H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
uncommon names; changing our ordinary short Saxon nouns and verbs for long words derived from the Latin.13 The American newspapers, years ago, passed through such a stage of bombast, but since the invention of yellow journalism by the elder James Gordon Bennettthat is, the invention of journalism for the frankly ignorant and vulgarthey have gone to the other extreme. Edmund Clarence Stedman noted the change soon after the Civil War. The whole country, he wrote to Bayard Taylor in 1873, owing to the contagion of our newspaper exchange system, is flooded, deluged, swamped beneath a muddy tide of slang.14 A thousand alarmed watchmen have sought to stay it since, but in vain. The great majority of our newspapers, including all those of large circulation, are chiefly written, as one observer says, not in English, but in a strange jargon of words that would have made Addison or Milton shudder in despair.15
2. War Slang
During the war, says a writer in the New York Tribune, our army was slow in manufacturing words . The English army invented not only more war slang than the American, but much more expressive slang. In fact, we took over a number of their words, such as dud, cootie and bus (for aeroplane) . During the first year of [American participation in] the war the Americans had no slang word for German. Hun was used sparingly, but only by officers. Fritzie was rare. Boche was tried, but proved to be ill adapted to Americans. They seemed afraid of it, and, indeed, it was often pronounced botch. Finally, after a year all these foreign substitutes were abandoned by the enlisted men, and the German became Jerry. Curiously enough, the word was almost