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In several places in Mark Twain and C.D. Warner's novel The Gilded Age, the word "deepo" is used.

One such occurrence is the following:

Dilworthy will be elected to-day, and by day, after to-morrow night he will be in New York ready to put in his shovel—and you haven’t lived in Washington all this time not to know that the people who walk right by a Senator whose term is up without hardly seeing him will be down at the deepo to say ‘Welcome back and God bless you; Senator, I’m glad to see you, sir!’ when he comes along back re-elected, you know.

Is this an old way of spelling "depot," or what is the story here?

  • 1
    Never seen that spelling before, but from the context "depot" would seem to be a good guess. Would help to know whether this is someone "speaking", or just normal text. – Hot Licks Mar 21 '17 at 2:05
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    It's Mark Twain's humor. – Ricky Mar 21 '17 at 2:13
  • See wordnik.com/words/deepo There are quite a few quotes using the spelling deepo, but I don't have time to look at them all and write an answer. – ab2 Mar 21 '17 at 2:33
  • @Ricky: No, it's not Twain's humor, because this novel was co-written with his friend and neighbor C.D. Warner, and at least some of the times the word is used and spelled that way, Warner wrote it, not Twain. – B. Clay Shannon Mar 21 '17 at 3:22
  • @HotLicks: Yes, the context is always what we would today write as "depot"; I'm wondering if that was a common spelling at the time. – B. Clay Shannon Mar 21 '17 at 3:23
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'Deepo' is not so much an "old way" of spelling 'depot' as a way of spelling it typical of a variety of 19th century Southern humor. That variety of humor featured ersatz phonetic spellings in imitation of dialectical and vernacular pronunciations, or at least spellings intended to evoke a sense of such pronunciations by the fictional speaker.

For example, George William Bagby (aka Mozis Addums) in an 1867 publication, uses it thus:

deepo used by George Williams Bagby, "Mozis Addums"

The Native Virginian (Orange, Virginia), 15 Nov 1867, p 2 (paywalled link).

Other examples, although a bit thin on the ground, appear in similar contexts in the popular press in the years prior to the 1873 publication of The Gilded Age. The contexts make clear that 'depot' is the intended word.

2

During Twain's time, there was an interest in simplifying non-phonemic English spellings. Twain was sympathetic to this movement and in fact was a member of the Simplified Spelling Board funded by Andrew Carnegie, although he doubted that gradual reforms would be able to gain widespread acceptance ("Mark Twain on Spelling Reform", The Atlanta Constitution, April 22, 1906).

As the standard spelling of the word "depot" is particularly bad at suggesting the pronunciation, it seems somewhat plausible to me that Twain favored "deepo" at least partly because of the increased phonemicity of the spelling, setting aside the matter of eye-dialect or humorous respelling (although those devices certainly were commonly used in Twain's writing, and it seems plausible that they contributed to the use of "deepo").

Mind, I myself am a Simplified Speller; I belong to that unhappy guild that is patiently and hopefully trying to reform our drunken old alphabet by reducing his whiskey.

– "A Simplified Alphabet", 1899

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    ...the standard American pronunciation, though. Standard British phonetic spelling would be "deppo". – Andrew Leach Dec 2 '17 at 23:00
  • @AndrewLeach: Thanks, I hadn't realized there was a difference between American and British English in this regard. – sumelic Dec 2 '17 at 23:08
  • Twain and Warner's The Gilded Age is a social satire condemning the activities of Carnegie, among others: the robber barons. Additionally, Twain disliked Bagby and his works. – JEL Mar 1 '18 at 10:12

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