H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
gandish for short words, e. g., probe (for investigation), grab, steal, haul, wed (for wedded), hello-girl (for telephone-girl), soul-mate, love-nest, love-pirate, and so on. He constantly uses up in the somethings up sense, e. g., Dry QuestionUp in Legislature. The popularity of Hun, during the War, was no doubt largely due to the exigencies of his calling. He never uses a long word when a short one will answer, and he never uses articles when they can be avoided. Possibly the omission of the article in such American phrases as up street, all year and all Sunday (the Englishman would probably say all day on Sunday) is largely due to his influence. Certainly, he is an eager merchant of all such neologisms as sub-deb, stand-pat, try-out, co-ed, gym, auto, defi and phone.54
The same motives show themselves in the great multiplication of common abbreviations in America. Americans, as a rule, says Farmer, employ abbreviations to an extent unknown in Europe. This trait of the American character is discernible in every department of the national life and thought. O. K., C. O. D., N. G., G. O. P. (get out and push) and P. D. Q. are almost national hall-marks; the immigrant learns them immediately after damn and go to hell. Thornton traces N. G. to 1840; C. O. D. and P. D. Q. are probably almost as old. As for O. K., it was in use so early as 1790. In colonial days, says a floating newspaper paragraph, the best rum and tobacco were imported from Aux Cayes, in Santo Domingo. Hence the best of anything came to be known locally as Aux Cayes, or O. K. The term did not, however, come to be generally used until the Presidential campaign of 1828, when the supposed illiteracy of Andrew Jackson, sometimes known as the founder of Democracy, was the stock in trade of his Whig opponents. Seba Smith, the humorist, writing under the name of Major Jack Downing, started the story that Jackson endorsed his papers O. K., under the impression that they formed the initials of Oll Korrect. Possibly the General did use this endorsement, and it was used by other people also. But James Parton has discovered in the records of the Nashville court of which Jackson was a judge, before he became President, numerous documents endorsed O. R., meaning
Note 54. An amusing article on the influence of headlines upon American speechhabits, by Philip Littell, will be found in the New Republic, July 27, 1921. [back]