Thursday, November 19, 2015

“Slang is . . . ”

From a Mencken footnote:

“Slang,” said Carl Sandburg, “is language that takes off its coat, spits on its hands, and gets to work.” “Slang,” said Victor Hugo, “ is a dressing-room in which language, having an evil deed to prepare, puts on a disguise.” “Slang,” said Ambrose Bierce, “is the speech of him who robs the literary garbage-carts on their way to the dumps.” Emerson and Whitman were its partisans. “What can describe the folly and emptiness of scolding,“ asked the former (Journals, 1840), like the word jawing ?” “Slang,” said Whitman, “is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which the froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystalize.” (Slang in America , 1885). And again: “These words ought to be collected — the bad words as well as the good. Many of the bad words are fine” (An American Primer , c . 1856.)

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
And now I think of Julia A. Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan, and her trenchant praise of “Temperance Reform Clubs” and their members:
Those noble men were kind and brave
    They care not for the slang —
The slang they meet on every side
Aw, nerts.

Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : Anglic : “Are you a speed-cop? : Benjamin Franklin and spelling : B.V.D. : English American English : Franco-American : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : Proper names in America : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking Through -thing and -thin’ : The verb to contact

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