungallant enough to hint a doubt of the efficacy of the test.
INCUMBENT, n. A person of the liveliest interest to the outcumbents.
INDECISION, n. The chief element of success; “for whereas,” saith Sir Thomas Brewbold, “there is but one way to do nothing and divers way to do something, whereof, to a surety, only one is the right way, it followeth that he who from indecision standeth still hath not so many chances of going astray as he who pusheth forwards” — a most clear and satisfactory exposition on the matter. “Your prompt decision to attack,” said Genera Grant on a certain occasion to General Gordon Granger, “was admirable; you had but five minutes to make up your mind in.” “Yes, sir,” answered the victorious subordinate, “it is a great thing to be know exactly what to do in an emergency. When in doubt whether to attack or retreat I never hesitate a moment — I toss us a copper.” “Do you mean to say that’s what you did this time?” “Yes, General; but for Heaven’s sake don’t reprimand me: I disobeyed the coin.”
INDIFFERENT, adj. Imperfectly sensible to distinctions among things.
INDIGESTION, n. A disease which the patient and his friends frequently mistake for deep religious conviction and concern for the salvation of mankind. As the simple Red Man of the western wild put it, with, it must be confessed, a certain force: “Plenty well, no pray; big bellyache, heap God.”
INDISCRETION, n. The guilt of woman.
INEXPEDIENT, adj. Not calculated to advance one’s interests.
INFANCY, n. The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, “Heaven lies about us.” The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward.
INFERIAE,n. [Latin] Among the Greeks and Romans, sacrifices for propitation of the Dii Manes , or souls of the dead heroes; for the pious ancients could not invent enough gods to satisfy their spiritual needs, and had to have a number of makeshift deities, or, as a sailor might say, jury-gods, which they made out of the most unpromising materials. It was while sacrificing a bullock to the spirit of Agamemnon that Laiaides, a priest of Aulis, was favored with an audience of that illustrious warrior’s shade, who prophetically recounted to him the birth of Christ and the triumph of Christianity, giving him also a rapid but tolerably complete review of events down to the reign of Saint Louis. The narrative ended abruptly at the point, owing to the inconsiderate crowing of a cock, which compelled the ghosted King of Men to scamper back to Hades. There is a fine mediaeval flavor to this story, and as it has not been traced back further than Pere Brateille, a pious but obscure writer at the court of Saint Louis, we shall probably not err on the side of presumption in considering it apocryphal, though Monsignor Capel’s judgment of the matter might be different; and to that I bow — wow.
INFIDEL, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See GIAOUR.) A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to, divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs, voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbes, nuns, missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests, muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders, primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries, clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs, bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans, deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons, hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins, postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons, reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains, mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas, sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals, prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, cures, sophis, mutifs and pumpums.
INFLUENCE, n. In politics, a visionary quo given in exchange for a substantial quid .
INFALAPSARIAN, n. One who ventures to believe that Adam need not have sinned unless he had a mind to — in opposition to the Supralapsarians, who hold that that luckless person’s fall was decreed from the beginning. Infralapsarians are sometimes called Sublapsarians without material effect upon the importance and lucidity of their views about Adam.
INGRATE, n. One who receives a benefit from another, or is otherwise an object of charity.
INJURY, n. An offense next in degree of enormity to a slight.
INJUSTICE, n. A burden which of all those that we load upon others and carry ourselves is lightest in the hands and heaviest upon the back.
INK, n. A villainous compound of tannogallate of iron, gum-arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to blacken them and to make them white; but it is most generally and acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones of an edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal quality of the material. There are men called journalists who have established ink baths which some persons pay money to get into, others to get out of. Not infrequently it occurs that a person who has paid to get in pays twice as much to get out.
INNATE, adj. Natural, inherent — as innate ideas, that is to say, ideas that we are born with, having had them previously imparted to us. The doctrine of innate ideas is one of the most admirable faiths of philosophy, being itself an innate idea and therefore inaccessible to disproof, though Locke foolishly supposed himself to have given it “a black eye.” Among innate ideas may be mentioned the belief in one’s ability to conduct a newspaper, in the greatness of one’s country, in the superiority of one’s civilization, in the importance of one’s personal affairs and in the interesting nature of one’s diseases.
IN’ARDS, n. The stomach, heart, soul and other bowels. Many eminent investigators do not class the soul as an in’ard, but that acute observer and renowned authority, Dr. Gunsaulus, is persuaded that the mysterious organ known as the spleen is nothing less than our important part. To the contrary, Professor Garrett P. Servis holds that man’s soul is that prolongation of his spinal marrow which forms the pith of his no tail; and for demonstration of his faith points confidently to the fact that no tailed animals have no souls. Concerning these two theories, it is best to suspend judgment by believing both.
INSCRIPTION, n. Something written on another thing. Inscriptions are of many kinds, but mostly memorial, intended to commemorate the fame of some illustrious person and hand down to distant ages the record of his services and virtues. To this class of inscriptions belongs the name of John Smith, penciled on the Washington monument. Following are examples of memorial inscriptions on tombstones: (See EPITAPH.)
“In the sky my soul is found, And my body in the ground. By and by my body’ll rise To my spirit in the skies, Soaring up to Heaven’s gate. 1878.”
“Sacred to the memory of Jeremiah Tree. Cut down May 9th, 1862, aged 27 yrs. 4 mos. and 12 ds. Indigenous.”
“Affliction sore long time she boar, Phisicians was in vain, Till Deth released the dear deceased And left her a remain. Gone to join Ananias in the regions of bliss.”
“The clay that rests beneath this stone As Silas Wood was widely known. Now, lying here, I ask what good It was to let me be S. Wood. O Man, let not ambition trouble you, Is the advice of Silas W.”
“Richard Haymon, of Heaven. Fell to Earth Jan. 20, 1807, and had the dust brushed off him Oct. 3, 1874.”
INSURANCE, n. An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table.
INSURRECTION, n. An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection’s failure to substitute misrule for bad government.
INTENTION, n. The mind’s sense of the prevalence of one set of influences over another set; an effect whose cause is the imminence, immediate or remote, of the performance of an involuntary act.
INTERPRETER, n. One who enables two persons of different languages to understand each other by repeating to each what it would have been to the interpreter’s advantage for the other to have said.
INTERREGNUM, n. The period during which a monarchical country is governed by a warm spot on the cushion of the throne. The experiment of letting the spot grow cold has commonly been attended by most unhappy results from the zeal of many worthy persons to make it warm again.
INTIMACY, n. A relation into which fools are providentially drawn for their mutual destruction.
INTRODUCTION, n. A social ceremony invented by the devil for the gratification of his servants and the plaguing of his enemies. The introduction attains its most malevolent development in this century, being, indeed, closely related to our political system. Every American being the equal of every other American, it follows that everybody has the right to know everybody else, which implies the right to introduce without request or permission. The Declaration of Independence should have read thus:
INVENTOR, n. A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
IRRELIGION, n. The principal one of the great faiths of the world.
ITCH, n. The patriotism of a Scotchman.
J is a consonant in English, but some nations use it as a vowel — than which nothing could be more absurd. Its original form, which has been but slightly modified, was that of the tail of a subdued dog, and it was not a letter but a character, standing for a Latin verb, jacere , “to throw,” because when a stone is thrown at a dog the dog’s tail assumes that shape. This is the origin of the letter, as expounded by the renowned Dr. Jocolpus Bumer, of the University of Belgrade, who established his conclusions on the subject in a work of three quarto volumes and committed suicide on being reminded that the j in the Roman alphabet had originally no curl.
JEALOUS, adj. Unduly concerned about the preservation of that which can be lost only if not worth keeping.
JESTER, n. An officer formerly attached to a king’s household, whose business it was to amuse the court by ludicrous actions and utterances, the absurdity being attested by his motley costume. The king himself being attired with dignity, it took the world some centuries to discover that his own conduct and decrees were sufficiently ridiculous for the amusement not only of his court but of all mankind. The jester was commonly called a fool, but the poets and romancers have ever delighted to represent him as a singularly wise and witty person. In the circus of to-day the melancholy ghost of the court fool effects the dejection of humbler audiences with the same jests wherewith in life he gloomed the marble hall, panged the patrician sense of humor and tapped the tank of royal tears.
JEWS-HARP, n. An unmusical instrument, played by holding it fast with the teeth and trying to brush it away with the finger.
JOSS-STICKS, n. Small sticks burned by the Chinese in their pagan tomfoolery, in imitation of certain sacred rites of our holy religion.
JUSTICE, n. A commodity which is a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service.
K is a consonant that we get from the Greeks, but it can be traced away back beyond them to the Cerathians, a small commercial nation inhabiting the peninsula of Smero. In their tongue it was called Klatch , which means “destroyed.” The form of the letter was originally precisely that of our H, but the erudite Dr. Snedeker explains that it was altered to its present shape to commemorate the destruction of the great temple of Jarute by an earthquake, circa 730 B.C. This building was famous for the two lofty columns of its portico, one of which was broken in half by the catastrophe, the other remaining intact. As the earlier form of the letter is supposed to have been suggested by these pillars, so, it is thought by the great antiquary, its later was adopted as a simple and natural — not to say touching — means of keeping the calamity ever in the national memory. It is not known if the name of the letter was altered as an additional mnemonic, or if the name was always Klatch and the destruction one of nature’s pums. As each theory seems probable enough, I see no objection to believing both — and Dr. Snedeker arrayed himself on that side of the question.
KILL, v.t. To create a vacancy without nominating a successor.
KILT, n. A costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland.
KINDNESS, n. A brief preface to ten volumes of exaction.
KING, n. A male person commonly known in America as a “crowned head,” although he never wears a crown and has usually no head to speak of.
KING’S EVIL, n. A malady that was formerly cured by the touch of the sovereign, but has now to be treated by the physicians. Thus ‘the most pious Edward” of England used to lay his royal hand upon the ailing subjects and make them whole —
KISS, n. A word invented by the poets as a rhyme for “bliss.” It is supposed to signify, in a general way, some kind of rite or ceremony appertaining to a good understanding; but the manner of its performance is unknown to this lexicographer.
KLEPTOMANIAC, n. A rich thief.