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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 15

whenever a new American play of the racier sort, e. g., Montague Glass’ “Potash and Perlmutter” or Willard Mack’s “Kick In,” holds the boards in the West End. The legends shown in moving-pictures also keep the subject alive. Some time ago, in the London Daily Mail, W. G. Faulkner undertook an elaborate explanation of common American movie terms. Mr. Faulkner assumed that most of his readers would understand sombrero, sidewalk, candy-store, freight-car, boost, elevator, boss, crook and fall (for autumn) without help, but he found it necessary to define such commonplace Americanisms as hoodlum, hobo, bunco-steerer, rubber-neck, drummer, sucker, dive (in the sense of a thieves’ resort), clean-up, graft and to feature. Curiously enough, he proved the reality of the difficulties he essayed to level by falling into error as to the meanings of some of the terms he listed, among them dead-beat, flume, dub and stag. Another English expositor, apparently following him, thought it necessary to add definitions of hold-up, quitter, rube, shack, road-agent, cinch, live-wire and scab, 25 but he, too, mistook the meaning of dead-beat, and in addition he misdefined bandwagon and substituted get-out, seemingly an invention of his own, for get-away. Faulkner seized the opportunity to read a homily upon the vulgarity and extravagance of the American language, and argued that the introduction of its coinages through the moving-picture theatre (Anglais, cinema) “cannot be regarded without serious misgivings, if only because it generates and encourages mental in-discipline so far as the choice of expressions is concerned.” Such warnings are common in the English newspapers. Early in 1920 the London Daily News began a formal agitation of the subject, and laid particular stress upon the menace that American moving-pictures offered to the purity of the English learned and used by children. I quote from a characteristic contribution to the discussion:
I visited two picture theatres today for the express purpose of collecting slang phrases and of noticing the effect of the new language on the child as well as on the adult. What the villain said to the hero when the latter started