Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Slang Not in Mark's Dictionary


Seldom or never did I hear Mark use slang—whether he thought himself above it in the matter of provoking laughter, or whether he disliked it, I can't tell. He used to keep the Berlin or Vienna embassy, or whatever the resort happened to be, in a roar by telling of billiard balls "the size of walnuts" and of a billiard table "as big as the State of Rhode Island," but such a word as "Biggity" never escaped him.

An American "slangy" person says: "I'll be jiggered" or something. Mark put that phrase differently: "You be damned if I didn't scream like a wet peacock with all his tail feathers mussed."

The ordinary run of humorists delight in fussing about hotel bills. Mark affected to "be mad clean through" at impositions practiced upon him by foreigners, and clenched both fists as he remarked: "We paid the heavy bill, about six cents."

If Mark had used the slang loved by the vaudevillians he would be as widely unread in the Scandinavian countries, in modern Greece and in Russia as are the latter. "I never liked riddles and jaw-breakers," he said to a member of the firm of Chatto and Windus in London one day, after the gentleman "had caught another foreign country for him," "but I guess cannibals and Pollacks alike love to be surprised, and the grotesque, always unexpected, is surprising."

"During my stay in Stockholm some one read the following from one of my books (translated): 'The solemn steadfastness of the deep made the ship roll sideways.' Great laughter. 'And she kicked up behind!' At that the house shook and rocked and quivered with merriment and my fame was firmly established in Sweden. If I had told the audience that 'Her Majesty's dress crept along the floor for three minutes (count 'em) after the queen had gone,' they would have risen to a man and kissed me."