Saturday, September 11, 2021

‘Mere Strings of Sonorous Certainties’

On Friday I toured my high school, a building I haven’t entered in fifty-one years. The basic structure remains unchanged though what was once the library is now a “fitness center” and the library is now a corner of the “media center.”

The walls in all the corridors are covered with inspirational platitudes, most of which are anonymous though some are attributed to such figures as Albert Einstein and Margaret Thatcher. In The American Language (1919), H.L. Mencken refers to such publicly displayed, encapsulated wisdom as “canned sagacity.” Mencken traces our taste for such things to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, of which he writes:

“It had many imitators, and founded an aphoristic style of writing which culminated in the essays of Emerson, often mere strings of sonorous certainties, defectively articulated.”

Mencken was born on this date, September 12, in 1880.

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