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Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:

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CHAUFFEUR - MAHOUT

[Background info on this quote: On December 25, 1905, on page 7, the New York Times ran an article headlined "WHY DAN'L, THE BULLDOG, IS NOT A NAVY MASCOT." The humorous story reported on efforts to find a mascot for the battleship Connecticut. Among the applicants were a goat, "purloined saloon cats, a parrot, and so on." The article described the goat's owner as a "mahout," a word meaning an elephant driver or elephant keeper. The word "mahout" caught Mark Twain's attention and he wrote the following letter.]

To the Editor of Harper's Weekly -- Sir:

Scarcely had Watchman Fowler taken his post at the gate when a procession of strange creatures appeared.

"Halt!" Who goes there?" ejaculated the watchman when a fat negro approached, laboriously leading a thin, bow-legged goat.

"Dis heah beast is Ole Ironsides, suh," explained the goat's mahout.
-- From "Dan'l the Bulldog," in the Times.

When I read it I recognized with a thrill, that the right word had been found at last--mahout. The 'mobile, that majestic devil, that impressive devil, is our elephant, he is in a class by himself, like the jungle monarch; to be his master, pilot, and compeller is a post of solemn and awful dignity and danger, and it does seem to me that that measly word "chaffeur" does not properly fit the occupant of it. Chaffeur is a good enough word when strictly confined to its modest and rightful place--as you will see by what Littre says about it. I translate: "A chaffeur is the firer-up on the streetcorner, peanut-roaster; in English, stoker." A good enough word, you see, in its own place; but when we come to apply it to the admiral of the thunderous 'mobile or of the mighty elephant, we realize that it is inadequate. No, stoker is not the thing, chaffeur is not the thing, mahout is the thing--mahout is the word we need. Besides, there is only one way of saying mahout, whereas there are nine ways of saying chaffeur, and none of them right. With ever-increasing respect, dear sir, as the ages roll on, I am yours,
MARK TWAIN.
New York, Dec. 24, 1905

- "Adieu, 'Chauffeur,' " Harper's Weekly, January 13, 1906 (from a letter to the editor dated December 24, 1905, possibly misdated. Possibly written December 25, 1905.)


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