The Wasp/January 2, 1886
To certain worthy correspondents blessed, apparently, with abundant leisure to prepare for another and a better world, and generously willing to devote a share of it to the guidance and admonition of the Wasp in its course through this world, I beg leave to say: Let us begin the new year with a clear understanding. I am not the editor of this paper. For months I have not written its editorial articles. I have nothing to do with its editorial management. Gentlemen, the new year brings new duties and new pleasures. Change is a law of nature — let us now mind your business.
Alas, alas, for the tourist’s guide!—
He turned from the beaten trail aside,
Wandered bewildered, lay down and died.
O grim is the Irony of Fate:
It cinches the man of low estate
And puts the kibosh upon the great.
It lights the fireman to roast the cook;
The fisherman squirms upon the hook.
And the flirt is slain with a tender look.
The undertaker it overtakes;
It saddles the cavalier and makes
The haughtiest butcher into steaks.
Assist me, gods, to balk the decree.
Nothing I’ll do and nothing I’ll be.
In order that nothing be done to me.
The young embezzler of Colorado who recently tied his wife to the metals of a railroad and, going from bad to worse, brought up in Oakland, must have had a notable knack at allaying suspicion; for all the time that he was enjoying and profiting by the confidence of his employers he was, it seems, “moving in the best society of Leadville.” What could they have been thinking of? — those employers.
“The body of Ryan,” saith a reporter, concerning the boiler explosion at Lake Merced, “was taken to his late home.” Yes, and there laid upon his late bed and relieved of his late boots. What! was the home killed, too?
This ridiculous phrase is universal: it pervades all literature, from Sansome street to Van Ness avenue. The death notices in the daily press are full of—“funerals from his late residence.” Is it surprising, brethren, that “everybody thinks he can write,” when everybody sees how little sense, how little thought, how little knowledge are required in writing! The truth is everybody can write. As you do, gentlemen, as you do.
Look what ye do ye “mob of gentlemen who write with ease”—what you do constantly and, I think, conscientiously. You write “donate” for give, or present; “dove” for dived; “most” for almost—“most all of them,” “he is most there”; “or” for nor—“he could not go or stay”; “still continues “ for continues; “calculated” for likely—“an action calculated to injure himself”; “liable” for likely—“the gun is liable to go off”; “bet,” “wet,” “wed” and “ quit” for betted, wetted, wedded and quitted, and “knit” for knitted; “quit” does duty, also, for stop and stopped —“he quit drinking”—which, by the way, none of you do.
Pardon me, friends—I had to take breath; your ignorances are so joyous a theme that I fatigue myself trying to record them as fast as they occur to me. “Avocation” for vocation. “Avocation” means, not a pursuit but the opposite: that which interrupts a pursuit. trade is not a merchant’s avocation, but baseball may be if he has the misfortune to like it. “Transpire” for occur; “show” for chance, or opportunity; “literally” for figuratively—“the stream was literally full of fish”; “phenomenal” for extraordinary, and “phenomenon” for prodigy. Everything about you, good Mr. Reporter, is a phenomenon and you are yourself one, but I’ll be hanged if you are a prodigy. I’ll be hanged anyhow if I can’t escape your English otherwise.
“Gotten” for got. This is one of the most irritating of survivals. For ages there has been no such word as “gotten.” In “begotten,” “ill— begotten,” etc., vestiges of its existence are preserved, but not in our time has anybody said “gotten” who knows what he says and why he says it. May the devil fly away with “gotten”! “Mad” for angry; “crazy” for mad; “clever” for amiable ; “leniency” for lenity; “claim” followed by a verb, or the conjunction “that”—“I claim to be a Democrat,” “he claims that he is a Democrat”; “plead” (pronounced pled, I suppose) for pleaded ; “apt” for likely—“it is apt to explode.” What is there objectionable in the word “likely” that we should be loth to use it? I have already set down in this index expurgatorius three criminal substitutes for it, in general use. Police! police!
Enter a policeman azure with buttons or and a nose gules. The Policeman: “Where is he?” The Writer: “Where is he not?”
“Rendition” for rendering, or impersonation; “tragedy” for any event attended with death. A local writer once used the word in that sense fifty-one times in a single newspaper column, and if you had asked him to define the word “Sophocles” he would probably have answered that it was a kind of wash made of slippery elm. “Dirt” for earth; “through” for done—“he was through speaking”; continued for discontinued—“the case was continued till Monday next.” This is lawyer’s English, a noble example. “Expect” for suspect—“I expect he has gone”; “raise” for grow, breed, rear, bring up, etc.—“she just raised”—no, that would not be an illustration in point.
I do not know to what length I might extend this abominable list by taking thought; these “frightful examples” are merely such as occur to me as I write. Their use in this country is of alarming prevalence; English writers use none of them—a statement which, I submit, is not adequately controverted by crying “dude,” nor by pointing out the fact that British gold is being imported into this country to “strike down silver.” It seems to me one of the most singular things in nature that we may almost be said to have no mother tongue, in America. In the difficulty we have in acquiring it, even the few of us who ever do acquire it, English has to us the character of a foreign language. I know of no similar instance in the world—a whole nation with no spontaneous language. The fact staggers me: I can find no explanation. It is not that an American finds a difficulty in speaking English as the English do; that is natural enough; but that he finds a difficulty in speaking it as Americans do. In short, we have no aptitude for expression, no happy and unconscious knack at imparting ideas; and when I contemplate what we have achieved in literature despite this crushing disability, I am lost in admiration of those to me partly unknown qualities which have succeeded against such fearful odds. It is like success by a painter born color-blind.
“I make it a year of jubilee,”
The Pope with high joyousness wrote;
And yesterday, promptly, Frank M. P.
Was abroad in a steel-pen coat!
There are typographical errors that are worse than crimes, and one was committed the other day by a country newspaper when it congratulated a prominent citizen who had just been initiated into Masonry upon having “attained the goat of his ambition.”
When Mr. Everhard was made
Postmaster at Milwaukee
The man who had to “go” displayed
A disposition balky.
And when he came to claim the place
Received him with a kick.
That sent him whirling into space
And cut him to the quick.
Skylong as that successor sped,
“A star-route!” the incumbent said.
They are proposing now to employ bloodhounds to hunt the intangible Apache. A good plan, a very admirable plan, Messrs. Generals, for the immediate purpose: but afterward ! Are all these dogs to reenter civil life as “colonels”?
Those communities are said to be enlightened which contain a majority of enlightened citizens, and in which the base and senseless are in a minority. — Chronicle.
Have the goodness, neighbor, to mention the name of a country like that; we want to send over some sample copies of the Wasp.
O Harry McD., how you brandished the tongue
And thundered you’d “lop every fungus!”
But Clunie ensued as your lopper you swung,
And now you are opticus bunpus.
The holy men of the Congregational Club powwowed long, but could not unanimate, for they were inspired variously and singlewise. Some, finding comfort in the wrath of God, held that laymen were worthy to be admitted to a share of the advantages—that it was the parson’s duty to “deal damnation round” from the preach-box, instead of keeping it all for himself to woo the Lord’s unanointed by blandishment of everlasting flame. Others, holding hard by the thesis that God is love, favored a policy of surprise: the conscience of the layman to be eased with assurance of the divine esteem, even to the gates of death and the incurring of the celestial grand bounce. They fought it out, the wrathers and the lovers— they strove strenuously and executed mighty feats of tongue, but neither side prevailed. Their necks were clothed with thunder worse than Job’s war-horse; they roared like bulls of Bashan and pawed the plain till all was dim with desolating banks of driving dust and clattered their horns like castanets. But the more they fought, the less they did agree. Then rose in their midst one Rowell, a man of peace, who caught the Chairman’s eye with an inkstand and thus began: “Brethren, ye all are right, and none differs with the rest. Behold, I reconcile your seeming variance: The wrath of God is a trusty weapon: it subdueth the layman. Preach it lovingly.” And they were as one man.
The Mercantile Library lowers its dues—
“A step,” says the Chronicle, “long demanded
By public opinion.” ‘Tis surely no news
That A wishes B to be more open-handed.
I observe that Mr. Morrow has prepared a bill providing for the exchange of punched, clipped and otherwise mutilated coins for whole ones. I hope Congress will pass that bill forthwith: I have myself a number of clipped coins that nobody will take, and an excellent apparatus for clipping more. It will be no trouble at all: I am willing to clip every coin I can get, and will do custom-clipping in a neat and workmanlike manner for the clippings.
(Source: Archive.org: https://archive.org/stream/waspjanjune188616unse#page/n12/mode/1up)