Popular Science Monthly/Volume 68/February 1906/What Is Slang?
|←The Lapses of Speech||Popular Science Monthly Volume 68 February 1906 (1906)
What Is Slang?
By Edwin W. Bowen
|Recent Advances in Meteorology and Meteorological Service in Japan→|
By Professor EDWIN W. BOWEN
TO the purist slang is an unmitigated evil which makes for the gradual corruption and decadence of our vernacular. The pedant who is a martinet regards all slang with absolute contempt and abhors its use, because he believes slang spells deterioration for our noble tongue. Such an one takes his self-appointed guardianship of the language very seriously and deems it his bounden duty as a curator of our English speech, not only himself to spurn the use of slang, but also to inveigh against all those who employ it habitually or occasionally. The baneful influence of slang, he tells us, is sweeping like a mighty tidal wave over the English language, debasing it and corrupting its very sources.
Nor is the precisionist alone in entertaining this alarming view. For many others who are not sticklers for strict propriety and correctness of speech share, to some extent, the same opinion, although they feel no special concern as to the final outcome. However, it is reassuring to reflect that the best-informed among us and those whose thorough knowledge entitles them to speak with authority do not take so gloomy and pessimistic a view of the future of the English language. They inform us that the fears of the pedants and pedagogues—the half-educated—are never destined to be realized.
"Strictly speaking," says Professor Lounsbury, than whom there is no higher authority in America on the history of English, "there is no such thing as a language becoming corrupt. It is an instrument which will be just what those who use it choose to make it. The words that constitute it have no real significance of their own. It is the meaning men put into them that gives them all the efficacy they possess. Language does nothing more than reflect the character and the characteristics of those who speak it. It mirrors their thoughts and feelings, their passions and prejudices, their hopes and aspirations, their aims, whether high or low. In the mouth of the bombastic it will be inflated; in the mouth of the illiterate it will be full of vulgarisms; in the mouth of the precise it will be formal and pedantic. The history of language is the history of corruptions—using that term in the sense in which it is constantly employed by those who are stigmatizing by it the new words and phrases and constructions to which they take exception. Every one of us is to-day employing expressions which either outrage the rules of strict grammar, or disregard the principles of analogy, or belong by their origin to what we now deem the worst sort of vulgarisms. These so-called corruptions are found everywhere in the vocabulary, and in nearly all the parts of speech."
Yet the feeling of the pedants and purists reflects the traditional attitude of professional men of letters in respect to the so-called corruptions that have been creeping into English during the last few centuries. It may be worth while to give some of the utterances of our representative English authors on this subject, showing how great solicitude they felt for the purity of our language in consequence of the increasing slang introduced into English. But before doing this, let us make a brief digression, in order to discuss what is meant by slang, which appears to be the source of the alleged corruptions of our speech.
In the first place one must differentiate slang from cant. It is evident, on a careful analysis, that much of the reputed slang now current is really cant, not slang, in the proper sense of the term. Both cant and slang are closely allied and have a kindred origin. This is the reason for the confusion of the two in the popular mind.
Cant is the language of a certain class or sect of people. It is the phraseology, the dialect, so to say, of a certain craft or profession and is not readily understood save by the members of the craft concerned. It may be perfectly correct according to the rules of grammar, but it is not perfectly intelligible and is not understood by the people. It is an esoteric language which only the initiated fully comprehend and are familiar with. For example, the jargon of thieves is called cant, as is also the jargon of professional gamblers. Slang, on the other hand, belongs to no particular class. It is a collection of words and phrases, borrowed from whatever source, which everybody is acquainted with and readily understands. It is not uncouth gibberish intelligible only to a few. It is composed of colloquialisms everywhere current, but homely and not refined enough to be admitted into polite speech. Such expressions may be allowed a place in certain departments of literature, as familiar and humorous writing, but they are objectionable in grave and serious composition and speech.
Now, slang is reputed to have had its origin in cant, specifically 'thieves' Latin,' as the cant of this vagabond class is called. Indeed, this appears to have been the only meaning of slang till probably the second quarter of the last century. In 'Red Gauntlet,' published in 1824, Scott refers to certain cant words and 'thieves' Latin called slang'; and the great romancer seems to have been fully aware that he was using a rather unknown term which required a gloss. Sometime during the middle of the last century, so Professor Brander Matthews informs us, slang lost this narrow limitation and came to signify a word or phrase used with a meaning not recognized in polite letters, either because it had just been invented or because it had passed out of memory. If it is true that slang had its beginning in the argot of thieves, it soon lost all association with its vulgar source, and polite slang to-day bears hardly a remote suggestion of the lingo of this disreputable class. In so short a period—but little more than a half century—has the word, as well as the thing it signifies, separated itself from its unsavory early association and worked its way up into good society.
Of slang, however, there are several kinds. There is a slang attached to certain different professions and classes of society, such as college slang, political slang and racing slang. But it must be borne in mind that this differentiation has reference to the origin of the slang in the cant of these respective professions. It is of the nature of slang to circulate more or less freely among all classes of society. Yet there are several kinds of slang corresponding to the several classes of society, such as vulgar and polite, to mention only two general classes. Now, it is true of all slang, as a rule, that it is the result of an effort to express an idea in a more vigorous, piquant and terse manner than standard usage ordinarily admits. In proof of this it will suffice to cite awfully for very, employed by every school-girl as 'awfully cute'; peach or daisy for something or some one especially attractive or admirable, as 'she's a peach'; a walk-over for any easy victory, a dead cinch for a surety, and the like. But it is not necessary to multiply examples of a mode of expression which is perfectly familiar to all. Every man's vocabulary contains slang terms and phrases, some more than others. Often the slang consists of words in good social standing which are arbitrarily misapplied. For although much current slang is of vulgar origin and bears upon its face the bend sinister of its vulgarity, still some of it is of good birth and is held in repute by writers and speakers even who are punctilious as to their English. Some slang expressions are of the nature of metaphors, and are highly figurative. Such are to kick the bucket, to pass in your checks, to hold up, to pull the wool over your eyes, to talk through your hat, to fire out, to go back on, to make yourself solid with, to have a jag on, to be loaded, to freeze on to, to freeze out, to bark up the wrong tree, don't monkey with the buzz-saw, and in the soup. But of the different kinds of slang and of its vivid and picturesque character more anon.
Let us now, after this digression as to what constitutes slang, return to the former question of the historical aspect of slang, which was engaging our consideration. Though the name is modern, slang itself is, in reality, of venerable age, and was recognized in the plebeian speech of Petronius, the Beau Brummel of Nero's time, whose 'Trimalchio's Dinner' is replete with the choicest slang of the Boman 'smart set.' The humorous pages of François Rabelais, also, have a copious sprinkling of slang expressions and invite comparison with the productions of some of our own American humorists, who depend not a little upon the vigorous western slang to enhance the effectiveness of their humor. But it is more to the point to cite historical instances among our English authors, especially those who set themselves the burdensome, yet thankless, task of striving to preserve the primitive purity of our speech.
The greatest representative of this number in English literature, excepting Addison, is Swift, the famous dean of St. Patrick's. He was impelled by a desire amounting almost to a passion, it is said, to hand down the English language to his successors with its vaunted purity and beauty absolutely unimpaired. In an essay in The Tattler of September 28, 1710, he gives vehement utterance to his feelings on the shocking carelessness and woeful lack of taste in the use of the vernacular exhibited by his contemporaries. He affirms that the conscienceless, unrefined writers of his day were utterly indifferent as to the effect of their deplorable practise upon the future of the English tongue and brought forward, in proof of his contention, numerous examples of solecisms which he alleged were constantly employed, to the corruption and deterioration of the language.
Swift made a threefold division of the barbarous neologisms which were introduced in his day. It is interesting to observe his several classes of these locutions that were contrary to all rules of propriety. The first class was made up of abbreviations in which only the first syllable or part of the word had to do duty for the entire word, as phiz for physiognomy, hyp for hypochondria, mob for mobile vulgus, poz for positive, rep for reputation, incog for incognito and plenipo for plenipotentiary. The second class included polysyllables, such as speculations, battalions, ambassadors, palisadoes, operations, communications, preliminaries, circumvallations and other ungraceful, mouth-filling words, which Swift alleged were introduced into the language as a result of the war of the Spanish succession then in progress. His third class embraced those terms which were, to quote his own words, 'invented by certain pretty fellows, such as banter, bamboozle, country put and kidney.' "I have done my utmost," he pathetically remarks, "for some years past to stop the progress of mobb and banter, but have been plainly borne down by numbers and betrayed by those who promised to assist me."
Two years later Swift addressed a public letter to the Earl of Oxford, the Lord High Treasurer, deprecating the approaching decadence of the English tongue and earnestly urging some sort of concerted action for correcting and improving the vernacular. The language, the letter recited, was very imperfect and daily deteriorating. The period of its greatest purity, Swift went on to say, was that from the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign to the breaking out of the civil war of 1642. His perturbed mind was filled with mingled feelings of grief and indignation as he pointed out in this letter the growing corruptions then so apparent even in the writings of the best authors, and more especially as he was compelled to admit that not only the fanatics of the commonwealth, but also the court itself, had contributed to bring about the sad condition of the language.
It is not worth while to speak in detail of Swift's fanciful and quixotic scheme for purging the language and keeping it pure. But it is interesting to observe, in passing, that his urgent appeal to the prime minister to become the guardian and curator of the English tongue was utterly fruitless and, what is more, that his direful predictions as to the speedy decay of English have never been verified. Furthermore, some of those very neologisms which Swift criticized so unrelentingly are now recognized in polite speech and bear the stamp of approval as the jus et norma loquendi. Of his second class of barbarisms well-nigh all are to-day accepted as standard English and are without a trace of slang. With his first and third classes, however, fate has not dealt so kindly, for these words are still under condemnation, save mob, which has forced its way to recognition in good usage as a necessary term.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century appeared another champion of the preservation of the purity and propriety of the English speech. This was James Beattie, a learned Scotchman. For some reason or other, the Scotch seemed extremely solicitous about the English language during the eighteenth century—a solicitude that was not appreciated by the British lexicographers and least of all by Dr. Johnson. In a letter written in 1790, Beattie took occasion to speak of the 'new-fangled phrases and barbarous idioms that are now so much affected by those who form their style from political pamphlets and those pretended speeches in Parliament that appear in the newspapers.' "Should this jargon continue to gain ground among us," he assures his correspondent, in a doleful mood, "English literature will go to ruin. During the last twenty years, especially since the breaking out of the American war, it has made alarming progress. . . . If I live to execute what I purpose on the writings and genius of Addison, I shall at least enter my protest against the practise; and by exhibiting a copious specimen of the new phraseology, endeavor to make my reader set his heart against it."
In order to emphasize the damage resulting to the language from the neologisms which were creeping in, Beattie conceived the clever plan of privately printing a series of 'Dialogues of the Dead,' which purported to be the production of his son deceased a few years before. The most interesting of these 'Dialogues' is the report of an imaginary conversation between Dean Swift, a bookseller and Mercury, in which the worthy dean expresses himself as greatly shocked and disgusted at the outlandish English used by the bookseller; and he calls on Mercury to translate the patois into good English. In response to Swift's earnest request, Mercury says among other things: "Instead of life, new, wish for, take, plunge, etc., you must say existence, novel, desiderate, capture, ingurgitate, etc., as—a fever put an end to his existence. . . . Instead of a new fashion, you will do well to say a novel fashion. . . . You must on no account speak of taking the enemy's ships, towns, guns or baggage: it must be capturing." Other words which were censured as improper by this phantom critic were unfriendly and hostile for which inimical was recommended; sort and kind, in place of each of which description was to be used. Some of the locutions then in vogue which especially offended good taste, according to Beattie, were to make up one's mind, to scout the idea, to go to prove, line of conduct, in contemplation, and for the future. Furthermore, the frequent use of feel, which threatened to supplant the verb to be in such an idiom as 'I am sick' and drive it from its rightful domain, aroused the learned Scotch purist's apprehension as to the final outcome, as did also the growing tendency to employ truism for truth, committal for commitment, pugilist for boxer, approval for approbation and agriculturist for husbandman.
No doubt Beattie believed with Swift that the influx of such pedantic Latinisms as desiderate and ingurgitate and the like would result in impairing the purity of our speech and perhaps hasten its declension. Nor did he look with favor on the growing fashion to use monosyllables, though of pure Saxon origin, so much affected by some writers during that period. Both of these tendencies were of temporary vogue; yet they served to arouse the fears of the ultra-conservatives as to the fate of the English language. One might suppose that, dreading the then threatening invasion of Latin terms as they clearly did, they would have hailed with delight the revival of Saxon monosyllables as a favorable offset. But even this did not allay their fears and was rather interpreted as a harmful symptom. Time, however, has demonstrated fully that the fears of those purists were unwarranted and that their dire predictions as to the future of English were founded on a very imperfect knowledge of linguistic development. A cursory examination of Beattie's lists reveals the fact that of the verbal innovations and offending phrases which he put under the ban, the genius of the language has adopted not a few, and that, too, without impairing in the least the purity of the English tongue or its capacity for expressing the finest shades of thought. So far from losing, the language has gained in its capacity for expressing nice distinctions of thought and feeling, as a result of its marvelous absorptive power.
It has thus been shown that in the eighteenth century there were not wanting those—purists or what not—who entertained and expressed no little concern as to the ultimate effect upon our speech of the multitude of neologisms and asserted improprieties that were introduced. Did space permit, utterances of a similar character by nineteenth-century writers, from Walter Savage Landor down to critics of far less renown, might be brought forward as evidence to show that the watchdogs of our speech were as numerous and as alert as ever. Nor is their tribe yet extinct. Ever and anon, even in the last few years, some prophet of evil is heard to raise his voice in vigorous protest against the increasing use of slang as foreboding the decadence of our vernacular. But the warning is not heeded; and the English language, like the real living thing that it is, goes on developing according to the subtle principles of speech development.
The laws governing speech development are very imperfectly known. Consequently none can foretell how a given tongue may develop. The language appears to be independent of one's individual habit of speech; yet it is the sum total of the individual habits of speech that constitutes the language. No man makes a language; no man can make it. Not even the greatest monarch on earth can, by decree or fiat, predetermine the course of development of the language of his subjects. Language is an involuntary product and does not result from any determined concert of action. Yet it is modified and changed by various influences. As long as it is alive and spoken, it is constantly changing and will not remain 'fixed' according to the whimsical desire of the purist. When it ceases to be used upon the lips of the people as a medium of communication of their thoughts and feelings, then it will cease to change and grow and will become 'fixed.' But when a language is no longer spoken, it is characterized as dead. It is in this sense that we call Latin and Greek dead languages, although they survive in modern Italian and modern Greek, respectively.
It follows, therefore, that it is the height of folly for any one, no matter how highly esteemed as an author, to attempt the role of reformer of the speech. Such an one is destined to have only his labor for his pains. He can not directly purge the language of its neologisms and improprieties of usage. These violations of standard usage which offend good taste, strange as it may seem, furnish indubitable evidence of the vitality of the speech; for from these contraband expressions come the new terms and idioms which are to take the place of the obsolete words which drop out of the vocabulary.
Viewed in this light, slang assumes a different aspect, and it becomes evident that it performs a certain necessary function in the development of language. It is no longer proper, therefore, to refer to slang with supreme contempt and to condemn it offhand as an unmitigated evil which ought to be forthwith extirpated from the language. For, as an eminent authority has observed, slang is the recruiting ground of language and is, in reality, idiom in the making. It has been pointed out how some of the slang expressions of the eighteenth century which fell under the censure of Swift and Beattie are now found upon the pages of our best authors and are heard upon the lips of our most polished and elegant speakers. Since this is true, no verbal critic can at the present time affirm of a polite slang expression now in vogue that it is destined never to work its way up into good usage, or of a foreign locution that it will never be domiciled in our speech. Nor can he determine, in the case of a new coinage which is a candidate for adoption into the literary language, just when it is taken over from that doubtful borderland between slang and standard usage.
Seeing, then, that slang really has a function to perform in the growth of speech and, therefore, that it is worthy of serious consideration, let us examine some of our modern English slang and study for a short while its origin and history.
Professor Brander Matthews, in an admirable paper on the subject, divides slang into four classes, and we can hardly do better than to follow his general classification. The first class embraces those vulgar cant expressions which are the survivals of thieves' Latin or St. Giles' Greek, and those uncouth, inelegant terms which constitute the vernacular of the lower orders of society. This is the kind of slang heard in the police courts, the kind the newspaper reporter too frequently resorts to, in order to give spice to his account. It has been introduced into literature by some of our recent novelists, notably Dickens. The second class of slang is not quite so coarse, and includes those ephemeral phrases and catchwords which have a fleeting popularity and which, because they meet no real need, are soon forgotten utterly. They live but a day and pass away, leaving behind no trace of their existence. Of this class are campaign slogans and such inane expressions as where did you get that hat? chestnut, rot, I should smile and many others equally stupid. It is these two classes of slang that have brought the term into disrepute and merited contempt. For this sort of slang is very offensive to delicate ears and justly deserves the speedy oblivion which overtakes it.
The other two classes of slang, on the contrary, are of a finer type and have a reason for their being, something to commend them to popular favor. It may well be that from this type new idioms and phrases are recruited into our literary language. However, a certain stigma attaches to this better variety of slang, also, in the judgment of many, simply because it is slang. Yet it is heard on the lips of educated and cultured speakers, much to the disgust of those who are fastidious as to the propriety of usage. When it is employed in the written speech, the more careful writers brand it with inverted commas, the barbarian earmarks which attest its social inferiority. Occasionally a bold writer like Mr. Howells breaks down these barriers which convention has set up and gives a polite slang expression the stamp of his approval and authority. In this way these social outcasts, the pariahs of our literary speech, are now and then elevated to the dignity and rank of good society, and finally establish themselves in standard English.
Of these two classes of slang serving some useful end as feeders to the vocabulary and idiom of our language by which its wasting energy is to be repaired, the first embraces those archaic phrases and terms which are revived after long disuse and again brought into service. Restored after several generations of neglect, they now appear to be entirely new coinages and are only received as other probationers. The second class is composed of absolutely new words and expressions, frequently the product of a happy invention and, generally, racy and forceful. As instances of the first class may be mentioned to fire, in the sense to expel forcibly or dismiss, bloody in the sense of very, deck in the sense pack of cards and similar historic Elizabethan revivals. Such locutions have a good literary pedigree, now and then boasting the authority of Shakespearean usage. But this is not always apparent and such long-obsolete phrases are, therefore, accounted mere parvenus. For example, in King Henry VI. we read:
Whiles he thought to steal the single ten,
and again in Shakespeare's 144th sonnet:
Till my good angel fire my bad one out.
The vulgar bloody, more common in England than in America, is an inheritance from the classic age of Dryden, who even uses the coarse phrase 'bloody drunk' in his Prologue to 'Southerne's Disappointment.' Swift furnishes a slight variation from this in 'bloody sick,' occurring in his 'Poisoning of Curll.' The more fruitful province of polite slang is the second class which is made up of the clever productions of the present age. It is from the best of these coinages, above all, that the worn-out energies of our vocabulary and idiom are repaired. These raw recruits of slang are severely disciplined and tested by hard preliminary service. If in this test an individual slang expression proves useful and is seen to fill an actual need, it is admitted eventually into the fellowship of standard English. But if, on the other hand, its utility is not established, it is relegated to the limbo of useless inventions where oblivion soon engulfs it.
Let us now review a few specimens of the best type of our modern slang. But perhaps it is safer simply to mention the alleged slang and not undertake to decide which of these expressions are slang and which standard English. For it is no easy matter to trace the line of cleavage between the legitimate technicality of a given craft or profession and polite slang. For instance, are corner, bull, bear and slump, so familiar in financial parlance, mere technical phraseology or slang? How is one to classify such political terms as mugwump, buncombe, gerrymander, scalawag, henchman, log-rolling, pulling the wires, machine, slate and to take the stump? If these are mere technical terms, surely boycott, cab, humbug, boom and blizzard have passed beyond the narrow bounds of technicality and are verging on that dubious borderland between slang and standard English. Furthermore, are swell, fad, crank, spook and stogy to be considered slang or good English? Each of these terms is supported by the authority of some of our best writers. Swell, to cite only one example, is bolstered up by the authority of Thackeray, who in his 'Adventures of Philip' writes: 'They narrate to him the advent and departure of the lady in the swell carriage, the mother of the young swell with the flower in his buttonhole.' Again, how is one to regard fake, splurge, sand, swagger, blooming (idiot), to go it blind, to catch on, and that vast host of similar racy and vivid phrases which, if slang, still do duty for classic English in common parlance?
A glance at some of our slang idioms shows that they are borrowed from the cant of various crafts and callings. Some are borrowed from the technical vocabulary of the stage, some are taken over from the phraseology of sporting life, while some bear the stamp of various other vocations. Take as an illustration fake, or, better still, greenhorn, which has forced its way to recognition in standard English. At first greenhorn was applied figuratively to a cow or deer or other horned animal when its horns are immature. In the 'Towneley Mysteries' it is applied to an ox, for example. Later it was extended to signify an inexperienced person, or one who, from lack of acquaintance with the ways of the world, is easily imposed upon. The former application where the term was used in allusion to an immature horned animal is a legitimate metaphor. The latter use when applied to an inexperienced person was doubtless recognized as an extension of the metaphor and as slang. But the word filled a need in the vocabulary and was at length admitted into the guild of good usage. Another illustration is furnished by mascott, a recent importation from the French. This word originated in gambler's cant and signified a talisman, a fetish, something designed to bestow good luck upon its possessor. The term, despite its unsavory association, somehow has commended itself to popular favor and now seems not to offend the most refined taste. Slump, though not so hackneyed, may serve as an example in point also. As a provincialism this word denotes soft swampy ground, or melting snow and slush. Later by transferred meaning it came to characterize in the financial world the melting away of prices, as a slump in the market—a vivid picture which is more interesting as a linguistic phenomenon than as an actual fact.
The history of slang teaches that words, like people, may be divided into two general classes, high and low, or refined and uncouth. "In language as in life," as Professor Dowden puts it, "there is, so to speak, an aristocracy and a commonalty, words with a heritage of dignity, words which have been ennobled, and a rabble of words which are excluded from positions of honor and trust." Now, some writers select only the choice and noble words to convey their ideas, leaving the coarse and vulgar words, terms without a pedigree, as it were, in the bottom of the inkhorn, for those who desire them. Other writers again have less cultured tastes and do not scruple to employ now and then plebeian words, to set forth their thoughts and feelings.
One might suppose on first blush that the dictionary ought to be a safe guide in the choice of words. A moment's reflection, however, is sufficient to convince one that the dictionary can not be relied upon always for this desired knowledge. It is the lexicographer's office to make a complete register of the vocabulary of the language; and so, to make his work exhaustive, he frequently records many slang words in his dictionary. Yet the practise of our dictionary-makers, it must be admitted, varies widely in this respect, some being far more exclusive than others. Our former lexicographers, as for instance Doctor Johnson, exercised a stricter censorship than is the custom at present. But it is not correct always to infer, in the case of an unrecorded word of questionable usage, that the author excluded it of set purpose. It may possibly be omitted from oversight. It seems to be the custom of our lexicographers now to make as complete a record as possible of all polite slang, but to brand it 'slang.' This plan is, of course, altogether distasteful to the pedants and pedagogues who make a fruitless effort to curb and check the vocabulary of a language by rejecting all words of questionable usage. Whatever is not in harmony with established usage, whatever is not authorized by standard speech, the pedants and half-educated utterly reject. Now, heretofore our dictionary-makers have not been entirely above and beyond this narrow and circumscribed view. It was this fact that prompted Lowell, in the preface to his famous 'Biglow Papers,' to express himself in these vigorous words: "There is death in the dictionary; and where language is too strictly limited by convention, the ground for expression to grow in is limited also, and we get a potted literature—Chinese dwarfs instead of healthy trees."
The truth is, it does not fall legitimately within the province of the lexicographer to settle the question whether a polite slang term of recognized fitness and utility should be deemed good English or not. No man, however competent a scholar he may be, has the right to determine the growth and development of our language. Yet such a practise means this in the last analysis. There are not a few words and idioms in English that have neither logic nor reason to commend them, but are the product of analogy, as it, its and you, instead of the strictly correct hit, his and ye, to use a familiar example; and yet these analogical formations, which at first were mere slang, long ago drove our proper pronouns from the field. This change took place in the last two or three centuries, and that, too, in the very face of the vaunted authority of Shakespeare and the King James Version. No doubt the pedants and purists opposed this change as utterly illogical and contrary to the natural order of development and growth of our English speech; but they were gradually borne down. It is the vast body of those who use the language, the people, not the lexicographers and scholars solely or chiefly, who are the final arbiters in a matter of this kind. It is the law of speech as registered in the usage of those who employ the language that decides ultimately whether a given phrase shall survive or perish; and this is done so unconsciously withal that the people are not aware that they are sealing the destiny of some particular vocable. This silent, indefinable, resistless force we call the genius of the language.
It is hoped that the spirit of this paper will not be misunderstood. The article, let it be distinctly and emphatically stated, is not intended as a brief for slang—far from it. It is written simply to call attention anew to the fact that slang is not to be absolutely condemned as the main source of corruption of our speech, as some assert, but that, contrariwise, it is an important factor in the growth of our vernacular and serves—at least the best of it—a useful purpose in repairing the resulting waste which necessarily occurs in English as in every spoken language.