a 1926 "Mister Mitchell" (was poon-tang)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Mon Dec 18 19:10:06 UTC 2006

Here is speculation. Previously, I suggested that Spencer Williams might have
made up a word (poon-tang) in his song "Oh! Mister Mitchell." And that maybe
John O'Hara and Thomas Wolfe heard the song in NYC and learned a new
word. That
is yet not proven. Anyway, I wondered if there would be any "Mister
Mitchell" in
the air circa 1927. It turns out that General William Mitchell, Billy
the vigorous proponent of developing US air power and a harsh critic of the
military and the government, was court-marshalled, then resigned, demoted to
Colonel, in 1926. The Feb 10 1926 LA Times headline (Proquest) refered to him
as "Mister Mitchell." Feb 2 1926 LA Times headline: "Mitchell in Swan Song /
Air Critic Now Plain "Mister.'" "One usually abbreviates Mr. but not these
reports, nor the song. But the song isn't about airplanes! Nonetheless,
Williams could have heard of the demoted "Mister Mitchell" and thrown it into
an odd song. The other character in the song: Lindy Lou. A certain Lindy
fellow, identified today at wikipedia as "Charles Asshole Lindberg, Jr."
evidently crossed the Atlantic in 1927. Speculation, merely. A weird in-joke?
Maybe not. In any case, if Williams, an African American, invented the word,
then it did and didn't have its origin in African American speech, so OED two
statements were an omen, splitting the difference. Or something.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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