Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"A bung-starter is a beer-mallet" ... Mencken.

In addition to his long career as a Baltimore journalist and the composer of a vast output of essays and polemics, H. L. Mencken was a scholar of the American tongue. Here’s a brief excerpt from Mencken’s seminal “The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States” (Fourth Edition, 1937):

An English saloon-keeper is officially a licensed victualler. His saloon is a public house, or, colloquially, a pub. He does not sell beer by the bucket, can, growler, shell, seidel, stein or schooner, but by the pint, half-pint or glass. He and his brethren, taken together, are the licensed trade, or simply the trade. He may divide his establishment into a public-bar, a saloon-bar and a private-bar, the last being the toniest, or he may call his back room a parlour, snug or tap-room. If he has a few upholstered benches in his place he may call it a lounge. He employs no bartenders. Barmaids do the work, with maybe a barman, potman or cellarman to help. Beer, in most parts of Great Britain, means only the thinnest and cheapest form of malt liquor; better stuff is commonly called bitter. When an Englishman speaks of booze he means only ale or beer; for our hard liquor (a term he never uses) he prefers spirits. He uses boozer to indicate a drinking-place as well as a drinker. What we call hard cider is rough cider to him. He never uses rum in the generic sense that is has acquired in the United States, and knows nothing of rum-hounds, rum-dumbs, rum-dealers, the rum-trade, and the rum-evil, or of the Demon Rum. The American bung-starter is a beer-mallet in England, and, as in this country, it is frequently used for assault and homicide.

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