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

Page 95

restraint. Setting aside loan words, which will be considered later, three main varieties of new nouns were thus produced. The first consisted of English words rescued from obsolescence or changed in meaning, the second of compounds manufactured of the common materials of the mother-tongue, and the third of entirely new inventions. Of the first class, good specimens are deck (of cards), gulch, gully and billion, the first three old English words restored to usage in America and the last a sound English word changed in meaning. Of the second class, examples are offered by gum-shoe, mortgage-shark, carpet-bagger, cut-off, mass-meeting, dead-beat, dug-out, shot-gun, stag-party, wheat-pit, horse-sense, chipped-beef, oyster-supper, buzz-saw, chain-gang and hell-box. And of the third there are instances in buncombe, greaser, conniption, bloomer, campus, galoot, maverick, roustabout, bugaboo and blizzard.
  Of these coinages perhaps those of the second class are most numerous and characteristic. In them American exhibits one of its most marked tendencies: a habit of achieving short cuts in speech by a process of agglutination. Why explain laboriously, as an Englishman might, that the notes of a new bank (in a day of innumerable new banks) are insufficiently secure? Call them wild-cat notes and have done! Why describe a gigantic rain storm with the lame adjectives of everyday? Call it a cloud-burst and immediately a vivid picture of it is conjured up. Rough-neck is a capital word; it is more apposite and savory than the English navvy, and it is over-whelmingly more American. 22 Square-meal is another. Fire-eater is yet another. And the same instinct for the terse, the eloquent and the picturesque is in boiled-shirt, blow-out, big-bug, claim-jumper, spread-eagle, come-down, back-number, claw-hammer (coat), bottom-dollar, poppy-cock, cold-snap, back-talk, back-taxes, calamity-howler, fire-bug, grab-bag, grip-sack, grub-stake, pay-dirt, tender-foot, stocking-feet, ticket-scalper, store-clothes, small-potatoes, cake-walk, prairie-schooner, round-up, snake-fence, flat-boat, under-the-weather, on-the-hoof, and jumping-off-place. These compounds (there must be thousands of them) have been largely responsible for giving the language its characteristic tang and color. Such specimens as bell-hop,