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

Page 154

oath of the negro slaves. Such terms as bonehead, pinhead and boob have been invented, perhaps, to take the place of the English ass, which has a flavor of impropriety in America on account of its identity in sound with the American pronunciation of arse. 61 At an earlier day ass was always differentiated by making it jackass. Another word that is improper in America but not in England is tart, a clipped form of sweetheart. To a Londoner the word connotes sweetness, and so, if he be of the lower orders, he may apply it to his best girl. But to the American it signifies a prostitute, or, at all events, a woman of too ready an amiability. However, it is also of a disparaging significance in several of the English provincial dialects.
  An English correspondent, resident in the United States for half a dozen years, tells me that many American expletives seem to him to be of Irish origin. Son-of-a-bitch, and its euphemistic American daughter, son-of-a-gun, are very seldom heard in England. “True oaths,” says this correspondent, “are rather rare among the English. There are a number of ugly words, probably descendants of true religious oaths, and a few that are merely dirty, and beyond that practically nothing. Sound rather than significance, it appears, gives a word evil qualities. Men have been put in jail for using meaningless words. There is, however, the same tendency to euphemism as in America. Just as God damn becomes gol darn here, Christ becomes crikey there. God damn is rare in England, and Englishmen say ‘I don’t care a damn’ much more often than ‘I don’t give a damn.’ Jesus is never used as an oath, and I never met any of the charming ones beginning with ‘Holy, jumping, bandy-legged, sacrificing …’ until I came to America. A Trinity College man here tells me the Irish don’t say Jesus; but he is the son of a schoolmaster. Without Jesus there could be no bejabers. In England, as I say, damn usually stands alone. God damn seemed as quiant as egad or odsblood when I heard it first. I had climbed into a hayloft without a ladder, and my dear father remarked that one of these days I would break my God damned neck. I think my father, too, realized the quaintness of the oath; usually he, like any