H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 367
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 367
 
phrases to cut no ice, for example, is certainly as good as to butter no parsnips—but their adoption by the ignorant and their endless use and misuse in all sorts of situations have left them tattered and obnoxious, and they will probably go the way, as Matthews says, of all the other “temporary phrases which spring up, one scarcely knows how, and flourish unaccountably for a few months, and then disappear forever, leaving no sign.” Matthews is wrong in two particulars here. They do not arise by any mysterious parthenogenesis, but come from sources which, in many cases, may be determined. And they last, alas, a good deal more than a month. Shoo-fly afflicted the American people for at least two years, and “I don’t think” and aber nit quite as long. Even “good-night” lasted a whole year.
  A very large part of our current slang is propagated by the newspapers, and much of it is invented by newspaper writers. One need but turn to the slang of baseball to find numerous examples. Such phrases as to clout the sphere, the initial sack, to slam the pill and the dexter meadow are obviously not of bleachers manufacture. There is not enough imagination in that depressing army to devise such things; more often than not, there is not even enough intelligence to comprehend them. The true place of their origin is the perch of the newspaper reporters, whose competence and compensation is largely estimated, at least on papers of wide circulation, by their capacity for inventing novelties. The supply is so large that connoisseurship has grown up; an extra-fecund slang-maker on the press has his following. During the summer of 1913 the Chicago Record-Herald, somewhat alarmed by the extravagant fancy of its baseball reporters, asked its readers if they would prefer a return to plain English. Such of them as were literate enough to send in their votes were almost unanimously against a change. As one of them said, “one is nearer the park when Schulte slams the pills than when he merely hits the ball.” In all other fields the newspapers originate and propagate slang, particularly in politics. Most of our political slang-terms since the Civil War, from pork-barrel to steam-roller, have been their inventions. The English newspapers, with the exception of a few anomalies such as Pink-Un, lean in the other direction; their fault is not slanginess, but an otiose ponderosity—in Dean Alford’s words, “the insisting on calling common things by

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