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

Page 425

the course of time it acquired a naughty significance, and helped to give a start to the amazing button craze of the first years of the century—a saturnalia of proverb and phrase making which finally aroused the guardians of the public morals and was put down by the Polizei.
  The war, as we have seen in the chapter on Slang, produced very little new slang, but the doughboys showed all the national talent for manufacturing proverbs and proverbial expressions, chiefly derisive. “Our American visitors,” said an English writer at the end of the war, “are startling London with vivid phrases. Some of them are well known by now. ‘Hurry up and get born’ is one of them. Others are coming on, such as ‘Put crape on your nose; your brains are dead,’ and ‘Snow again, kid, I’ve lost your drift.”’ 36 Perhaps the favorite in the army was “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” though “They say the first hundred years are the hardest” offered it active rivalry. No study of these military witticisms has been made. The whole subject of American proverbs, in fact, has been grossly neglected; there is not even a collection of them. The English publisher, Frank Palmer, prints an excellent series of little volumes presenting the favorite proverbs of all civilized races, including the Chinese and Japanese, but there is no American volume among them. Nor is there one in the similar series issued by the Appeal to Reason. Even such exhaustive collections as that of Robert Christy 37 contain no American specimens—not even “Don’t monkey with the buzzsaw” or “Root, hog, or die.”