The Western states of the Union are, however, as may be supposed, the special areas of slang, not only in conversation, but in names of localities, towns, rivers, etc. A Nevada paper chronicles the departure of a mining party from Reno: “The toughest set of roosters that ever shook the dust off any town left Reno yesterday for the new mining district of Cornucopia. They came here from Virginia. Among the crowd were four New York cockfighters, two Chicago murderers, three Baltimore bruisers, one Philadelphia prizefighter, four San Francisco hoodlums, three Virginia beats, two Union Pacific roughs, and two check guerrillas.” Among the far-West newspapers, have been, or are, The Fairplay (Colorado) Flume, The Solid Muldoon, of Ouray, The Tombstone Epitaph, of Nevada, The Jimplecute, of Texas, and The Bazoo, of Missouri. Shirttail Bend, Whiskey Flat, Puppytown, Wild Yankee Ranch, Squaw Flat, Rawhide Ranch, Loafer’s Ravine, Squitch Gulch, Toenail Lake, are a few of the names of places in Butte County, California.
Perhaps indeed no place or term gives more luxuriant illustrations of the fermentation processes I have mentioned, and their froth and specks, than those Mississippi and Pacific Coast regions, at the present day. Hasty and grotesque as are some of the names, others are of an appropriateness and originality unsurpassable. This applies to the Indian words, which are often perfect. Oklahoma is proposed in Congress for the name of one of our new Territories. Hog-eye, Lick-skillet, Rake-pocket, and Steal-easy are the names of some Texan towns.
Certainly philologists have not given enough attention to this element and its results, which, I repeat, can probably be found working everywhere today, with as much life and activity as in far-back Greece or India, under prehistoric ones. Then the wit—the rich flashes of humor and genius and poetry—darting out often from a gang of laborers, railroad men, miners, drivers or boatmen! How often have I hovered at the edge of a crowd of them to hear their repartees and impromptus! You get more real fun from half an hour with them than from the books of all “the American humorists.”
The science of language has large and close analogies in geological science, with its ceaseless evolution, its fossils, and its numberless submerged layers and hidden strata, the infinite go-before of the present. Or perhaps language is more like some vast living body, or perennial body of bodies. And slang not only brings the first feeders of it but is afterward the start of fancy, imagination, and humor, breathing into its nostrils the breath of life.
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