H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
bum is used to designate an unmentionable part of the body and is thus not employed in polite discourse.
Another example of debased German is offered by the American Kriss Kringle. It is from Christkindlein, or Christkindl, and properly designates, of course, not the patron saint of Christmas, but the child in the manager. A German friend tells me that the form Kriss Kringle, which is that given in the Standard Dictionary, and the form Kriskingl, which is that most commonly used in the United States, are both quite unknown in Germany. Here, obviously, we have an example of a loan-word in decay. Whole phrases have gone through the same process, for example, nix come erous (from nichts kommt heraus) and rous mit im (from heraus mit ihm). These phrases, like wie gehts and ganz gut, are familiar to practically all Americans, no matter how complete their ignorance of correct German. So are such slang phrases, obviously suggested by German, as ach Louie and on the Fritz. So is the use of dumb for stupid, a borrowing from the German dumm. Most of them know, too, the meaning of gesundheit, kümmel, seidel, wanderlust, stein, speck, männerchor, schützenfest, sängerfest, turn-verein, hoch, yodel, zwie-back and zwei (as in zwei bier). I have found snitz (=schnitz) in Town Topics.39Prosit is in all American dictionaries.40Bower, as used in cards, is an Americanism derived from the German bauer, meaning the jack. The exclamation, ouch! is classed as an Americanism by Thornton, and he gives an example dated 1837. The New English Dictionary refers it to the German autsch, and Thornton says that it may have come across with the Dunkers or the Mennonites. Ouch is not heard in English, save in the sense of a clasp or buckle set with precious stones (=OF nouche), and even in that sense it is archaic. Shyster is very probably German also; Thornton has traced it back to the 50s.41Rum-dumb is grounded upon the
Note 40. Nevertheless, when I once put it into a night-letter a Western Union office refused to accept it, the rules requiring all night-letters to be in plain English. Meanwhile, the English have borrowed it from American, and it is actually in the Oxford Dictionary. It is German student Latin. [back]
Note 41. The word is not in the Oxford Dictionary, but Cassell gives it and says that it is German and an Americanism. The Standard Dictionary does not give its etymology. Thorntons first example, dated 1856, shows a variant spelling, shuyster, thus indicating that it was then recent. All subsequent examples show the present spelling. It is to be noted that the suffix -ster is not uncommon in English, and that it usually carries a deprecatory significance. [back]