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Proud citizen of Moronia

In “On Being an American,” H.L. Mencken proclaimed his “conviction that the American People, taking one with another, constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages, and that they grow more timorous, more sniveling, more poltroonish, more ignominious every day.”

This state of things, it turns out, is to be relished because of Mencken’s “congenital weakness for comedy of the grosser varieties. The United States, to my mind, is incomparably the greatest show on earth.” Those “grosser varieties” include “the ribald combats of demagogues, the exquisitely ingenious operations of master rogues, the pursuit of witches and heretics, the desperate struggles of inferior men to claw their way into Heaven.”

What was true eighty years ago remains true today, in secula seculorum, world without end, amen, amen.

Take, for example, Scott Johnson’s defense of Andrew Breitbart: Breitbart was “journalistically shoddy” to defame Shirley Sherrod, but he is right to withhold any apology because he is a target of the “Democrat-Media complex.”*

I am not making this up.

Here’s another. Language Log has been on a romp with various plaster-of-Paris authorities publishing idiotic advice about avoiding what they think is the passive voice.

Today’s post features Doostang, a job-search site that advises not to put on your resume constructions such as “responsible for,” “duties included,” “served as,” and “actions encompassed” because they are “indicators of passive voice.” On Wednesday it was a blogger named Brad Delong offered five instances of passive voice in the translation of Wolfgang Mommsen, all five of which are not passive constructions. There is, apparently, no limit to bogus advice about language usage.

You want more? The dotty Institute for Creation Research proposed to offer in Texas master's degrees in science education from “a Biblical scientific creationist viewpoint.” This was too preposterous even for Texas (for Texas!), which rejected the proposal. The institute filed a lawsuit to overturn the ruling. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks dismissed the suit, remarking among other things that the institute’s filings were “overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering and full of irrelevant information.” (Any copy editor who has ever worked on a daily newspaper will empathize with Judge Sparks.)

It is in my native Kentucky that you can find the crackpot Creation Museum, where “[c]hildren play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.” Pinch yourself and remember that the Scopes trial ended eighty-five years ago this week.

The show, ladies and gentlemen, runs 24/7. And it’s free.



*I, of course, stand accused as a cog in that machine. A commenter on yesterday’s post in which I suggested mildly that the labor of illegal immigrants is a fact of economic life in the Republic that ought to be taken into account tagged me as just another librul, using the blue crab “as a cover for liberal (oh,so sorry, progressive) politics.” I suppose so, but it was that old lefty George W. Bush who put forward a reasonable bill recognizing this very situation, only to be sandbagged by his own party, whose addiction to nativist demagogy has cost it valuable Latino votes. Delicious.




Posted by John McIntyre at 12:04 PM | | Comments (8)


On the crackpot scale, unsound advice on language usage does not measure up to the crazy activities of the Institute for Creation Research.

@Carlson, but we could marvelously combine the two and prescribe as English only those words and that grammar found in the KJV--God's English, if you will.

Mencken himself proved to be as poltroonish as the American people for his rabid pro-German sentiments and his anti-Semitism, which didn't prevent him from letting Alfred Knopf finance his magazine. I believe there is something in the Bible about motes and beams that apply in this instance.

Maundering--there's a good word, now too little used.

Delicioso Mr McIntyre may find it, but presidents of both parties have refused to risk removing illegal aliens from the country for various reasons - political cowardice, courting the "illegal alien" vote, not having the interest in fighting that battle and just plain apathy. This doesn't make the decision right for the nation and has certainly made it worse. Some places on the border, where the wall was built and the patrol is allowed to do its duty, are safer. Others are not and the people who live and work there will be the first to tell you how frightening those places are. It's interesting how many legal immigrants are livid about the lack of law enforcement when it comes to illegal aliens. Many of them worked for low wages to start, and then legally worked their way up. Mencken, I believe, was not unlike any number of men of his time: we see him as anti-Semitic and he may have been, but he also had Jewish friends whom he liked. I can't explain it either. And I stand by my defense of the noble blue - but keep politics out of food and pick your own. Get out your little mallets.

These last two posts have been just what you labeled them: delicious.

I love the word "poltroon." It is completely un-21st century.

I feel compelled, once again, to defend Mencken against the false charge of antisemitism. Although Mencken heaped scorn upon the Jews, he heaped scorn upon everyone.

In his introduction to Nietzsche's The Antichrist, Mencken wrote:

But whenever you find a Davidsbündlerschaft making practise against the Philistines, there you will find a Jew laying on. Maybe it was this fact that caused Nietzsche to speak up for the children of Israel quite as often as he spoke against them. He was not blind to their faults, but when he set them beside Christians he could not deny their general superiority.

And as Gore Vidal observes in his forward to The Impossible H.L. Mencken, "Far from being an anti-Semite, Mencken was one of the first journalists to denounce the persecution of the Jews in Germany at a time when the New York Times, say, was notoriously reticent. On November 27, 1938, Mencken writes (Baltimore Sun), 'It is to be hoped that the poor Jews now being robbed and mauled in Germany will not take too seriously the plans of various politicians to rescue them.' He then reviews the various schemes to 'rescue' the Jews from the Nazis, who had not yet announced their own final solution."

Later, Mencken wrote, "There is only one way to help the fugitives, and that is to find places for them in a country in which they can really live. Why shouldn't the United States take in a couple hundred thousand of them, or even all of them?"

Mencken wrote at a time when it was commonplace in America to identify people by their ethnicity. It is true that he opposed both world wars, as did many other Americans, Germans being the country's largest ethnic group at the time.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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