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148
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

used repetition to a fine effect in several of his characters. We recall Mr. Totts', "of no consequence," and Joey Bagstock who is "devilishly sly." Provincialisms and foreign accents enter into the humor of daily life rather than that of literature.

The unconscious distortion of words by the illiterate, the naive and the pretentious adds to the quality of this sort of humor. In fact, whether the distortions are "made" or are unconscious, their humor depends on our apprehending them as such. A farmer who made daily business trips to Richmond assured his neighbor that he always dined at a "first-class reservoir." A colored servant in my own home asked for a half holiday in order to go on a "railroad squashin" (excursion). (What irony in the light of recent events!)

Language much more than custom and manners requires a civilization of some age and stability in order to furnish both the conditions and material for humor. George Meredith[1] has urged that it requires a society of cultivated men and women, wherein ideas are current and of some duration and perceptions quick, that the humorist may be furnished with matter and an audience. "The semibarbarism of merely giddy communities and feverish emotional periods" creates no humor.

Quaintness in language as in other things possesses a tinge of humor. A description of the table manners of a nun or a lady of culture in modern language would be sorry business, but when Chaucer says of the nun

At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle;
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fingres in hir sauce depe.

He stimulates our sense of humor. Here too belong the grave and serious in connection with trivial and prosaic matters, for example the records of colonial legislative enactments and the minutes of their town meetings. Many of the failures of language to fit the thought yield humor; a common type is verbosity. In this connection I give the following:

 

Mt. Sterling (Ky.) Reporter. (Colored)

Dear Editor: Please allow me a space in your momentous Gazette to reciprocate my gratitude to the indefatigably workers of the Evergreen Baptist Church. While sitting in my studio last Friday evening greatly obsorbed in the monotonous problem so-called Negro problem I were interposed by the anthem, "There shall be showers of blessing" which rendered me surprisal happy. . . . After a general parlance I were divinely impressed to descant on the altronistic spirit that should characterize the christiandom. A sumptuous repast followed and all present shaiated their gastronomic desire. Bro. Ben Mitchell distinguished himself by his implacable vorasity. May God bless the members of the Evergreen Baptist Church. Many thanks. F. B.—Pastor.

Opposed to the quaint is the ultra-slang, brusque catch-words and phrases of common life; witness the monologues of "Chimmie Faddin" and the writings of George Ade.

  1. Meredith, George, "An Essay on Comedy," p. 8, London, 1905.