H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
In their vocabularies of opprobrium and profanity English and Americans diverge sharply. The English mucker, rotter and blighter are practically unknown in America, and there are various American equivalents that are never heart in England. A guy, in the American vulgate, simply signifies a man; there is not necessarily any disparaging significance. But in English, high or low, it means one who is making a spectacle of himself. When G. K. Chesterton toured the United States, in 1920-21, some reporter in the West referred to him as a regular guy. At first Mr. Chesterton was for going after the fellow with a stick. Certainly a topsy-turvy land, the United States, where you cant tell opprobrium from flattering compliment.59 The American derivative verb, to guy, is unknown in English; its nearest equivalent is to spoof, which is used in the United States only as a conscious Briticism. The average American, I believe, has a larger profane vocabulary than the average Englishman, and swears rather more, but he attempts an amelioration of many of his oaths by softening them to forms with no apparent meaning. Darn (= dern = durn) for damn is apparently of English origin, but it is heard ten thousand times in America to once in England. So is dog-gone. Such euphemistic written forms as damphool, helluva and damfino are also far more common in this country.60All-fired for hell-fired, gee-whiz for Jesus, tarnal for eternal, tarnation for damnation, cuss for curse, holy gee for holy Jesus, cussword for curse-word, goldarned for God-damned, by gosh for by God, great Scott for great God, and whatell for what the hell are all Americanisms; Thornton has traced all-fired to 1835, tarnation to 1801 and tarnal to 1790; Tucker says that blankety is also American. By golly has been found in England so early as 1843, but it probably originated in America; down to the Civil War it was the characteristic
Note 59. Murray Hill Bids Mr. Chesterton Goodby, Bookman, June 21, 1921, p. 309. [back]
Note 60. Both of the great American telegraph companies have rules strictly forbidding the acceptance of telegrams containing profane words. Some time ago a telegram if mine containing the harmless adjective damndest was refused by both. I appealed to the higher authorities of the Western Union. After I had solemnly filed a brief in defense of the term, Mr. T. W. Carroll, general manager of the Eastern Division, as solemnly decided that the company must take the position that, if there is any question or doubt on the subject, the safest plan is to request the sender to so modify his language as to make his message acceptable. In other words, any locution which happens to scratch the prudery of a telegraph clerk (however imbecile) must be omitted. [back]