The great Henry Louis Mencken, atheist, sceptic, critic and commentator wrote this in 1922, entitled Memorial Service. Other than the unfortunate use of ‘savage’ (but Mencken would have no more bowed to political correctness, had he encountered it, than to any other manifestation of the ‘booboisie’), and some references to then contemporary Americans, I am hard put to see a word out of place.
Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a time when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus. But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter today? And who of Huitzilopochtli? In one year – and it is no more than five hundred years ago – 50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him. Today, if he is remembered at all, it is only by some vagrant savage in the depths of the Mexican forest. Huitzilopochtli, like many other gods, had no human father; his mother was a virtuous widow; he was born of an apparently innocent flirtation that she carried out with the sun. When he frowned, his father, the sun, stood still. When he roared with rage, earthquakes engulfed whole cities. When he thirsted he was watered with 10,000 gallons of human blood. But today Huitzilopochtli is as magnificently forgotten as Allen G. Thurman. Once the peer of Allah, Buddha and Wotan, he is now the peer of Richmond P. Hobson, Alton B. Parker, Adelina Patti, General Weyler and Tom Sharkey.Read more
Just added a new slang timeline to the selection. This time it’s Mental Instability: http://bit.ly/WbzK7QRead more
New Timelines for Sexual Intercourse added:Read more
I am building a series of Timelines based on the database that underlies Green’s Dictionary of Slang.
These are the links to those currently available:Read more
A talk given to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester as part of a Conference to celbrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the publication of A Clockwork Orange
The phrase queer as a clockwork orange, which means eccentric or bizarre, and can be applied sexually or otherwise, was sourced by Anthony Burgess to late World War II when, as a serving soldier, he heard it in the mess. I am quite willing to believe him: the phrase is cognate with similar slang similes such as queer as a coot, first ascribed to his acquaintance Julian McLaren Ross, queer as a three dollar bill, queer as duck soup, a coinage of the 1930s and oldest of all queer as Dick’s hatband, which seems as impenetrable a construct as Burgess’s borrowing and has been recorded in this sense since at least 1835 (meaning ‘below par, or ‘out of sorts’ it goes back a further half-century). As I say, I wish to believe, but…the problem is that we have no proof. Despite the resources of the Internet, and other than in scholarly articles that quote Burgess himself, the first recorded citation comes as late as 1977, in a glossary appended to a book designed to help policemen battle with the contemporary world.Read more