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Ambrose Bierce The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


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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.

KEEP, v.t.

He willed away his whole estate,

And then in death he fell asleep,

Murmuring: "Well, at any rate,

My name unblemished I shall keep."
But when upon the tomb 'twas wrought
Whose was it?—for the dead keep naught.

      —Durang Gophel Arn

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.

A king, in times long, long gone by,

Said to his lazy jester:
"If I were you and you were I
My moments merrily would fly—
Nor care nor grief to pester."

"The reason, Sire, that you would thrive,"
The fool said—"if you'll hear it—
Is that of all the fools alive
Who own you for their sovereign, I've
The most forgiving spirit."

      —Oogum Bem

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—

a crowd of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great essay of art; but at his touch,

Such sanctity hath Heaven given his hand,

They presently amend,

as the "Doctor" in Macbeth hath it. This useful property of the royal hand could, it appears, be transmitted along with other crown properties; for according to "Malcolm,"

'tis spoken
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction.

But the gift somewhere dropped out of the line of succession: the later sovereigns of England have not been tactual healers, and the disease once honored with the name "king's evil" now bears the humbler one of "scrofula," from scrofa, a sow. The date and author of the following epigram are known only to the author of this dictionary, but it is old enough to show that the jest about Scotland's national disorder is not a thing of yesterday.

Ye Kynge his evill in me laye,

Wh. he of Scottlande charmed awaye.
He layde his hand on mine and sayd:
"Be gone!" Ye ill no longer stayd.
But O ye wofull plyght in wh.
I'm now y-pight: I have ye itche!

The superstition that maladies can be cured by royal taction is dead, but like many a departed conviction it has left a monument of custom to keep its memory green. The practice of forming a line and shaking the President's hand had no other origin, and when that great dignitary bestows his healing salutation on strangely visited people, All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye, The mere despair of surgery, he and his patients are handing along an extinguished torch which once was kindled at the altar-fire of a faith long held by all classes of men. It is a beautiful and edifying "survival"—one which brings the sainted past close home in our "business and bosoms."

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.

KNIGHT, n.

Once a warrior gentle of birth,

Then a person of civic worth,

Now a fellow to move our mirth.
Warrior, person, and fellow—no more:
We must knight our dogs to get any lower.
Brave Knights Kennelers then shall be,

Noble Knights of the Golden Flea,

Knights of the Order of St. Steboy,

Knights of St. Gorge and Sir Knights Jawy.
God speed the day when this knighting fad
Shall go to the dogs and the dogs go mad.

KORAN, n. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.


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