Friday, January 29, 2021

Quote of the Day (H.L. Mencken, on What He Learned From Cops in His Youth)

“It took a young reporter a little while to learn how to read and interpret the reports that cops turned in, for they were couched in a special kind of English, with a spelling peculiar to itself. If a member of what was then called ‘the finest’ had spelled larceny in any way save larsensy, or arson in any way save arsony, or fracture in any way save fraxr, there would have been a considerable lifting of eyebrows….

“But…their innocence of literae humaniores was not necessarily a sign of stupidity, and from some of them, in fact, I learned the valuable lesson that sharp wits can lurk in unpolished skulls. I knew cops who were matches for the most learned and unscrupulous lawyers at the Baltimore bar, and others who had made monkeys of the oldest and crabbedest judges on the bench, and were generally respected for it. Moreover, I knew cops who were really first-rate policemen, and loved their trade as tenderly as so many art artists or movie actors.”—American editor, columnist, and philologist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), “Recollections of Notable Cops (1900-1910),” in Newspaper Days: Mencken's Autobiography: 1899-1906 (1942)

The iconoclastic journalist H.L. Mencken died on this day in 1956, eight years after a stroke left him unable to read, write or speak. But before his condition forced him into retirement, he had written over 100,000 letters, 30 books, thousands of articles, daily diary entries—all while editing two magazines.

Those who read him hold forth on multiple topics with his high literary style were astonished to discover that he had never been to college. That might have accounted for part of the reason why this polymath had such respect for policemen—men whose street smarts continually enabled them to outwit educated elites.

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