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Harvard Slang.

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

A prominent periodical published recently a sarcastic criticism of the present prevalence of what is called Harvard slang. If we were for a moment to analyze the character of Harvard conversation we would find that slang, if we may so term it, has become a constant quantity in all that we say. Professors "cut" and students "crib." We elect "soft" or "stiff" courses. We get a "whooper" or "plucked" in consequence. We "grind up for the semis" and by means of "guff" and "gall" we "skin through." This really is entertaining but hardly elevating. But where shall we stop? Shall it be when the instructor says "Doncherknow?" or when we meet a friend who declares that "this is all rot?"

Nothing, perhaps, is more natural than for a student newly thrown into relations with, apparently, his superiors, to adopt their customs and their language. The transition from the refined conversation of home life or the puerilities of school life is strangely sudden; they are dropped or intensified almost immediately - and because this transition is so sudden we are led to ask seriously whether the use of Harvard slang is merely an affectation or an unconscious habit. Members of the freshman class may always be relied upon to betray their collegiate standing by an inordinate use of purely Harvard expletives. This would seem to argue affectation. But again the post-graduate will make use of the same terms with only the addition of a rather indifferent drawl in their utterance. This would seem to argue habit. But let us see if another element is not contained in the matter. Every profession whether it be that of thieves or of the clergy, possesses distinctly its class of cant phrases and slang words. This is seen in business and extraordinarily so in the profession of law. Supposing then for a moment that Harvard students are a class all engaged in one pursuit, all using the same instruments and holding before them the one great aim of mental improvement, we see at once from analogy that it would be perfectly natural for a set of cant phrases to come into use, and to occupy a unique position. And this is the origin of our slang. But as to its use. It is possible that our slang words express, it is true not in pure Saxon, a class of ideas not to be expressed in ordinary language. In other words we have slowly acquired a dialect, comparable to that of Romany, which is peculiar to Harvard and naturally adapted to express minor Harvard ideas. To attempt to eradicate this system of language would be to attempt to curtail our expression of thought, for many of the terms have acquired a significance which it would be vain to seek in any words distinctively more elegant. The use of these cant terms clings to us more or less through life and marks us as men of Harvard. The man of '79 is as easily recognized at times as the grave and potent senior who has but just heard the gates of his alma mater close behind him.

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