Death Rates and Boom Dictionaries

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/May 31, 1911

A patriotic Englishman is one who thinks that, because he was born in Bloomsbury, he is a better man than Beethoven.—George Bernard Shaw.

Against the patriotic American that charge cannot lie—for the good and sufficient reason that he has never heard of Beethoven.

Remark by a passenger on a Gilmor street car, on observing a small boy hauling his kid brother in a soap box on wheels:

A many of them patenters gits their ideers from boys playin’.

More freight seen on street-car platforms:

  • A crate of strawberries,
  • A jug of turpentine,
  • Two rose bushes,
  • A broken column (floral).

More examples of the musical American language:

  • I done the best what I knowed how.
  • Jedge, y’r Honor, I don’t see how I couldn’t hadn’t been no mischief-maker, when there ain’t hadn’t been no mischief did.

In the 1500 block of North Gilmor street a humble cobbler displays a great sign: “I Don’t Disappoint. Work Done When Promised.”

Why don’t the boomers steal that sign?


Forget the boomers! Boil your drinking water! Keep your eye on the City Council!


The death rate in leading American cities, per 1,000 of population, in 1909, the last year covered by the Federal reports:

St. Paul . . . . . . . 11.4 St. Louis . . . . . . . . 15.8
Cleveland . . . . . 12.9 Pittsburg . . . . . . . . 15.8
Milwaukee . . . . 13.6 New York . . . . . . . 16.
Columbus . . . . . 14. Philadelphia . . . . . 16.4
Detroit . . . . . . . . 14. Cincinnati . . . . . . . 16.4
Indianapolis . . . 14.3 Newark . . . . . . . . . 16.5
Rochester . . . . . 14.4 Jersey City . . . . . . 16.8
Kansas City . . . . 14.4 New Haven . . . . . . 16.9
Syracuse . . . . . . 14.5 Denver . . . . . . . . . . 17.
Chicago . . . . . . . 14.6 Baltimore . . . . . . . 18.7
Toledo . . . . . . . . 14.6 Washington . . . . . . 19.
Buffalo . . . . . . . 15.2 New Orleans . . . . . 20.2

Room for improvement here! Even in Panama, once the pest-hole of the world, the death rate is now but 14.5. In Paris it is 17.4, in Berlin 15.1, in London 14.0, in Brussels 13.9, in The Hague 12.7, In Melboume 12.6.


Here is another table. The first column shows the population of each city in May 1910. The second column shows the total deaths from typhoid in 1909. The third column shows the total deaths from tuberculosis of the lungs:

Population. Typhoid. Tuberculosis.
1. New York . . . . . . . 4,766,883 560 8,616
2. Chicago . . . . . . . . 2,185,283 271 3,346
3. Philada . . . . . . . 1,549,008 341 2,889
4. St. Louis . . . . . . 687,020 110 1,200
5. Boston . . . . . . . . . 670,585 91 1,044
6. Cleveland . . . . . . . 560,663 72 592
7. Baltimore . . . . . . . 558,485 138 1,268
8. Pittsburg . . . . . . . 533,905 130 576
9. Detroit . . . . . . . . 465,766 92 387
10. Buffalo . . . . . . . . 423,715 99 530

From this we learn that Baltimore, the seventh in population among American cities, is fourth on the typhoid and tuberculosis rolls. New York city, eight and one-half times as populous as Baltimore, has but four times as many deaths from typhoid. Chicago, four times as populous, has but twice as many.


Still another table, this time showing the deaths from smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever and malaria:

Smallpox. Diphtheria. Scarlet Fever. Malaria.
New York 2 1,704 805 41
Chicago 0 680 369 9
Philadelphia 0 511 147 8
St. Louis 0 176 97 59
Boston 1 194 95 0
Cleveland 0 70 31 2
Baltimore 0 76 22 12
Pittsburg 0 82 70 0
Detroit 0 109 100 2
Buffalo 0 103 168 1

Baltimore, the seventh city in population, is ninth on the diphtheria list and tenth on the scarlet fever list—but third on the malaria list.


The lesson is plain. Those infections which yield readily to the efforts of an alert and efficient Health Department are fast disappearing from Baltimore. We have stamped out smallpox altogether and diphtheria and scarlet fever are well under control. Both those diseases which are not so readily combatted by inspection and compulsory isolation—for example, typhoid, tuberculosis and malaria—still afflict us.


To make progress against these diseases communal, as opposed to merely departmental, action is needed. We must stamp out typhoid, tuberculosis and malaria, if they are ever to be stamped out at all, by organized campaigns of prevention. The mosquito, the house fly and other such bearers of infection, must be intelligently combatted. Our drinking water must be made pure. We must make laws that will reach the careless and murderous consumptive. The Health Department, which is undoubtedly efficient in all other respects, is here helpless. It cannot quarantine a consumptive; it cannot purify Lake Roland; it cannot prevent the dangerous home treatment of typhoid; it cannot, without ample funds, combat the mosquito and the fly.


From other agencies help might come—but it doesn’t. The City Council, when Mr. Brown urged it to tackle the mosquito, was more inclined to guffaw. When Mr. Binswanger, in his turn, urged it to prevent the pollution of food in the markets, it roared again. And the Police Department, taking advantage of its prerogative, has quietly repealed the anti-spitting law.


Spit, laugh and be merry, for tomorrow the other fellow will die!


Two things with which the professional boomers had nothing whatever to do: the Broadway and West Baltimore Visiting days. Both strictly non-boomian! Both big successes!


The last installment of the new boom dictionary:

  • Boombard, v, to afflict or harass with a boom.
  • Boombardier, n, an internal combustion rhetorician; a windjammer.
  • Boom-trap, n, the Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association.
  • Boom-bun, n, a jag of enthusiasm.
  • Lese-boomery, n, the crime of snickering at a boom.
  • Boomboozle, v, to arouse with loud noises; to deafen.
  • Counter-boom, n, the natural reaction.
  • Boomer-booster, n, one who reveres boomers; a press agent of a press agent.
  • Boomeroid, n, a half-hearted boomer; one who subscribes but never pays.
  • Boomerette, n, an armed boomer; one who booms by intimidation; a booming brother. (See shrieking sister.)
  • Boomiform Apppendix, n, a useless organ.
  • Saenger-Boom, n, a chorus of boomers.

No more!

(Source: Mencken Society, http://mencken.org/mencken-society/text/Free_Lance/Articles/FL0021.1911-05-31.html)

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