A word coined by author H.L. Mencken
to describe the language of Warren G. Harding
, America's 29th President
. Mencken was so amazed by Harding's choice of words, which he thought was the worst English
he'd ever heard, that he invented this term based on Harding's middle name. It appears in the 1956
book On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe
, an anthology of Mencken's newspaper reports and analyses on politics between 1920 and 1936.
Harding had something of a deserved reputation for mangling the English language when speaking, not unlike certain contemporary leaders. His most infamous gaffe came during one of his campaign speeches, when he mispronounced the word "normality" as "normalcy". The latter word (not commonly used, though it appeared in a dictionary in 1857) was widely quoted by newspapers. Harding liked the term and decided to use it often, to the point of making America's "Return to Normalcy" the theme of his inaugural speech.
Mencken was not amused. He wrote, "It reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights."