5
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It knows no mercy, spares no man
Spawn of the devil 'tis
It won't depart except by whim
Yields not to tricks or pleas

None know its provenance or purpose
Though theories abound
Hilarity will oft ensue
In places where it's found

A cruel fate awaits those whom it strikes
Though usually they'll live
Discomfort, shame, and helpless rage
Are their lot to receive

So next time you meet a poor soul afflicted
By its strange effects, take stock
Today it's him, tomorrow - you
Be gentle, do not mock!

Name the thing being described.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like IBS $\endgroup$ – paste May 7 '16 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ @paste I was thinking something along those lines, but I think it may something more psychological than physiological. $\endgroup$ – jhabbott May 7 '16 at 1:17
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Maybe it could be

Hiccups

It knows no mercy, spares no man

Everyone gets them at some point

Spawn of the devil 'tis

Some cultures claim hiccups are caused by the devil

It won't depart except by whim
Yields not to tricks or pleas

They're very difficult to get rid of even with many attempts, then suddenly gone. Most traditional tricks, like attempts at frightening someone, don't work out.

None know its provenance or purpose
Though theories abound

There's no agreed-upon scientific purpose for hiccups, but many potential explanations.

Hilarity will oft ensue
In places where it's found

Yep. Just ask anyone who's gotten hiccups in a classroom setting. Pandemonium.

A cruel fate awaits those whom it strikes
Though usually they'll live
Discomfort, shame, and helpless rage
Are their lot to receive

This pretty much says it. Generally non-fatal, of course, but definitely they cause discomfort and helpless rage, and possibly shame as well depending on context.

So next time you meet a poor soul afflicted
By its strange effects, take stock
Today it's him, tomorrow - you
Be gentle, do not mock!

Really, you don't want to mock people for having the hiccups, since you're just as susceptible as they are and you don't want to get your hiccomeuppance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Care to explain more of your reasoning? I will accept a correct solution accompanied by an explanation of how it fits all (or at least most of) the clues. $\endgroup$ – Big Black Box May 7 '16 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ Okay. Give me a minute. $\endgroup$ – Dan Russell May 7 '16 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ Correct! Awesome explanation by the way. $\endgroup$ – Big Black Box May 7 '16 at 3:09
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It could be..

The giggles - that inability to stop laughing when some decorum is needed.

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