HOH Word of the Week: Satire

Jason Dick
Posted January 12, 2015 at 5:00am

SATIRE , n. — An obsolete kind of literary composition in which the vices and follies of the author’s enemies were expounded with imperfect tenderness. In this country satire never had more than a sickly and uncertain existence, for the soul of it is wit, wherein we are dolefully deficient, the humor that we mistake for it, like all humor, being tolerant and sympathetic. Moreover, although Americans are ‘endowed by their Creator’ with abundant vice and folly, it is not generally known that these are reprehensible qualities, wherefore the satirist is popularly regarded as a soul-spirited knave, and his ever victim’s outcry for codefendants evokes a national assent.

‘Hail Satire! be thy praises ever sung

‘In the dead language of a mummy’s tongue,

‘For thou thyself art dead, and damned as well —

‘Thy spirit (usefully employed) in Hell.

‘Had it been such as consecrates the Bible

‘Thou hadst not perished by the law of libel.’

— Barney Stims

— From “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce


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