H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 149
H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 149
on the cloth. The American, essaying a shot, remarked that he had killed a bug with his cue. To the Englishman this seemed a slanderous reflection upon the cleanliness of his house. 47
  The Victorian era saw a great growth of absurd euphemisms in England, including second wing for the leg of a fowl, but it was in America that the thing was carried farthest. Bartlett hints that rooster came into use in place of cock as a matter of delicacy, the latter word having acquired an indecent significance, and tells us that, at one time, even bull was banned as too vulgar for refined ears. In place of it the early purists used cow-creature, male-cow and even gentleman-cow. 48 Bitch, ram, boar, stallion, buck and sow went the same way, and there was a day when even mare was prohibited. Bache tells us that pismire was also banned, antmire being substituted for it. To castrate became to alter. In 1847 the word chair was actually barred out and seat was adopted in its place. 49 These were the palmy days of euphemism. The delicate female was guarded from all knowledge, and even from all suspicion, of evil. “To utter aloud in her presence the word shirt,” says one historian, “was an open insult.” 50 Mrs. Trollope, writing in 1832, tells of “a young German gentleman of perfectly good manners” who “offended one of the principal families … by having pronounced the word corset before the ladies of it.” 51 The word woman, in those sensitive days, became a term of reproach, comparable to the German mensch: the uncouth female took its place. 52 In the same way the legs of the fair became limbs and their breasts bosoms, and lady
Note 47.  Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug” is called “The Golden Beetle” in England. Twenty-five years ago an Englishman named Buggey, laboring under the odium attached to the name, had it changed to Norfolk-Howard, a compound made up of the title and family name of the Duke of Norfolk. The wits of London at once doubled his misery by adopting Norfolk-Howard as a euphemism for bed-bug. [back]
Note 48.  A recent example of the use of male-cow was quoted in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 17, 1917, advertising page 24. [back]
Note 49.  The New York Organ (a “family journal devoted to temperance, morality, education and general literature”), May 29, 1847. One of the editors of this delicate journal was T. S. Arthur, author of Ten Nights in a Bar-room. [back]
Note 50.  John Graham Brooks: As Others See Us; New York, 1908, p. 11. [back]
Note 51.  Domestic Manners of the Americans, 2 vols.; London, 1832; vol. i, p. 132. [back]
Note 52.  Female, of course, was epidemic in England too, but White says that it was “not a Briticism,” and so early as 1839 the Legislature of Maryland expunged it from the title of a bill “to protect the reputation of unmarried females,” substituting women, on the ground that female “was an Americanism in that application.” [back]


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