H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
with sängerfest. There is no mention of it in any of the dictionaries of Americanisms, and yet, in such forms as talkfest, gabfest,79 swatfest and hoochfest, it is met with almost daily. So with -heimer, -inski and -bund. Several years ago -heimer had a great vogue in slang, and was rapidly done to death. But wiseheimer remains in colloquial use as a facetious synonym for smart-aleck, and after awhile it may gradually acquire dignity. Far lowlier words, in fact, have worked their way in. Buttinski, perhaps, is going the same route. As for the words in -bund, many of them are already almost accepted. Plunder-bund is now at least as good as pork-barrel and slush-fund, and money-bund is frequently heard in Congress.80 Such locutions creep in stealthily, and are secure before they are suspected. Current slang, out of which the more decorous language dredges a large part of its raw materials, is full of them. Nix and nixy, for no, are debased forms of the German nicht; aber nit, once as popular as camouflage, is obviously aber nicht. And a steady flow of nouns, all needed to designate objects introduced by immigrants, enriches the vocabulary. The Hungarians not only brought their national condiment with them; they also brought its name, paprika, and that name is now thoroughly American, as is goulash.81 In the same way the Italians brought in camorra, pad-rone, spaghetti, chianti, and other substantives,82 and the Jews made contributions from Yiddish and Hebrew and greatly reinforced certain old borrowings from German. Once such a loan-word gets in it takes firm root. During the first year of American participation in the World War an effort was made on patriotic grounds to substitute liberty-cabbage for sauer-kraut, but it quickly failed, for the
Note 79. A writer in The Editor and Publisher for Dec. 25, 1919, p. 30, credits the first use of gabfest to the late Joseph S. McCullagh, editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. He says: McCullagh coined the word while writing a comment upon an unusually prolonged and empty debate in Congress. No other word in the dictionary or out of it seemed to fit the case so well, and as a great percentage of the readers of the Globe-Democrat throughout the Central West were of German birth or origin, gabfest was seized upon with hearty zest, and it is today very generally applied to any protracted and particularly loquacious gathering. [back]
Note 80. For example, see the Congressional Record for April 3, 1918, p. 4928. [back]
Note 81.Paprika is in the Standard Dictionary, but I have been unable to find it in any English dictionary. Another such word is kimono, from the Japanese. [back]
Note 82. Including, so Dr. Arthur Livingston tells me, policy (the name of the gambling game). Dr. Livingston believes that policy is from polizza, which is immigrant Italian for the ticket used in a lottery. [back]