H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 189
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 189
 
Order Recorded. He urges, therefore, that it was a record of that court with some belated business which Major Downing saw on the desk of the Presidential candidate. However this may be, the Democrats, in lieu of denying the charge, adopted the letters O. K. as a sort of party cry and fastened them upon their banners.” There is, however, a rival etymology for O. K., whereby it is derived from an Indian word, okeh, signifying “so be it.” Dr. Woodrow Wilson supported this derivation, and used okeh in approving papers to him as President; it also appears as the name of a popular series of phonograph records. Bartlett says that the figurative use of A No. 1, as in an A No. 1 man, also originated in America, but this may not be true. There can be little doubt, however, about T. B. (for tuberculosis), G. B. (for grand bounce), 23, on the Q.T., f.o.b., D. & D. (drunk and disorderly) and the army verb, to a. w. o. l. (to be absent without leave). The language breeds such short forms of speech prodigiously; every trade and profession has a host of them; they are innumerable in the slang of sport. 55 Often they represent the end-products of terms long in decay, e.g., elevated railway: elevated: el: L.
  What one sees under all this is a double habit that sufficiently explains the gap which begins to yawn between English and American, particularly on the spoken plane. On the one hand it is a habit of verbal economy—a jealous disinclination to waste two words on what can be put into one, a natural taste for the brilliant and succinct, a disdain of all grammatical and lexicographical daintinesses, born partly, perhaps, of ignorance, but also in part of a sound sense of their imbecility. And on the other hand there is a high relish and talent for metaphor—in Brander Matthews’ phrase, “a figurative vigor that the Elizabethans would have realized and understood.” Just as the American rebels instinctively against such parliamentary circumlocutions as “I am not prepared to say” and “so much by way of being,” 56 just as he would fret under the forms
Note 55.  Cf. Semi-Secret Abbreviations, by Percy W. Long, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. iii, 1915. [back]
Note 56.  The classical example is in a parliamentary announcement by Sir Robert Peel: “When that question is made to me in a proper time, in a proper place, under proper qualifications, and with proper motives, I will hesitate long before I will refuse to take it into consideration.” [back]

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