Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Slang Habit Is A Vicious Thing

History And Old Stuff...

I have a new old book. It is an 8th-grade reading textbook from 1931, The Roundup, published by The John C. Winston Co. of Chicago. The following passage is excerpted from an article by Maria Leach, titled "Slang and Slang". Here, Maria tells us what she really thinks.

Is your mind, too, such a single-track mind that everything you see is either "cute or "darling"? Do you say a poem is great, your breakfast was great, or your teacher is great? Do you say the weather is fierce, your lessons are fierce, and your teacher is fierce?

If you talk like this, everybody will know that your mind is a shabby thing. If you have only one or two words to describe the world and all the vastly different things and people in it, your speech will betray not only poverty of vocabulary, but poverty of mind...

Words like fine and fierce, in fact all blanket words which are used to cover a multitute of things, belong to one of the most objectionable types of slang. Such silly remarks as jazz baby, sweet papa, and you know me, Al, are labels of a shallow and second-hand wit. And a too free use of slang prevents the mind from acquiring a command over legitimate English.

The "slang habit" is a vicious thing. Not only does it keep a shallow mind shallow, but almost all slang grows cheap by constant use and eventually belittles the things it aims to enhance.

-Maria Leach

Well, then. Let us avoid silly, repetitive slang so Maria Leach can rest peacefully in her grave. Really, I'm surprised she didn't say that such slang would rot your teeth and stunt your growth!

To give the lady credit, she did write in the first part of the article about picturesque, vigorous slang, which she liked because it enriches the language. Some of her examples of acceptable slang are listed below. I've added definitions for a few that may be unfamiliar.

to cross swords
to parry a thrust
to wrestle with a problem
to be in high feather (in good spirits)
to show the white feather (betray your low breeding by being cowardly or slothful)
to have a yellow streak
to give one's self away
by hook or crook
to show one's hand
to be aboveboard
car-whacker (mechanic)
flivver (old car)
tin Lizzie
step on it
hard-boiled (emotionally callous)

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Grant Barrett said...

That's a great extract. Kind of proves why such nay-saying is so useless: slang takes care of itself. It either succeeds, or doesn't, all on its own. "Jazz baby"? Gone. "Skyscraper"? "Close-up"? "Sweater"? Here to stay.

Genevieve said...

Well said, Grant.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.