H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 194
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 194
 
and is now also an adjective and a verb. Joy-ride became a verb the day after it was born as a noun. So did auto and phone. So did the adjective, a. w. o. l. Immediately the Workmen’s Compensation Act began to appear on the statute-books of the States, the adjective compensable was born. Other adjectives are made by the simple process of adding -y to nouns, e. g., classy, tasty, tony. And what of livest? An astounding inflection, indeed—but with quite sound American usage behind it. The Metropolitan Magazine, of which Col. Roosevelt was an editor, announces on its letter paper that it is “the livest magazine in America,” and Poetry, the organ of the new poetry movement, used to print at the head of its contents page the following encomium from the New York Tribune: “the livest art in America today is poetry, and the livest expression of that art is in this little Chicago monthly.”
  We have seen how readily new prefixes and affixes are adopted in America. Often a whole word is thus put to service, and such amalgamations produce many new words. Thus smith threatens to breed a long series of new agent nouns, e. g., ad-smith, joke-smith; and fiend (a characteristic American hyperbole) has already produced a great many, e. g., movie-fiend, drug-fiend, bridge-fiend, golf-fiend, coke-fiend, kissing-fiend. Moreover, there is no impediment to their almost infinite multiplication. If some enterprising shoe-repairer began calling himself a shoe-smith tomorrow no one would think to protest against the neologism, and if some new game were introduced from abroad, say the German Skat, the corresponding fiend would come with it. Always the effort is to dispose of a long explanatory phrase by substituting a succinct and concrete term. This effort is responsible for many whole classes of compounds, e. g., the hospital series: doll-hospital, china-hospital, camera-hospital, pipe-hospital, etc. It is responsible, too, for many somewhat startling derivatives, e. g., mixologist and tuberculogian. 69 And it lies behind the invention of many words that are not compounds, but boldly put forth new roots, many of them etymologically unintelligible, e. g., jazz, jinx, hobo, 70 woozy, goo-goo (eyes), hoakum, sundae. A
Note 69.  I encounter this in The Campaign, a magazine published by the Health Department of Iowa. [back]
Note 70.  An etymology for hobo is suggested by H. R. Jeffrey in Dialect Notes, vol. v, pt. iii (1920), p. 86. As for jazz, see English, May-June, 1919, p. 90. [back]

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