H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
semi-occasional, chair-warmer and down-and-out are as distinctively American as baseball or the quick-lunch.
The spirit of the language appears scarcely less clearly in some of the coinages of the other classes. There are, for example, the English words that have been extended or restricted in meaning, e. g., docket (for court calendar), betterment (for improvement to property), collateral (for security), crank (for fanatic), jumper (for tunic), tickler (for memorandum or reminder),23Carnival (in such phrases as carnival of crime), scrape (for fight or difficulty),24Flurry (of snow, or in the market), suspenders, diggings (for habitation) and range. Again, there are the new assemblings of English materials, e. g., doggery, rowdy, teetotaler, goatee, tony and cussedness. Yet again, there are the purely artificial words, e. g., sockdolager, hunky-dory, scalawag, guyascutis, spondulix, slumgullion, rambunctious, scrumptious, to skedaddle, to absquatulate and to exfluncticate.25 In the use of the last-named coinages fashions change. In the 40s to absquatulate was in good usage, but it has since disappeared. Most of the other inventions of the time, however, have to some extent survived, and it would be difficult to find an American of today whom did not know the meaning of scalawag and rambunctious and who did not occasionally use them. A whole series of artificial American words groups itself around the prefix ker, for example, ker-flop, ker-splash, ker-thump, ker-bang, ker-plunk, ker-slam and ker-flummux. This prefix and its onomatopic daughters have been borrowed by the English, but Thornton and Ware agree that it is American. Several of my correspondents suggest that it may have been suggested by the German prefix ge- that it may represent a humorous attempt to make German words by analogy, e. g., geflop, gesplash, etc. I pass on this guess for what it is worth. Certainly such American-German words must have been manufactured frequently by the earliest Dutch comedians, and it is quite possible that some of them got into the language, and that the ge- was subsequently changed to ker-.
Note 24. Thornton gives an example dated 1812. Of late the word has lost its final e and shortened its vowel, becoming scrap. [back]
Note 25.Cf. Terms of Approbation and Eulogy, by Elsie L. Warnock, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, part 1, 1913. Among the curious recent coinages cited by Miss Warnock are scallywampus, supergobosnoptious, hyperfirmatious, and scrumdifferous. [back]