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So different in the '20s

My memory failed me the other day when I recalled that H.L. Mencken, surveying what he liked to call These States, determined that Mississippi was the worst of the lot. Turning to the Library of America’s two-volume collection of his Prejudices, I find “The Champion” in the Fifth Series:

“Over half the votes, if the question were put to a vote, would probably be divided between California and Tennessee. Each, in its way, is almost unspeakable. Tennessee, of course, has never been civilized, save in a small area; even in the earliest days of the Republic it was regarded as barbaric by its neighbors.* But California, at one time, promised to develop a charming and enlightened civilization. ... What remains is an Alsatia of retired Ford agents and crazy fat women—a paradise of 100% Americanism and the New Thought. Its laws are the most extravagant and idiotic ever heard of in Christendom. Its public officials, and particularly its judges, are famous all over the world for their imbecilities. When one hears of it at all, one hears that some citizen has been arrested for reading the Constitution of the United States, or that some new swami in a yellow bed-tick has got all the realtor’s wives of Los Angeles by the ears.”

It was all so different eighty-five years ago.


*Historic note for younger readers: Mencken had it in for Tennessee because of the Scopes trial, which he covered for the Sunpapers. There was a time in the early twentieth century when Christian literalists, unable to accommodate evolutionary theory into their rigid interpretation of Scripture, contrived to impose their unsound theology on public school curriculum by legislative fiat. Reflect on how far we have progressed since.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:35 AM | | Comments (1)


Well this was as refreshing as being woken up with a glass of cold water to the face. About as gasp-inspiring, too.

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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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