H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
hypo for hyposulphite of soda, Yank for Yankee, confab for confabulation, memo for memorandum, pop-concert for popular-concert, gator for alligator, foots for footlights, ham for hamfatter (actor), sub for substitute, knicker for knickerbocker. Many back-formations originate in college slang, e. g., prof for professor, prom for promenade, soph for sophomore, grad for graduate (noun), lab for laboratory, dorm for dormitory, plebe for plebeian.45Ad for advertisement is struggling hard for general recognition; some of its compounds, e. g., ad-writer, want-ad, display-ad, ad-card, ad-rate, column-ad and ad-man, are already accepted in technical terminology. Boob for booby promises to become sound American in a few years; its synonyms are no more respectable than it is. At its heels are bo for hobo, and hoak for hoakum, two altogether fit successors to bum for bummer. Try for trial, as in He made a try at it, is also making progress but perhaps try-out, a characteristically American combination of verb and preposition, will eventually displace it. This production of new words by clipping, back-formation and folk-etymology is quite as active among the verbs as among the nouns. I have already described the appearance of such forms as to locate in the earliest days of differentiation and the popularity of such forms as to enthuse and to phone today. Many more verbs of the same sort have attained to respectability, e. g., to jell, to auto, to commute, to typewrite, to tiptoe (for to walk tiptoe). Others are still on probation, e. g., to reminisce, to insurge, to vamp, to peeve, to jubilate, to taxi, to orate, to bach (i. e., to live in bachelor quarters), to emote. Yet others are still unmistakably vulgar or merely waggish, e. g., to plumb (from plumber), to barb (from barber), to chauf (from chauffeur), to ready (from to make ready), to elocute, to burgle, to ush, to sculp, to butch, to con (from confidence-man), to buttle, to barkeep, to dressmake, to housekeep, to boheme, to photo, to divvy. Such forms seem to make an irresistible appeal to the American; he is constantly experimenting with new ones. There is a much greater percentage of humorous shortenings among verbs, says Miss Wittmann, than among other parts of speech. Especially
Note 45. Some of these college forms are very picturesque, e. g., weir for weird (Dartmouth), dent for dental student (University of Minnesota), and psych for psychology (Vassar). See College Words and Phrases, by E. H. Babbitt, Dialect Notes, vol. ii, pt. i, p. 3 ff. [back]