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.
HADES, n. The lower world; the residence of departed spirits; the
place where the dead live.
Among the ancients the idea of Hades was not synonymous with our
Hell, many of the most respectable men of antiquity residing there in
a very comfortable kind of way. Indeed, the Elysian Fields themselves
were a part of Hades, though they have since been removed to Paris.
When the Jacobean version of the New Testament was in process of
evolution the pious and learned men engaged in the work insisted by a
majority vote on translating the Greek word "Aides" as "Hell"; but a
conscientious minority member secretly possessed himself of the record
and struck out the objectional word wherever he could find it. At the
next meeting, the Bishop of Salisbury, looking over the work, suddenly
sprang to his feet and said with considerable excitement: "Gentlemen,
somebody has been razing ‘Hell’ here!" Years afterward the good
prelate’s death was made sweet by the reflection that he had been the
means (under Providence) of making an important, serviceable and
immortal addition to the phraseology of the English tongue.
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. At one time
hag was not a word of reproach: Drayton speaks of a "beautiful hag,
all smiles," much as Shakespeare said, "sweet wench." It would not
now be proper to call your sweetheart a hag – that compliment is
reserved for the use of her grandchildren.
HALF, n. One of two equal parts into which a thing may be divided, or
considered as divided. In the fourteenth century a heated discussion
arose among theologists and philosophers as to whether Omniscience
could part an object into three halves; and the pious Father
Aldrovinus publicly prayed in the cathedral at Rouen that God would
demonstrate the affirmative of the proposition in some signal and
unmistakable way, and particularly (if it should please Him) upon the
body of that hardy blasphemer, Manutius Procinus, who maintained the
negative. Procinus, however, was spared to die of the bite of a
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 mitre,
or the Pope’s tiara. In the painting of the Nativity, by Szedgkin, a
pious artist of Pesth, not only do the Virgin and the Child wear the
nimbus, but an ass nibbling hay from the sacred manger is similarly
decorated and, to his lasting honor be it said, appears to bear his
unaccustomed dignity with a truly saintly grace.
HAND, n. A singular instrument worn 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 and intrusted its duties
to the sleeve. Shakespeare’s introducing it into the play of
"Othello" is an anachronism: Desdemona dried her nose with her skirt,
as Dr. Mary Walker and other reformers have done with their coattails
in our own day – an evidence that revolutions sometimes go backward.
HANGMAN, n. An officer of the law charged with duties of the highest
dignity and utmost gravity, and held in hereditary disesteem by a
populace having a criminal ancestry. In some of the American States
his functions are now performed by an electrician, as in New Jersey,
where executions by electricity have recently been ordered – the
first instance known to this lexicographer of anybody questioning the
expediency of hanging Jerseymen.
HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the
misery of another.
HARANGUE, n. A speech by an opponent, who is known as an harrangue-
HARBOR, n. A place where ships taking shelter from stores are exposed
to the fury of the customs.
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 – nobody knows what
HATCHET, n. A young axe, known among Indians as a Thomashawk.
"O bury the hatchet, irascible Red,
For peace is a blessing," the White Man said.
The Savage concurred, and that weapon interred,
With imposing rites, in the White Man’s head.
HATRED, n. A sentiment appropriate to the occasion of another’s
HEAD-MONEY, n. A capitation tax, or poll-tax.
In ancient times there lived a king
Whose tax-collectors could not wring
From all his subjects gold enough
To make the royal way less rough.
For pleasure’s highway, like the dames
Whose premises adjoin it, claims
Perpetual repairing. So
The tax-collectors in a row
Appeared before the throne to pray
Their master to devise some way
To swell the revenue. "So great,"
Said they, "are the demands of state
A tithe of all that we collect
Will scarcely meet them. Pray reflect:
How, if one-tenth we must resign,
Can we exist on t’other nine?"
The monarch asked them in reply:
"Has it occurred to you to try
The advantage of economy?"
"It has," the spokesman said: "we sold
All of our gray garrotes of gold;
With plated-ware we now compress
The necks of those whom we assess.
Plain iron forceps we employ
To mitigate the miser’s joy
Who hoards, with greed that never tires,
That which your Majesty requires."
Deep lines of thought were seen to plow
Their way across the royal brow.
"Your state is desperate, no question;
Pray favor me with a suggestion."
"O King of Men," the spokesman said,
"If you’ll impose upon each head
A tax, the augmented revenue
We’ll cheerfully divide with you."
As flashes of the sun illume
The parted storm-cloud’s sullen gloom,
The king smiled grimly. "I decree
That it be so – and, not to be
In generosity outdone,
Declare you, each and every one,
Exempted from the operation
Of this new law of capitation.
But lest the people censure me
Because they’re bound and you are free,
‘Twere well some clever scheme were laid
By you this poll-tax to evade.
I’ll leave you now while you confer
With my most trusted minister."
The monarch from the throne-room walked
And straightway in among them stalked
A silent man, with brow concealed,
Bare-armed – his gleaming axe revealed!
HEARSE, n. Death’s baby-carriage.
HEART, n. An automatic, muscular blood-pump. Figuratively, this
useful organ is said to be the esat 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. The exact process by which a beefsteak becomes a
feeling – tender or not, according to the age of the animal from
which it was cut; the successive stages of elaboration through which a
caviar sandwich is transmuted to a quaint fancy and reappears as a
pungent epigram; the marvelous functional methods of converting a
hard-boiled egg into religious contrition, or a cream-puff into a sigh
of sensibility – these things have been patiently ascertained by M.
Pasteur, and by him expounded with convincing lucidity. (See, also,
my monograph, The Essential Identity of the Spiritual Affections and
Certain Intestinal Gases Freed in Digestion – 4to, 687 pp.) In a
scientific work entitled, I believe, Delectatio Demonorum (John
Camden Hotton, London, 1873) this view of the sentiments receives a
striking illustration; and for further light consult Professor Dam’s
famous treatise on Love as a Product of Alimentary Maceration.
Heat, says Professor Tyndall, is a mode
Of motion, but I know now how he’s proving
His point; but this I know – hot words bestowed
With skill will set the human fist a-moving,
And where it stops the stars burn free and wild.
Crede expertum – I have seen them, child.
HEATHEN, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship
something that he can see and feel. According to Professor Howison,
of the California State University, Hebrews are heathens.
"The Hebrews are heathens!" says Howison. He’s
A Christian philosopher. I’m
A scurril agnostical chap, if you please,
Addicted too much to the crime
Of religious discussion in my rhyme.
Though Hebrew and Howison cannot agree
On a modus vivendi – not they! –
Yet Heaven has had the designing of me,
And I haven’t been reared in a way
To joy in the thick of the fray.
For this of my creed is the soul and the gist,
And the truth of it I aver:
Who differs from me in his faith is an ‘ist,
And ‘ite, an ‘ie, or an ‘er –
And I’m down upon him or her!
Let Howison urge with perfunctory chin
Toleration – that’s all very well,
But a roast is "nuts" to his nostril thin,
And he’s running – I know by the smell –
A secret and personal Hell!
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.
HEBREW, n. A male Jew, as distinguished from the Shebrew, an
altogether superior creation.
HELPMATE, n. A wife, or bitter half.
"Now, why is yer wife called a helpmate, Pat?"
Says the priest. "Since the time ‘o yer wooin’
She’s niver [sic] assisted in what ye were at –
For it’s naught ye are ever doin’."
"That’s true of yer Riverence [sic]," Patrick replies,
And no sign of contrition envices;
"But, bedad, it’s a fact which the word implies,
For she helps to mate the expinses [sic]!"
HEMP, n. A plant from whose fibrous bark is made an article of
neckwear which is frequently put on after public speaking in the open
air and prevents the wearer from taking cold.
HERMIT, n. A person whose vices and follies are not sociable.
HERS, pron. His.
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. Three or four
centuries ago, in England, no fact was better attested than that
swallows passed the winter months in the mud at the bottom of their
brooks, clinging together in globular masses. They have apparently
been compelled to give up the custom and account of the foulness of
the brooks. Sotus Ecobius discovered in Central Asia a whole nation
of people who hibernate. By some investigators, the fasting of Lent
is supposed to have been originally a modified form of hibernation, to
which the Church gave a religious significance; but this view was
strenuously opposed by that eminent authority, Bishop Kip, who did not
wish any honors denied to the memory of the Founder of his family.
HIPPOGRIFF, n. An animal (now extinct) which was half horse and half
griffin. The griffin was itself a compound creature, half lion and
half eagle. The hippogriff was actually, therefore, a one-quarter
eagle, which is two dollars and fifty cents in gold. The study of
zoology is full of surprises.
HISTORIAN, n. A broad-gauge gossip.
HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant,
which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly
Of Roman history, great Niebuhr’s shown
‘Tis nine-tenths lying. Faith, I wish ’twere known,
Ere we accept great Niebuhr as a guide,
Wherein he blundered and how much he lied.
HOG, n. A bird remarkable for the catholicity of its appetite and
serving to illustrate that of ours. Among the Mahometans and Jews,
the hog is not in favor as an article of diet, but is respected for
the delicacy and the melody of its voice. It is chiefly as a songster
that the fowl is esteemed; the cage of him in full chorus has been
known to draw tears from two persons at once. The scientific name of
this dicky-bird is Porcus Rockefelleri. Mr. Rockefeller did not
discover the hog, but it is considered his by right of resemblance.
HOMOEOPATHIST, n. The humorist of the medical profession.
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 they
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 – the classification is for
advantage of the lawyers.
HOMILETICS, n. The science of adapting sermons to the spiritual
needs, capacities and conditions of the congregation.
So skilled the parson was in homiletics
That all his normal purges and emetics
To medicine the spirit were compounded
With a most just discrimination founded
Upon a rigorous examination
Of tongue and pulse and heart and respiration.
Then, having diagnosed each one’s condition,
His scriptural specifics this physician
Administered – his pills so efficacious
And pukes of disposition so vivacious
That souls afflicted with ten kinds of Adam
Were convalescent ere they knew they had ’em.
But Slander’s tongue – itself all coated – uttered
Her bilious mind and scandalously muttered
That in the case of patients having money
The pills were sugar and the pukes were honey.
Biography of Bishop Potter
HONORABLE, adj. Afflicted with an impediment in one’s reach. In
legislative bodies it is customary to mention all members as
honorable; as, "the honorable gentleman is a scurvy cur."
HOPE, n. Desire and expectation rolled into one.
Delicious Hope! when naught to man it left –
Of fortune destitute, of friends bereft;
When even his dog deserts him, and his goat
With tranquil disaffection chews his coat
While yet it hangs upon his back; then thou,
The star far-flaming on thine angel brow,
Descendest, radiant, from the skies to hint
The promise of a clerkship in the Mint.
HOSPITALITY, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain
persons who are not in need of food and lodging.
HOSTILITY, n. A peculiarly sharp and specially applied sense of the
earth’s overpopulation. Hostility is classified as active and
passive; as (respectively) the feeling of a woman for her female
friends, and that which she entertains for all the rest of her sex.
HOURI, n. A comely female inhabiting the Mohammedan Paradise to make
things cheery for the good Mussulman, whose belief in her existence
marks a noble discontent with his earthly spouse, whom he denies a
soul. By that good lady the Houris are said to be held in deficient
HOUSE, n. A hollow edifice erected for the habitation of man, rat,
mouse, beelte, 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 appal the hardy visitor. House-maid, a
youngerly 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.
HOUSELESS, adj. Having paid all taxes on household goods.
HOVEL, n. The fruit of a flower called the Palace.
Twaddle had a hovel,
Twiddle had a palace;
Twaddle said: "I’ll grovel
Or he’ll think I bear him malice" –
A sentiment as novel
As a castor on a chalice.
Down upon the middle
Of his legs fell Twaddle
And astonished Mr. Twiddle,
Who began to lift his noddle.
Feed upon the fiddle-
Faddle flummery, unswaddle
A new-born self-sufficiency and think himself a [mockery.]
HUMANITY, n. The human race, collectively, exclusive of the
HUMORIST, n. A plague that would have softened down the hoar
austerity of Pharaoh’s heart and persuaded him to dismiss Israel with
his best wishes, cat-quick.
Lo! the poor humorist, whose tortured mind
See jokes in crowds, though still to gloom inclined –
Whose simple appetite, untaught to stray,
His brains, renewed by night, consumes by day.
He thinks, admitted to an equal sty,
A graceful hog would bear his company.
HURRICANE, n. An atmospheric demonstration once very common but now
generally abandoned for the tornado and cyclone. The hurricane is
still in popular use in the West Indies and is preferred by certain
old-fashioned sea-captains. It is also used in the construction of
the upper decks of steamboats, but generally speaking, the hurricane’s
usefulness has outlasted it.
HURRY, n. The dispatch of bunglers.
HUSBAND, n. One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the
HYBRID, n. A pooled issue.
HYDRA, n. A kind of animal that the ancients catalogued under many
HYENA, n. A beast held in reverence by some oriental nations from its
habit of frequenting at night the burial-places of the dead. But the
medical student does that.
HYPOCHONDRIASIS, n. Depression of one’s own spirits.
Some heaps of trash upon a vacant lot
Where long the village rubbish had been shot
Displayed a sign among the stuff and stumps –
"Hypochondriasis." It meant The Dumps.
Bogul S. Purvy
HYPOCRITE, n. One who, profession virtues that he does not respect secures the advantage of seeming to be what he depises.