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

Page 153

  In their vocabularies of opprobrium and profanity English and Americans diverge sharply. The English mucker, rotter and blighter are practically unknown in America, and there are various American equivalents that are never heart in England. A guy, in the American vulgate, simply signifies a man; there is not necessarily any disparaging significance. But in English, high or low, it means one who is making a spectacle of himself. When G. K. Chesterton toured the United States, in 1920-21, “some reporter in the West referred to him as a regular guy. At first Mr. Chesterton was for going after the fellow with a stick. Certainly a topsy-turvy land, the United States, where you can’t tell opprobrium from flattering compliment.” 59 The American derivative verb, to guy, is unknown in English; its nearest equivalent is to spoof, which is used in the United States only as a conscious Briticism. The average American, I believe, has a larger profane vocabulary than the average Englishman, and swears rather more, but he attempts an amelioration of many of his oaths by softening them to forms with no apparent meaning. Darn (= dern = durn) for damn is apparently of English origin, but it is heard ten thousand times in America to once in England. So is dog-gone. Such euphemistic written forms as damphool, helluva and damfino are also far more common in this country. 60 All-fired for hell-fired, gee-whiz for Jesus, tarnal for eternal, tarnation for damnation, cuss for curse, holy gee for holy Jesus, cussword for curse-word, goldarned for God-damned, by gosh for by God, great Scott for great God, and what’ell for what the hell are all Americanisms; Thornton has traced all-fired to 1835, tarnation to 1801 and tarnal to 1790; Tucker says that blankety is also American. By golly has been found in England so early as 1843, but it probably originated in America; down to the Civil War it was the characteristic