From the Horse's Mouth

A work of Fiction

Posted in 1 by theskinhorse on July 20, 2009

A story using the Devil’s Dictionary:

It started like this:

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 intimate when he is rich or famous.

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.

Simple as that. Then we set to do something, to make something… it was to be

GREAT, adj.

    "I'm great," the Lion said -- "I reign
    The monarch of the wood and plain!"

    The Elephant replied:  "I'm great --
    No quadruped can match my weight!"

    "I'm great -- no animal has half
    So long a neck!" said the Giraffe.

    "I'm great," the Kangaroo said -- "see
    My femoral muscularity!"

    The 'Possum said:  "I'm great -- behold,
    My tail is lithe and bald and cold!"

    An Oyster fried was understood
    To say:  "I'm great because I'm good!"

    Each reckons greatness to consist
    In that in which he heads the list,

    And Vierick thinks he tops his class
    Because he is the greatest ass.
                                    -Arion Spurl Doke

We would be discussing and exploring such things together:

PHILOSOPHY, n.

A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

TRUTH, n.

An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time.

REALITY, n.

The dream of a mad philosopher. That which would remain in the cupel if one should assay a phantom. The nucleus of a vacuum.

And what was in store in the

FUTURE, n.

That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.

Especially regarding our work together and

FRIENDSHIP, n.

A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.

    The sea was calm and the sky was blue;
    Merrily, merrily sailed we two.
        (High barometer maketh glad.)
    On the tipsy ship, with a dreadful shout,
    The tempest descended and we fell out.

(O the walking is nasty bad!)

We built a place to foster

UNDERSTANDING, n.

A cerebral secretion that enables one having it to know a house from a horse by the roof on the house. Its nature and laws have been exhaustively expounded by Locke, who rode a house, and Kant, who lived in a horse.

    His understanding was so keen
    That all things which he'd felt, heard, seen,
    He could interpret without fail
    If he was in or out of jail.
    He wrote at Inspiration's call
    Deep disquisitions on them all,
    Then, pent at last in an asylum,
    Performed the service to compile 'em.
    So great a writer, all men swore,
    They never had not read before.
                                      -Jorrock Wormley

INTIMACY, n.

A relation into which fools are providentially drawn for their mutual destruction.

    Two Seidlitz powders, one in blue
    And one in white, together drew
    And having each a pleasant sense
    Of t'other powder's excellence,
    Forsook their jackets for the snug
    Enjoyment of a common mug.
    So close their intimacy grew
    One paper would have held the two.
    To confidences straight they fell,
    Less anxious each to hear than tell;
    Then each remorsefully confessed
    To all the virtues he possessed,
    Acknowledging he had them in
    So high degree it was a sin.
    The more they said, the more they felt
    Their spirits with emotion melt,
    Till tears of sentiment expressed
    Their feelings.  Then they effervesced!
    So Nature executes her feats
    Of wrath on friends and sympathetes
    The good old rule who don't apply,
    That you are you and I am I.

But alas, after some time, we found certain attitudes and phenomena surfacing:

RANK, n.

Relative elevation in the scale of human worth.

    He held at court a rank so high
    That other noblemen asked why.
    "Because," 'twas answered, "others lack
    His skill to scratch the royal back."
                                           -Aramis Jukes

This naturally led to 

DISOBEDIENCE, n.

The silver lining to the cloud of servitude.

REFUSAL, n.

Denial of something desired; as an elderly maiden’s hand in marriage, to a rich and handsome suitor; a valuable franchise to a rich corporation, by an alderman; absolution to an impenitent king, by a priest, and so forth. Refusals are graded in a descending scale of finality thus: the refusal absolute, the refusal condition, the refusal tentative and the refusal feminine. The last is called by some casuists the refusal assentive.

 
It became apparent that there was a lack of balance and that 
certain things were happening:

BAIT, n.

A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is beauty.

EAVESDROP, v.i.

Secretly to overhear a catalogue of the crimes and vices of another or yourself.

    A lady with one of her ears applied
    To an open keyhole heard, inside,
    Two female gossips in converse free --
    The subject engaging them was she.
    "I think," said one, "and my husband thinks
    That she's a prying, inquisitive minx!"
    As soon as no more of it she could hear
    The lady, indignant, removed her ear.
    "I will not stay," she said, with a pout,
    "To hear my character lied about!"
                                         - Gopete Sherany

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.

 
So the arguments continued internally, mostly regarding concepts 
that were symptoms rather than the disease itself:

SYMBOL, n.

Something that is supposed to typify or stand for something else. Many symbols are mere “survivals” — things which having no longer any utility continue to exist because we have inherited the tendency to make them; as funereal urns carved on memorial monuments. They were once real urns holding the ashes of the dead. We cannot stop making them, but we can give them a name that conceals our helplessness.

CONTROVERSY, n.

A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the injurious cannon-ball and the inconsiderate bayonet.

    In controversy with the facile tongue --
    That bloodless warfare of the old and young --
    So seek your adversary to engage
    That on himself he shall exhaust his rage,
    And, like a snake that's fastened to the ground,
    With his own fangs inflict the fatal wound.
    You ask me how this miracle is done?
    Adopt his own opinions, one by one,
    And taunt him to refute them; in his wrath
    He'll sweep them pitilessly from his path.
    Advance then gently all you wish to prove,
    Each proposition prefaced with, "As you've
    So well remarked," or, "As you wisely say,
    And I cannot dispute," or, "By the way,
    This view of it which, better far expressed,
    Runs through your argument."  Then leave the rest
    To him, secure that he'll perform his trust
    And prove your views intelligent and just.
                                             -Conmore Apel Brune

GRAMMAR, n.

A system of pitfalls thoughtfully prepared for the feet for the self-made man, along the path by which he advances to distinction.

LEXICOGRAPHER, n.

A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods. For your lexicographer, having written his dictionary, comes to be considered “as one having authority,” whereas his function is only to make a record, not to give a law. The natural servility of the human understanding having invested him with judicial power, surrenders its right of reason and submits itself to a chronicle as if it were a statue. Let the dictionary (for example) mark a good word as “obsolete” or “obsolescent” and few men thereafter venture to use it, whatever their need of it and however desirable its restoration to favor — whereby the process of improverishment is accelerated and speech decays. On the contrary, recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has no following and is tartly reminded that “it isn’t in the dictionary” — although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that was in the dictionary. In the golden prime and high noon of English speech; when from the lips of the great Elizabethans fell words that made their own meaning and carried it in their very sound; when a Shakespeare and a Bacon were possible, and the language now rapidly perishing at one end and slowly renewed at the other was in vigorous growth and hardy preservation — sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion — the lexicographer was a person unknown, the dictionary a creation which his Creator had not created him to create.

    God said:  "Let Spirit perish into Form,"
    And lexicographers arose, a swarm!
    Thought fled and left her clothing, which they took,
    And catalogued each garment in a book.
    Now, from her leafy covert when she cries:
    "Give me my clothes and I'll return," they rise
    And scan the list, and say without compassion:
    "Excuse us -- they are mostly out of fashion."
                                                -Sigismund Smith

There was a self-fulfilling prophecy made:

OMEN, n.

A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.

It became obvious that there was a severance and this was getting 
us nowhere. 

DEGRADATION, n.

One of the stages of moral and social progress from private station to political preferment.

Someone had to be named, a title that passed through hands until 
it stuck to one or a couple:

ACCUSE, v.t.

To affirm another’s guilt or unworth; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged him.

REBEL, n.

A proponent of a new misrule who has failed to establish it.

 
What was once pushed:

DECIDE, v.i.

To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences over another set.

    A leaf was riven from a tree,
    "I mean to fall to earth," said he.

    The west wind, rising, made him veer.
    "Eastward," said he, "I now shall steer."

    The east wind rose with greater force.
    Said he:  "'Twere wise to change my course."

    With equal power they contend.
    He said:  "My judgment I suspend."

    Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,
    Cried:  "I've decided to fall straight."

    "First thoughts are best?"  That's not the moral;
    Just choose your own and we'll not quarrel.

    Howe'er your choice may chance to fall,
    You'll have no hand in it at all.
-G.J.

ALLEGIANCE, n.

    This thing Allegiance, as I suppose,
    Is a ring fitted in the subject's nose,
    Whereby that organ is kept rightly pointed
    To smell the sweetness of the Lord's anointed.

…was settled in some ways, although undesirably to some. Certain 
things were lost:

TRUST, n.

In American politics, a large corporation composed in greater part of thrifty working men, widows of small means, orphans in the care of guardians and the courts, with many similar malefactors and public enemies.

 
As some things became clearer:

HYPOCRITE, n.

One who, professing virtues that he does not respect, secures the advantage of seeming to be what he depises.

 
And so things followed:

EXCOMMUNICATION, n.

    This "excommunication" is a word
    In speech ecclesiastical oft heard,
    And means the damning, with bell, book and candle,
    Some sinner whose opinions are a scandal --
    A rite permitting Satan to enslave him
    Forever, and forbidding Christ to save him.
                                                            Gat Huckle

DISSEMBLE, v.i.

To put a clean shirt upon the character.

    Let us dissemble.

Certain attempts were either not made or not made “well enough” 
in the eyes of those involved.

APOLOGIZE, v.i.

To lay the foundation for a future offence.

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.

 
However, there is something bigger involved that has a presence 
and consciousness all its own:

ACCOUNTABILITY, n.

The mother of caution.

    "My accountability, bear in mind,"
        Said the Grand Vizier:  "Yes, yes,"
    Said the Shah:  "I do -- 'tis the only kind
        Of ability you possess."
                                            -Joram Tate
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