Baltimore Evening Sun (29 May 1911): 6.


Contributions to the new vocabulary of boomery:

One of the problems which the new American Academy of Arts and Letters must tackle soon is that concerning the proper pronunciation, in American, of the word cafe. This word, as everyone knows, is merely the French form of the Arabic substantive, quhwe, from which our word coffee is also derived, but it has come to mean not only coffee bean and its watery decoction, but also a place in which coffee is drunk, and, in general, a place in which any stimulant is drunk, and it is in this last sense that it is always used by Americans. Cafe, indeed, is now the most common of all American names for drinking places. In our larger cities it has almost entirely supplanted saloon, tavern, exchange, place and barroom.

The Germans, English, Russians, Huns and Scandinavians, borrowing cafe as we have, continue to give it the French pronunciation, or at least a pronunciation which suggests the French. But the genius of the American language (and of the American people) is opposed to any such slavish imitation. We have long since converted menu into men-yoo, scherzo into shirts-so, piano into pie-anner, lingerie into linger-ee and memoir into mee-more, and by the same token we have converted cafe into kaif, kaff, kaffy and kah-fee.

Kaif is in general use, not only in Baltimore, but also in Philadelphia, Washington and New York, but in Chicago, I am told, kaff is more often heard, and in St. Louis and Kansas City kaffy, with the accent on the first syllable, is the favorite. The use of kah-fee, with the accent on the last syllable, seems to be confined to Buffalo, N. Y. Several other rare forms are also reported, such its cough-ay (Zanesville, Ohio), kaif-fee (Canada), kahf (New York State), and kaf-fay (West Virginia), each with the accent on the last syllable. But kaif (rhyming with safe), has far more advocates than all other forms combined, and when the time comes to decide it will probably prevail. Meanwhile, however, there is uncertainty and the lack of an official judgment is sorely felt by all Americans who would speak their mother tongue correctly.

From paper-shell “soft” crabs and government by newspapers; from expert alienists and the New Thought; from heresy trials and “old-fashioned” administrations; from the anti-vivisection crusade and the works of Orison Swett Marden; from old subscribers and young preachers with translucent ears; from loose bricks and the Harvardocentric theory of the universe; from typhoid fever and the sin of contumacy; from church weddings and the last act of “La Dame aux Camelias”—kind fates, deliver us!

The seven curses of poor old Baltimore:

  1. Her professional prominent-citizens.
  2. A death-rate higher than Panama’s.
  3. The blue laws.
  4. The City Council.
  5. The cobblestones.
  6. The boomers.
  7. Universal manhood suffrage.

More contributions to the thesaurus of platitudes:

From a speech by the Hon. Weldon Brinton Heyburn, of Idaho, in the Senate of the United States on March 26, during the debate upon S. B. 237, a bill establishing the Baltimore, or Puritan, Sunday in Washington:

No man has the right to set himself up as the moral standard of all the community or of any part of the community except himself. As to the use of the Sabbath day, every man, so far as personal acts that do not include any acts of lawlessness are concerned, should be the guardian of his own morals. It was never intended that the law should lay down the rules that should constitute a good man and my that all men must live up to those rules. That never was the intention of the lawmakers, and we discovered it very soon after we became a nation and had organized government and we abandoned that kind of legislation. It was the legislation that resulted in whipping people at the tail of the cart, placing them in the stocks, branding them upon the hands and so forth. It was this kind of legislation under which some person or coterie of persons undertook to set themselves up as the censors of the morals of the people. I thought that age had passed.

A contributed definition of boomer:

A man who talks much, says little and does nothing.

Who will start a subscription to buy typhoid vaccine for the delegates to the “Seeing America First” convention? Certainly Baltimore hospitality must include the reasonable protection of our guests!

From various volunteer collaborators come the following additional interesting specimens of the American language:

In Baltimore, it seems, it is a hard and sweaty job to obtain subscriptions for booms. To account for this fact two theories have been put forward. One is the theory that the people of Baltimore have no desire to improve their city. The other is the theory that they have.

From an evening paper of two or three days ago:

BUREAU TO HUSTLE AFTER INDUSTRIES—M. & M. Association Determined to Put Baltimore in The First Rank

Determined to grasp the opportunity to put this city in the first rank of the municipalities of the world, more then 350 members of the Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association gathered last evening in the new home of the organization, in the Emerson Tower. From the addresses made by the prominent Baltimoreans present it was evident that never before had it been so fully realized what possibilities are attainable by Baltimore as a commercial and manufacturing centre and a place of residence.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

This very article, headlines and all, has been printed in the newspapers of Baltimore, with scarcely the change of a word, at least four times every year for the last 10 years.

H. L. Mencken