HL Mencken – Words As Weapons

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

“That night in my rented room, while letting the hot water run over my can of pork and beans in the sink, I opened A Book of Prefaces and began to read. I was jarred and shocked by the style, the clear, clean, sweeping sentences. Why did he write like that? And how did one write like that? I pictured the man as a raging demon, slashing with his pen, consumed with hate, denouncing everything American, extolling everything European or German, laughing at the weaknesses of people, mocking God, authority. What was this? I stood up, trying to realize what reality lay behind the meaning of the words. . . . Yes this man was fighting, fighting with words. He was using words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club. I read on and what amazed me was not what he said, but how on earth anybody had the courage to say it.”

Richard Wright, Black Boy, The Richard Wright Reader, (New York: Harper &Row, 1978), p. 17.

CBS broadcast – Radio Biography 1956

 

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