The American Language

by H.L. Mencken

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Chapter IV - American and English Today

§ 1

The Two Vocabularies—By way of preliminary to an examination of the American of today I offer a brief list of terms in common use that differ in American and English. Here are 200 of them, all chosen from the simplest colloquial vocabularies and without any attempt at plan or completeness:

American English

ash-can dust-bin

baby-carriage pram

backyard garden

baggage luggage

baggage-car luggage-van

ballast (railroad) metals

bath-tub bath

beet beet-root

bid (noun) tender

bill-board hoarding

boarder paying-guest

boardwalk (seaside) promenade

bond (finance) debenture

boot Blucher, or Wellington

brakeman brakesman

bucket pail

bumper (car) buffer

bureau chest of drawers

calendar (court) cause-list

campaign (political) canvass

can (noun) tin

candy sweets

cane stick

canned-goods tinned-goods

car (railroad) carriage, van or waggon

checkers (game) draughts

chicken-yard fowl-run

chief-clerk head-clerk

city-editor chief-reporter

city-ordinance by-law

clipping (newspaper) cutting

coal-oil paraffin

coal-scuttle coal-hod

commission-merchant factor

conductor (of a train) guard

corn maize, or Indian corn

corner (of a street) crossing

corset stays

counterfeiter coiner

cow-catcher plough

cracker biscuit

cross-tie sleeper

delicatessen-store Italian-warehouse

department-store stores

Derby (hat) bowler

dime-novel shilling-shocker

druggist chemist

drug-store chemist's-shop

drummer bagman

dry-goods-store draper's-shop

editorial leader, or leading-article

elevator lift

elevator-boy lift-man

excursionist tripper

express-company carrier

filing-cabinet nest-of-drawers

fire-department fire-brigade

fish-dealer fishmonger

floor-walker shop-walker

fraternal-order friendly-society

freight goods

freight-agent goods-manager

freight-car goods-waggon

frog (railway) crossing-plate

garters (men's) sock-suspenders

gasoline petrol

grade (railroad) gradient

grain corn

grain-broker corn-factor

grip hold-all

groceries stores

hardware-dealer ironmonger

haystack haycock

headliner topliner

hod-carrier hodman

hog-pen piggery

hospital (private) nursing-home

huckster coster (monger)

hunting shooting

Indian Red Indian

Indian Summer St. Martin's Summer

instalment-business credit-trade

instalment-plan hire-purchase plan

janitor caretaker

legal-holiday bank-holiday

letter-box pillar-box

letter-carrier postman

livery-stable mews[1]

locomotive engineer engine-driver

lumber deals

mad angry

Methodist Wesleyan

molasses treacle

monkey-wrench spanner

moving-picture-theatre cinema

napkin (dinner) serviette

necktie tie, or cravat

news-dealer news-agent

newspaper-man pressman, or journalist

oatmeal porridge

officeholder public-servant

orchestra (seats in a theatre) stalls

overcoat great-coat

package parcel

parlor drawing-room

parlor-car saloon-carriage

patrolman (police) constable

pay-day wage-day

peanut monkey-nut

pie (fruit) tart

pitcher jug

poorhouse workhouse

post-paid post-free

potpie pie

prepaid carriage-paid

press (printing) machine

program (of a meeting) agenda

proof-reader corrector-of-the-press

public-school board-school

quotation-marks inverted-commas

railroad railway

railroad-man railway-servant

rails line

rare (of meat) underdone

receipts (in business) takings

Rhine-wine Hock

road-bed (railroad) permanent-way

road-repairer road-mender

roast joint

roll-call division

rooster cock

round-trip-ticket return-ticket

rutabaga mangel-wurzel

saleswoman shop-assistant

saloon public-house

scarf-pin tie-pin

scow lighter

sewer drain

shirtwaist blouse

shoe boot

shoemaker bootmaker

shoestring bootlace

shoe-tree boot-form

sick ill

sidewalk pavement

silver (collectively) plate

sled sledge

sleigh sledge

soft-drinks minerals

spigot tap

squash vegetable-marrow

stem-winder keyless-watch

stockholder shareholder

stocks shares

store-fixtures shop-fittings

street-cleaner crossing-sweeper

street-railway tramway

subway tube, or underground

suspenders (men's) braces

sweater jersey

switch (noun, railway) points

switch (verb, railway) shunt

taxes (municipal) rates

taxpayer (local) ratepayer

tenderloin (of beef) under-cut

ten-pins nine-pins

thumb-tack drawing-pin

ticket-office booking-office

tinner tinker

tin-roof leads

track (railroad) line

trained-nurse hospital-nurse

transom (of door) fanlight

trolley-car tramcar

truck (vehicle) lorry

truck (of a railroad car) bogie

trunk box

typewriter (operator) typist

typhoid-fever enteric

undershirt vest

vaudeville-theatre music-hall

vegetables greens

vest waistcoat

warden (of a prison) governor

warehouse stores

wash-rag face-cloth

wash-stand wash-hand-stand

wash-wringer mangle

waste-basket waste-paper-basket

whipple-tree[2] splinter-bar

witness-stand witness-box

wood-alcohol methylated-spirits

§ 2

Differences in Usage—The differences here listed, most of them between words in everyday employment, are but examples of a divergence in usage which extends to every department of daily life. In his business, in his journeys from his home to his office, in his dealings with his family and servants, in his sports and amusements, in his politics and even in his religion the American uses, not only words and phrases, but whole syntactical constructions, that are unintelligible to the Englishman, or intelligible only after laborious consideration. A familiar anecdote offers an example in miniature. It concerns a young American woman living in a region of prolific orchards who is asked by a visiting Englishman what the residents do with so much fruit. Her reply is a pun: "We eat all we can, and what we can't we can." This answer would mystify nine Englishmen out of ten, for in the first place it involves the use of the flat American a in can't and in the second place it applies an unfamiliar name to the vessel that every Englishman knows as a tin, and then adds to the confusion by deriving a verb from the substantive. There are no such things as canned-goods in England; over there they are tinned. The can that holds them is a tin; to can them is to tin them.... And they are counted, not as groceries, but as stores, and advertised, not on bill-boards but on hoardings.[3] And the cook who prepares them for the table is not Nora or Maggie, but Cook, and if she does other work in addition she is not a girl for general housework, but a cook-general, and not help, but a servant. And the boarder who eats them is not a boarder at all, but a paying-guest, though he is said to board. And the grave of the tin, once it is emptied, is not the ash-can, but the dust-bin, and the man who carries it away is not the garbage-man or the ash-man or the white-wings, but the dustman.

An Englishman, entering his home, does not walk in upon the [Pg103] first floor, but upon the ground floor. What he calls the first floor (or, more commonly, first storey, not forgetting the penultimate e!) is what we call the second floor, and so on up to the roof—which is covered not with tin, but with slate, tiles or leads. He does not take a paper; he takes in a paper. He does not ask his servant, "is there any mail for me?" but, "are there any letters for me?" for mail, in the American sense, is a word that he seldom uses, save in such compounds as mail-van and mail-train. He always speaks of it as the post. The man who brings it is not a letter-carrier, but a postman. It is posted, not mailed, at a pillar-box, not at a mail-box. It never includes postal-cards, but only post-cards; never money-orders, but only postal-orders. The Englishman dictates his answers, not to a typewriter, but to a typist; a typewriter is merely the machine. If he desires the recipient to call him by telephone he doesn't say, "phone me at a quarter of eight," but "ring me up at a quarter to eight." And when the call comes he says "are you there?" When he gets home, he doesn't find his wife waiting for him in the parlor or living-room,[4] but in the drawing-room or in her sitting-room, and the tale of domestic disaster that she has to tell does not concern the hired-girl but the slavey and the scullery-maid. He doesn't bring her a box of candy, but a box of sweets. He doesn't leave a derby hat in the hall, but a bowler. His wife doesn't wear shirtwaists but blouses. When she buys one she doesn't say "charge it" but "put it down." When she orders a tailor-made suit, she calls it a coat-and-skirt. When she wants a spool of thread she asks for a reel of cotton. Such things are bought, not in the department-stores, but at the stores, which are substantially the same thing. In these stores calico means a plain cotton cloth; in the United States it means a printed cotton cloth. Things bought on the instalment plan in England are said to be bought on the hire-purchase plan or system; the instalment business itself is the credit-trade. Goods ordered by post (not mail) on which the dealer pays the cost of transportation are said to be sent, not postpaid or prepaid, but post-free or carriage-paid. [Pg104]

An Englishman does not wear suspenders and neckties, but braces and cravats. Suspenders are his wife's garters; his own are sock-suspenders. The family does not seek sustenance in a rare tenderloin and squash, but in underdone under-cut and vegetable marrow. It does not eat beets, but beet-roots. The wine on the table, if miraculously German, is not Rhine wine, but Hock.... The maid who laces the stays of the mistress of the house is not Maggie but Robinson. The nurse-maid is not Lizzie but Nurse. So, by the way, is a trained nurse in a hospital, whose full style is not Miss Jones, but Nurse Jones. And the hospital itself, if private, is not a hospital at all, but a nursing-home, and its trained nurses are plain nurses, or hospital nurses, or maybe nursing sisters. And the white-clad young gentlemen who make love to them are not studying medicine but walking the hospitals. Similarly, an English law student does not study law, but the law.

If an English boy goes to a public school, it is not a sign that he is getting his education free, but that his father is paying a good round sum for it and is accepted as a gentleman. A public school over there corresponds to our prep school; it is a place maintained chiefly by endowments, wherein boys of the upper classes are prepared for the universities. What we know as a public school is called a board school in England, not because the pupils are boarded but because it is managed by a school board. English school-boys are divided, not into classes, or grades, but into forms, which are numbered, the lowest being the first form. The benches they sit on are also called forms. The principal of an English school is a head-master or head-mistress; the lower pedagogues used to be ushers, but are now assistant masters (or mistresses). The head of a university is a chancellor. He is always some eminent public man, and a vice-chancellor performs his duties. The head of a mere college may be a president, principal, rector, dean or provost. At the universities the students are not divided into freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, as with us, but are simply first-year men, second-year men, and so on. Such distinctions, however, are not as important in England as in America; members of the university (they are called [Pg105] members, not students) do not flock together according to seniority. An English university man does not study; he reads. He knows nothing of frats, class-days, senior-proms and such things; save at Cambridge and Dublin he does not even have a commencement. On the other hand his daily speech is full of terms unintelligible to an American student, for example, wrangler, tripos, head, pass-degree and don.

The upkeep of board-schools in England comes out of the rates, which are local taxes levied upon householders. For that reason an English municipal taxpayer is called a ratepayer. The functionaries who collect and spend his money are not office-holders but public-servants. The head of the local police is not a chief of police, but a chief constable. The fire department is the fire brigade. The street-cleaner is a crossing-sweeper. The parish poorhouse is a workhouse. If it is maintained by two or more parishes jointly it becomes a union. A pauper who accepts its hospitality is said to be on the rates. A policeman is a bobby familiarly and constable officially. He is commonly mentioned in the newspapers, not by his surname, but as P. C. 643a—i. e., Police Constable No. 643a. The fire laddie, the ward executive, the roundsman, the strong-arm squad and other such objects of American devotion are unknown in England. An English saloon-keeper is officially a licensed victualler. His saloon is a public house, or, colloquially, a pub. He does not sell beer by the bucket or can or growler or schooner, but by the pint. He and his brethren, taken together, are the licensed trade. His back-room is a parlor. If he has a few upholstered benches in his place he usually calls it a lounge. He employs no bartenders or mixologists. Barmaids do the work, with maybe a barman to help.

The American language, as we have seen, has begun to take in the English boot and shop, and it is showing hospitality to head-master, haberdasher and week-end, but subaltern, civil servant, porridge, moor, draper, treacle, tram and mufti are still strangers in the United States, as bleachers, picayune, air-line, campus, chore, scoot, stogie and hoodoo are in England. A subaltern is a commissioned officer in the army, under the rank of [Pg106] captain. A civil servant is a public servant in the national civil service; if he is of high rank, he is usually called a permanent official. Porridge, moor, scullery, draper, treacle and tram, though unfamiliar, still need no explanation. Mufti means ordinary male clothing; an army officer out of uniform is said to be in mufti. To this officer a sack-suit or business-suit is a lounge-suit. He carries his clothes, not in a trunk or grip or suit-case, but in a box. He does not miss a train; he loses it. He does not ask for a round-trip ticket, but for a return ticket. If he proposes to go to the theatre he does not reserve or engage seats; he books them, and not at the box-office, but at the booking-office. If he sits downstairs, it is not in the orchestra, but in the stalls. If he likes vaudeville, he goes to a music-hall, where the head-liners are top-liners. If he has to stand in line, he does it, not in a line, but in a queue.

In England a corporation is a public company or limited liability company. The term corporation, over there, is applied to the mayor, aldermen and sheriffs of a city, as in the London corporation. An Englishman writes Ltd. after the name of an incorporated bank or trading company as we write Inc. He calls its president its chairman or managing director. Its stockholders are its shareholders, and hold shares instead of stock in it. Its bonds are debentures. The place wherein such companies are floated and looted—the Wall Street of England—is called the City, with a capital C. Bankers, stock-jobbers, promoters, directors and other such leaders of its business are called City men. The financial editor of a newspaper is its City editor. Government bonds are consols, or stocks, or the funds.[5] To have money in the stocks is to own such bonds. Promissory notes are bills. An Englishman hasn't a bank-account, but a banking-account. He draws cheques (not checks), not on his bank, but on his bankers.[6] In England there is a rigid distinction between a broker and a stock-broker. A broker means, not a dealer in [Pg107] securities, as in our Wall Street broker, but a dealer in second-hand furniture. To have the brokers[7] in the house means to be bankrupt, with one's very household goods in the hands of one's creditors.

Tariff reform, in England, does not mean a movement toward free trade, but one toward protection. The word Government, meaning what we call the administration, is always capitalized and plural, e. g., "The Government are considering the advisability, etc." Vestry, committee, council, ministry and even company are also plural, though sometimes not capitalized. A member of Parliament does not run for office; he stands.[8] He does not make a campaign, but a canvass. He does not represent a district, but a division or constituency. He never makes a stumping trip, but always a speaking tour. When he looks after his fences he calls it nursing the constituency. At a political meeting (they are often rough in England) the bouncers are called stewards; the suffragettes used to delight in stabbing them with hatpins. A member of Parliament is not afflicted by the numerous bugaboos that menace an American congressman. He knows nothing of lame ducks, pork barrels, gag-rule, junkets, gerrymanders, omnibus bills, snakes, niggers in the woodpile, Salt river, crow, bosses, ward heelers, men higher up, silk-stockings, repeaters, ballot-box stuffers and straight and split tickets (he always calls them ballots or voting papers). He has never heard of direct primaries, the recall or the initiative and referendum. A roll-call in Parliament is a division. A member speaking is said to be up or on his legs. When the house adjourns it is said to rise. A member referring to another in the course of a debate does not say "the gentleman from Manchester," but "the honorable gentleman" (written hon. gentleman) or, if he happens to be a privy councillor, "the right honorable gentleman," or, if he is a member for one of the universities, "the honorable and learned gentleman." If the speaker chooses to be intimate or facetious, he may say "my honorable friend." [Pg108]

In the United States a pressman is a man who runs a printing press; in England he is a newspaper reporter, or, as the English usually say, a journalist.[9] This journalist works, not at space rates, but at lineage rates. A printing press is a machine. An editorial in a newspaper is a leading article or leader. An editorial paragraph is a leaderette. A newspaper clipping is a cutting. A proof-reader is a corrector of the press. A pass to the theatre is an order. The room-clerk of a hotel is the secretary. A real-estate agent or dealer is an estate-agent. The English keep up most of the old distinctions between physicians and surgeons, barristers and solicitors. A surgeon is often plain Mr., and not Dr. Neither he nor a doctor has an office, but always a surgery or consulting room. A barrister is greatly superior to a solicitor. He alone can address the higher courts and the parliamentary committees; a solicitor must keep to office work and the courts of first instance. A man with a grievance goes first to his solicitor, who then instructs or briefs a barrister for him. If that barrister, in the course of the trial, wants certain evidence removed from the record, he moves that it be struck out, not stricken out, as an American lawyer would say. Only barristers may become judges. An English barrister, like his American brother, takes a retainer when he is engaged. But the rest of his fee does not wait upon the termination of the case: he expects and receives a refresher from time to time. A barrister is never admitted to the bar, but is always called. If he becomes a King's Counsel, or K. C. (a purely honorary appointment), he is said to have taken silk.

The common objects and phenomena of nature are often differently named in English and American. As we saw in a previous chapter, such Americanisms as creek and run, for small streams, are practically unknown in England, and the English moor and downs early disappeared from American. The Englishman knows the meaning of sound (e. g., Long Island Sound), but he [Pg109] nearly always uses channel in place of it. In the same way the American knows the meaning of the English bog, but rejects the English distinction between it and swamp, and almost always uses swamp, or marsh (often elided to ma'sh). The Englishman seldom, if ever, describes a severe storm as a hurricane, a cyclone, a tornado or a blizzard. He never uses cold-snap, cloudburst or under the weather. He does not say that the temperature is 29 degrees (Fahrenheit) or that the thermometer or the mercury is at 29 degrees, but that there are three degrees of frost. He calls ice water iced-water. He knows nothing of blue-grass country or of pennyr'yal. What we call the mining regions he knows as the black country. He never, of course, uses down-East or up-State. Many of our names for common fauna and flora are unknown to him save as strange Americanisms, e. g., terrapin, moose, persimmon, gumbo, egg-plant, alfalfa, sweet-corn, sweet-potato and yam. Until lately he called the grapefruit a shaddock. He still calls the beet a beet-root and the rutabaga a mangel-wurzel. He is familiar with many fish that we seldom see, e. g., the turbot. He also knows the hare, which is seldom heard of in America. But he knows nothing of devilled-crabs, crab-cocktails, clam-chowder or oyster-stews, and he never goes to oyster-suppers, clam-bakes or burgoo-picnics. He doesn't buy peanuts when he goes to the circus. He calls them monkey-nuts, and to eat them publicly is infra dig. The common American use of peanut as an adjective of disparagement, as in peanut politics, is incomprehensible to him.

In England a hack is not a public coach, but a horse let out at hire, or one of similar quality. A life insurance policy is usually not an insurance policy at all, but an assurance policy. What we call the normal income tax is the ordinary tax; what we call the surtax is the supertax.[10] An Englishman never lives on a street, but always in it. He never lives in a block of houses, but in a row; it is never in a section of the city, but always in a district. Going home by train he always takes the down-train, no matter whether he be proceeding southward to Wimbleton, [Pg110] westward to Shepherd's Bush, northward to Tottenham or eastward to Noak's Hill. A train headed toward London is always an up-train, and the track it runs on is the up-line. Eastbound and westbound tracks and trains are unknown in England. When an Englishman boards a bus it is not at a street-corner, but at a crossing, though he is familiar with such forms as Hyde Park Corner. The place he is bound for is not three squares or blocks away, but three turnings. Square, in England, always means a small park. A backyard is a garden. A subway is always a tube, or the underground, or the Metro. But an underground passage for pedestrians is a subway. English streets have no sidewalks; they always call them pavements or footways. An automobile is always a motor-car or motor. Auto is almost unknown, and with it the verb to auto. So is machine. So is joy-ride.

An Englishman always calls russet, yellow or tan shoes brown shoes (or, if they cover the ankle, boots). He calls a pocketbook a purse, and gives the name of pocketbook to what we call a memorandum-book. His walking-stick is always a stick, never a cane. By cord he means something strong, almost what we call twine; a thin cord he always calls a string; his twine is the lightest sort of string. When he applies the adjective homely to a woman he means that she is simple and home-loving, not necessarily that she is plain. He uses dessert, not to indicate the whole last course at dinner, but to designate the fruit only; the rest is ices or sweets. He uses vest, not in place of waistcoat, but in place of undershirt. Similarly, he applies pants, not to his trousers, but to his drawers. An Englishman who inhabits bachelor quarters is said to live in chambers; if he has a flat he calls it a flat, and not an apartment;[11] flat-houses are often mansions. The janitor or superintendent thereof is a care-taker. The scoundrels who snoop around in search of divorce evidence are not private detectives, but private enquiry agents. [Pg111]

The Englishman is naturally unfamiliar with baseball, and in consequence his language is bare of the countless phrases and metaphors that it has supplied to American. Many of these phrases and metaphors are in daily use among us, for example, fan, rooter, bleachers, batting-average, double-header, pennant-winner, gate-money, busher, minor-leaguer, glass-arm, to strike out, to foul, to be shut out, to coach, to play ball, on the bench, on to his curves and three strikes and out. The national game of draw-poker has also greatly enriched American with terms that are either quite unknown to the Englishman, or known to him only as somewhat dubious Americanisms, among them cold-deck, kitty, full-house, divvy, a card up his sleeve, three-of-a-kind, to ante up, to pony up, to hold out, to cash in, to go it one better, to chip in and for keeps. But the Englishman uses many more racing terms and metaphors than we do, and he has got a good many phrases from other games, particularly cricket. The word cricket itself has a definite figurative meaning. It indicates, in general, good sportsmanship. To take unfair advantage of an opponent is not cricket. The sport of boating, so popular on the Thames, has also given colloquial English some familiar terms, almost unknown in the United States, e. g., punt and weir. Contrariwise, pungy, batteau and scow are unheard of in England, and canoe is not long emerged from the estate of an Americanism.[12] The game known as ten-pins in America is called nine-pins in England, and once had that name over here. The Puritans forbade it, and its devotees changed its name in order to evade the prohibition.[13] Finally, there is soccer, a form of football quite unknown in the United States. What we call simply football is Rugby or Rugger to the Englishman. The word soccer is derived from association; the rules of the game were [Pg112] established by the London Football Association. Soccer is one of the relatively few English experiments in ellipsis. Another is to be found in Bakerloo, the name of one of the London underground lines, from Baker-street and Waterloo, its termini.

The English have an ecclesiastical vocabulary with which we are almost unacquainted, and it is in daily use, for the church bulks large in public affairs over there. Such terms as vicar, canon, verger, prebendary, primate, curate, non-conformist, dissenter, convocation, minster, chapter, crypt, living, presentation, glebe, benefice, locum tenens, suffragan, almoner, dean and pluralist are to be met with in the English newspapers constantly, but on this side of the water they are seldom encountered. Nor do we hear much of matins, lauds, lay-readers, ritualism and the liturgy. The English use of holy orders is also strange to us. They do not say that a young man is studying for the ministry, but that he is reading for holy orders. They do not say that he is ordained, but that he takes orders. Save he be in the United Free Church of Scotland, he is never a minister; save he be a nonconformist, he is never a pastor; a clergyman of the Establishment is always either a rector, a vicar or a curate, and colloquially a parson.

In American chapel simply means a small church, usually the branch of some larger one; in English it has the special sense of a place of worship unconnected with the establishment. Though three-fourths of the people of Ireland are Catholics (in Munster and Connaught, more than nine-tenths), and the Protestant Church of Ireland has been disestablished since 1871, a Catholic place of worship in the country is still a chapel and not a church.[14] So is a Methodist wailing-place in England, however large it may be, though now and then tabernacle is substituted. In the same way the English Catholics sometimes vary chapel with oratory, as in Brompton Oratory. A Methodist, in Great [Pg113] Britain, is not a Methodist, but a Wesleyan. Contrariwise, what the English call simply a churchman is an Episcopalian in the United States, what they call the Church (always capitalized!) is the Protestant Episcopal Church,[15] what they call a Roman Catholic is simply a Catholic, and what they call a Jew is usually softened (if he happens to be an advertiser) to a Hebrew. The English Jews have no such idiotic fear of the plain name as that which afflicts the more pushing and obnoxious of the race in America.[16] "News of Jewry" is a common head-line in the London Daily Telegraph, which is owned by Lord Burnham, a Jew, and has had many Jews on its staff, including Judah P. Benjamin, the American. The American language, of course, knows nothing of dissenters. Nor of such gladiators of dissent as the Plymouth Brethren, nor of the nonconformist conscience, though the United States suffers from it even more damnably than England. The English, to make it even, get on without circuit-riders, holy-rollers, Dunkards, Seventh Day Adventists and other such American ferae naturae, and are born, live, die and go to heaven without the aid of either the uplift or the chautauqua.

In music the English cling to an archaic and unintelligible nomenclature, long since abandoned in America. Thus they call a double whole note a breve, a whole note a semibreve, a half note a minim, a quarter note a crotchet, an eighth note a quaver, a sixteenth note a semi-quaver, a thirty-second note a demisemiquaver, and a sixty-fourth note a hemidemisemiquaver, or semidemisemiquaver. If, by any chance, an English musician should write a one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth note he probably wouldn't know what to call it. This clumsy terminology goes back to the days of plain chant, with its longa, brevis, semi-brevis, minima and semiminima. The French and Italians cling to a system almost as confusing, but the Germans use ganze, halbe, viertel, [Pg114] achtel, etc. I have been unable to discover the beginnings of the American system, but it would seem to be borrowed from the German. Since the earliest times the majority of music teachers in the United States have been Germans, and most of the rest have had German training.

In the same way the English hold fast to a clumsy and inaccurate method of designating the sizes of printers' types. In America the simple point system makes the business easy; a line of 14-point type occupies exactly the vertical space of two lines of 7-point. But the English still indicate differences in size by such arbitrary and confusing names as brilliant, diamond, small pearl, pearl, ruby, ruby-nonpareil, nonpareil, minion-nonpareil, emerald, minion, brevier, bourgeois, long primer, small pica, pica, English, great primer and double pica. They also cling to a fossil system of numerals in stating ages. Thus, an Englishman will say that he is seven-and-forty, not that he is forty-seven. This is probably a direct survival, preserved by more than a thousand years of English conservatism, of the Anglo-Saxon seofan-and-feowertig. He will also say that he weighs eleven stone instead of 154 pounds. A stone is 14 pounds, and it is always used in stating the heft of a man. Finally, he employs such designations of time as fortnight and twelvemonth a great deal more than we do, and has certain special terms of which we know nothing, for example, quarter-day, bank holiday, long vacation, Lady Day and Michaelmas. Per contra, he knows nothing whatever of our Thanksgiving, Arbor, Labor and Decoration Days, or of legal holidays, or of Yom Kippur.

In English usage, to proceed, the word directly is always used to signify immediately; in American a contingency gets into it, and it may mean no more than soon. In England quite means "completely, wholly, entirely, altogether, to the utmost extent, nothing short of, in the fullest sense, positively, absolutely"; in America it is conditional, and means only nearly, approximately, substantially, as in "he sings quite well." An Englishman does not say "I will pay you up" for an injury, but "I will pay you back." He doesn't look up a definition in a dictionary; he looks it out. He doesn't say, being ill, "I am getting on well," but [Pg115] "I am going on well." He doesn't use the American "different from" or "different than"; he uses "different to." He never adds the pronoun in such locutions as "it hurts me," but says simply "it hurts." He never "catches up with you" on the street; he "catches you up." He never says "are you through?" but "have you finished?" He never uses to notify as a transitive verb; an official act may be notified, but not a person. He never uses gotten as the perfect participle of get; he always uses plain got.[17] An English servant never washes the dishes; she always washes the dinner or tea things. She doesn't live out, but goes into service. She smashes, not the mirror, but the looking-glass. Her beau is not her fellow, but her young man. She does not keep company with him but walks out with him.

That an Englishman always calls out "I say!", and not simply "say!" when he desires to attract a friend's attention or register a protestation of incredulity—this perhaps is too familiar to need notice. His "hear, hear!" and "oh, oh!" are also well known. He is much less prodigal with good-bye than the American; he uses good-day and good-afternoon far more often. A shop-assistant would never say good-bye to a customer. To an Englishman it would have a subtly offensive smack; good-afternoon would be more respectful. Another word that makes him flinch is dirt. He never uses it, as we do, to describe the soil in the garden; he always says earth. Various very common American phrases are quite unknown to him, for example, over his signature, on time and planted to corn. The first-named he never uses, and he has no equivalent for it; an Englishman who issues a signed statement simply makes it in writing. He knows nothing of our common terms of disparagement, such as kike, wop, yap and rube. His pet-name for a tiller of the soil is not Rube or Cy, but Hodge. When he goes gunning he does not call it hunting, but shooting; hunting is reserved for the chase of the fox.

An intelligent Englishwoman, coming to America to live, told me that the two things which most impeded her first communications with untravelled Americans, even above the gross differences [Pg116] between England and American pronunciation and intonation, were the complete absence of the general utility adjective jolly from the American vocabulary, and the puzzling omnipresence and versatility of the American verb to fix. In English colloquial usage jolly means almost anything; it intensifies all other adjectives, even including miserable and homesick. An Englishman is jolly tired, jolly hungry or jolly well tired; his wife is jolly sensible; his dog is jolly keen; the prices he pays for things are jolly dear (never steep or stiff or high: all Americanisms). But he has no noun to match the American proposition, meaning proposal, business, affair, case, consideration, plan, theory, solution and what not: only the German zug can be ranged beside it.[18] And he has no verb in such wide practise as to fix. In his speech it means only to make fast or to determine. In American it may mean to repair, as in "the plumber fixed the pipe"; to dress, as in "Mary fixed her hair"; to prepare, as in "the cook is fixing the gravy"; to bribe, as in "the judge was fixed"; to settle, as in "the quarrel was fixed up"; to heal, as in "the doctor fixed his boil"; to finish, as in "Murphy fixed Sweeney in the third round"; to be well-to-do, as in "John is well-fixed"; to arrange, as in "I fixed up the quarrel"; to be drunk, as in "the whiskey fixed him"; to punish, as in "I'll fix him"; and to correct, as in "he fixed my bad Latin." Moreover, it is used in all its English senses. An Englishman never goes to a dentist to have his teeth fixed. He does not fix the fire; he makes it up, or mends it. He is never well-fixed, either in money or by liquor.[19]

The English use quite a great deal more than we do, and, as we have seen, in a different sense. Quite rich, in American, [Pg117] means tolerably rich, richer than most; quite so, in English, is identical in meaning with exactly so. In American just is almost equivalent to the English quite, as in just lovely. Thornton shows that this use of just goes back to 1794. The word is also used in place of exactly in other ways, as in just in time, just how many and just what do you mean?

§ 3

Honorifics—Among the honorifics and euphemisms in everyday use one finds many notable divergences between the two languages. On the one hand the English are almost as diligent as the Germans in bestowing titles of honor upon their men of mark, and on the other hand they are very careful to withhold such titles from men who do not legally bear them. In America every practitioner of any branch of the healing art, even a chiropodist or an osteopath, is a doctor ipso facto, but in England, as we have seen, a good many surgeons lack the title and it is not common in the lesser ranks. Even graduate physicians may not have it, but here there is a yielding of the usual meticulous exactness, and it is customary to address a physician in the second person as Doctor, though his card may show that he is only Medicinae Baccalaureus, a degree quite unknown in America. Thus an Englishman, when he is ill, always sends for the doctor, as we do. But a surgeon is usually plain Mr.[20] An English veterinarian or dentist or druggist or masseur is never Dr.

Nor Professor. In all save a few large cities of America every male pedagogue is a professor, and so is every band leader, dancing master and medical consultant. But in England the title is very rigidly restricted to men who hold chairs in the universities, a necessarily small body. Even here a superior title [Pg118] always takes precedence. Thus, it used to be Professor Almroth Wright, but now it is always Sir Almroth Wright. Huxley was always called Professor Huxley until he was appointed to the Privy Council. This appointment gave him the right to have Right Honourable put before his name, and thereafter it was customary to call him simply Mr. Huxley, with the Right Honourable, so to speak, floating in the air. The combination, to an Englishman, was more flattering than Professor, for the English always esteem political dignities far more than the dignities of learning. This explains, perhaps, why their universities distribute so few honorary degrees. In the United States every respectable Protestant clergyman is a D.D., and it is almost impossible for a man to get into the papers without becoming an LL.D.,[21] but in England such honors are granted only grudgingly. So with military titles. To promote a war veteran from sergeant to colonel by acclamation, as is often done in the United States, is unknown over there. The English have nothing equivalent to the gaudy tin soldiers of our governors' staffs, nor to the bespangled colonels and generals of the Knights Templar and Patriarchs Militant, nor to the nondescript captains and majors of our country towns. An English railroad conductor (railway guard) is never Captain, as he always is in the United States. Nor are military titles used by the police. Nor is it the custom to make every newspaper editor a colonel, as is done south of the Potomac. Nor is an attorney-general or postmaster-general called General. Nor are the glories of public office, after they have officially come to an end, embalmed in such clumsy quasi-titles as ex-United States Senator, ex-Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals, ex-Federal Trade Commissioner and former Chief of the Fire Department.

But perhaps the greatest difference between English and American usage is presented by the Honorable. In the United States the title is applied loosely to all public officials of apparent respectability, from senators and ambassadors to the mayors of [Pg119] fifth-rate cities and the members of state legislatures, and with some show of official sanction to many of them, especially congressmen. But it is questionable whether this application has any actual legal standing, save perhaps in the case of certain judges. Even the President of the United States, by law, is not the Honorable, but simply the President. In the First Congress the matter of his title was exhaustively debated; some members wanted to call him the Honorable and others proposed His Excellency and even His Highness. But the two Houses finally decided that it was "not proper to annex any style or title other than that expressed by the Constitution." Congressmen themselves are not Honorables. True enough, the Congressional Record, in printing a set speech, calls it "Speech of Hon. John Jones" (without the the before the Hon.—a characteristic Americanism), but in reporting the ordinary remarks of a member it always calls him plain Mr. Nevertheless, a country congressman would be offended if his partisans, in announcing his appearance on the stump, did not prefix Hon. to his name. So would a state senator. So would a mayor or governor. I have seen the sergeant-at-arms of the United States Senate referred to as Hon. in the records of that body.[22] More, the prefix is actually usurped by the Superintendent of State Prisons of New York.[23]

In England the thing is more carefully ordered, and bogus Hons. are unknown. The prefix is applied to both sexes and belongs by law, inter alia, to all present or past maids of honor, to all justices of the High Court during their terms of office, to the Scotch Lords of Session, to the sons and daughters of viscounts and barons, to the younger sons and all daughters of earls, and to the members of the legislative and executive councils of the colonies. But not to members of Parliament, though each is, in debate, an hon. gentleman. Even a member of the cabinet is not an Hon., though he is a Right Hon. by virtue of membership in the Privy Council, of which the Cabinet is legally merely a committee. This last honorific belongs, not only to [Pg120] privy councillors, but also to all peers lower than marquesses (those above are Most Hon.), to Lord Mayors during their terms of office, to the Lord Advocate and to the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Moreover, a peeress whose husband is a Right Hon. is a Right Hon. herself.

The British colonies follow the jealous usage of the mother-country. Even in Canada the lawless American example is not imitated. I have before me a "Table of Titles to be Used in Canada," laid down by royal warrant, which lists those who are Hons. and those who are not Hons. in the utmost detail. Only privy councillors of Canada (not to be confused with imperial privy councillors) are permitted to retain the prefix after going out of office, though ancients who were legislative councillors at the time of the union, July 1, 1867, may still use it by a sort of courtesy, and former speakers of the Dominion Senate and House of Commons and various retired judges may do so on application to the King, countersigned by the governor-general. The following are lawfully the Hon., but only during their tenure of office: the solicitor-general, the speaker of the House of Commons, the presidents and speakers of the provincial legislatures, members of the executive councils of the provinces, the chief justice, the judges of the Supreme and Exchequer Courts, the judges of the Supreme Courts of Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the judges of the Courts of Appeal of Manitoba and British Columbia, the Chancery Court of Prince Edward Island, and the Circuit Court of Montreal—these, and no more. A lieutenant-governor of a province is not the Hon., but His Honor. The governor-general is His Excellency, and so is his wife, but in practise they usually have superior honorifics, and do not forget to demand their use.

But though an Englishman, and, following him, a colonial, is thus very careful to restrict the Hon. to proper uses, he always insists, when he serves without pay as an officer of any organization, to indicate his volunteer character by writing Hon. before the name of his office. If he leaves it off it is a sign that he is a hireling. Thus, the agent of the New Zealand [Pg121] government in London, a paid officer, is simply the agent, but the agents at Brisbane and Adelaide, in Australia, who serve for the glory of it, are hon. agents. In writing to a Briton one must be careful to put Esq., behind his name, and not Mr., before it. The English make a clear distinction between the two forms. Mr., on an envelope, indicates that the sender holds the receiver to be his inferior; one writes to Mr. John Jackson, one's green-grocer, but to James Thompson, Esq., one's neighbor. Any man who is entitled to the Esq. is a gentleman, by which an Englishman means a man of sound connections and dignified occupation—in brief, of ponderable social position. Thus a dentist, a shop-keeper or a clerk can never be a gentleman in England, even by courtesy, and the qualifications of an author, a musical conductor, a physician, or even a member of Parliament have to be established. But though he is thus enormously watchful of masculine dignity, an Englishman is quite careless in the use of lady. He speaks glibly of lady-clerks, lady-typists, lady-doctors and lady-inspectors. In America there is a strong disposition to use the word less and less, as is revealed by the substitution of saleswoman and salesgirl for the saleslady of yesteryear. But in England lady is still invariably used instead of woman in such compounds as lady-golfer, lady-secretary and lady-champion. The women's singles, in England tennis, are always ladies' singles; women's wear, in English shops, is always ladies' wear. Perhaps the cause of this distinction between lady and gentleman has been explained by Price Collier in "England and the English." In England, according to Collier, the male is always first. His comfort goes before his wife's comfort, and maybe his dignity also. Gentleman-clerk or gentleman-author would make an Englishman howl, though he uses gentleman-rider. So would the growing American custom of designating the successive heirs of a private family by the numerals proper to royalty. John Smith 3rd and William Simpson IV are gravely received at Harvard; at Oxford they would be ragged unmercifully.

An Englishman, in speaking or writing of public officials, avoids those long and clumsy combinations of title and name [Pg122] which figure so copiously in American newspapers. Such locutions as Assistant Secretary of the Interior Jones, Fourth Assistant Postmaster-General Brown, Inspector of Boilers Smith, Judge of the Appeal Tax Court Robinson, Chief Clerk of the Treasury Williams and Collaborating Epidermologist White[24] are quite unknown to him. When he mentions a high official, such as the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he does not think it necessary to add the man's name; he simply says "the Secretary for Foreign Affairs" or "the Foreign Secretary." And so with the Lord Chancellor, the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Chief Rabbi, the First Lord (of the Admiralty), the Master of Pembroke (College), the Italian Ambassador, and so on. Certain ecclesiastical titles are sometimes coupled to surnames in the American manner, as in Dean Stanley, and Canon Wilberforce, but Prime Minister Lloyd-George would seem heavy and absurd. But in other directions the Englishman has certain clumsinesses of his own. Thus, in writing a letter to a relative stranger, he sometimes begins it, not My dear Mr. Jones but My dear John Joseph Jones. He may even use such a form as My dear Secretary for War in place of the American My dear Mr. Secretary. In English usage, incidentally, My dear is more formal than simply Dear. In America, of course, this distinction is lost, and such forms as My dear John Joseph Jones appear only as conscious imitations of English usage.

I have spoken of the American custom of dropping the definite article before Hon. It extends to Rev. and the like, and has the authority of very respectable usage behind it. The opening sentence of the Congressional Record is always: "The Chaplain, Rev.————, D.D., offered the following prayer." When chaplains for the army or navy are confirmed by the Senate they always appear in the Record as Revs., never as the Revs. I also find the honorific without the article in the New International Encyclopaedia, in the World Almanac, and in a widely-popular [Pg123] American grammar-book.[25] So long ago as 1867, Gould protested against this elision as barbarous and idiotic, and drew up the following reductio ad absurdum:

At last annual meeting of Black Book Society, honorable John Smith took the chair, assisted by reverend John Brown and venerable John White. The office of secretary would have been filled by late John Green, but for his decease, which rendered him ineligible. His place was supplied by inevitable John Black. In the course of the evening eulogiums were pronounced on distinguished John Gray and notorious Joseph Brown. Marked compliment was also paid to able historian Joseph White, discriminating philosopher Joseph Green, and learned professor Joseph Black. But conspicuous speech of the evening was witty Joseph Gray's apostrophe to eminent astronomer Jacob Brown, subtle logician Jacob White, etc., etc.[26]

Richard Grant White, a year or two later, joined the attack in the New York Galaxy, and William Cullen Bryant included the omission of the article in his Index Expurgatorius, but these anathemas were as ineffective as Gould's irony. The more careful American journals, of course, incline to the the, and I note that it is specifically ordained on the Style-sheet of the Century Magazine, but the overwhelming majority of American newspapers get along without it, and I have often noticed its omission on the sign-boards at church entrances.[27] In England it is never omitted. [Pg124]

§ 4

Euphemisms and Forbidden Words—But such euphemisms as lady-clerk are, after all, much rarer in English than in American usage. The Englishman seldom tries to gloss menial occupations with sonorous names; on the contrary, he seems to delight in keeping their menial character plain. He says servants, not help. Even his railways and banks have servants; the chief trades-union of the English railroad men is the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. He uses employé in place of clerk, workman or laborer much less often than we do. True enough he calls a boarder a paying-guest, but that is probably because even a boarder may be a gentleman. Just as he avoids calling a fast train the limited, the flier or the cannon-ball, so he never calls an undertaker a funeral director or mortician,[28] or a dentist a dental surgeon or ontologist, or an optician an optometrist, or a barber shop (he always makes it barber's shop) a tonsorial parlor, or a common public-house a café, a restaurant, an exchange, a buffet or a hotel, or a tradesman a storekeeper or merchant, or a fresh-water college a university. A university, in England, always means a collection of colleges.[29] He avoids displacing terms of a disparaging or disagreeable significance with others less brutal, or thought to be less brutal, e. g., ready-to-wear or ready-tailored for ready-made, used or slightly-used for second-hand, mahoganized for imitation-mahogany, aisle manager for floor-walker (he makes it shop-walker), loan-office for pawn-shop. Also, he is careful not to use such words as rector, deacon and baccalaureate in merely rhetorical senses.[30] [Pg125]

When we come to words, that, either intrinsically or by usage, are improper, a great many curious differences between English and American reveal themselves. The Englishman, on the whole, is more plain-spoken than the American, and such terms as bitch, mare and in foal do not commonly daunt him, largely, perhaps, because of his greater familiarity with country life; but he has a formidable index of his own, and it includes such essentially harmless words as sick, stomach, bum and bug. The English use of ill for sick I have already noticed, and the reasons for the English avoidance of bum. Sick, over there, means nauseated, and when an Englishman says that he was sick he means that he vomited, or, as an American would say, was sick at the stomach. The older (and still American) usage, however, survives in various compounds. Sick-list, for example, is official in the Navy,[31] and sick-leave is known in the Army, though it is more common to say of a soldier that he is invalided home. Sick-room and sick-bed are also in common use, and sick-flag is used in place of the American quarantine-flag. But an Englishman hesitates to mention his stomach in the presence of ladies, though he discourses freely about his liver. To avoid the necessity he employs such euphemisms as Little Mary. As for bug, he restricts its use very rigidly to the Cimex lectularius, or common bed-bug, and hence the word has a highly impolite connotation. All other crawling things he calls insects. An American of my acquaintance once greatly offended an English friend by using bug for insect. The two were playing billiards one summer evening in the Englishman's house, and various flying things came through the window and alighted on the cloth. The American, essaying a shot, remarked that he had killed a bug with his cue. To the Englishman this seemed a slanderous reflection upon the cleanliness of his house.[32] [Pg126]

The Victorian era saw a great growth of absurd euphemisms in England, including second wing for the leg of a fowl, but it was in America that the thing was carried farthest. Bartlett hints that rooster came into use in place of cock as a matter of delicacy, the latter word having acquired an indecent significance, and tells us that, at one time, even bull was banned as too vulgar for refined ears. In place of it the early purists used cow-creature, male-cow and even gentleman-cow.[33] Bitch, ram, buck and sow went the same way, and there was a day when even mare was prohibited. Bache tells us that pismire was also banned, antmire being substituted for it. In 1847 the word chair was actually barred out and seat was adopted in its place.[34] These were the palmy days of euphemism. The delicate female was guarded from all knowledge, and even from all suspicion, of evil. "To utter aloud in her presence the word shirt," says one historian, "was an open insult."[35] Mrs. Trollope, writing in 1832, tells of "a young German gentleman of perfectly good manners" who "offended one of the principal families ... by having pronounced the word corset before the ladies of it."[36] The word woman, in those sensitive days, became a term of reproach, comparable to the German mensch; the uncouth female took its place.[37] In the same way the legs of the fair became limbs and their breasts bosoms, and lady was substituted for wife. Stomach, under the ban in England, was transformed, by some unfathomable magic, into a euphemism denoting the whole region from the nipples to the pelvic arch. It was during [Pg127] this time that the newspapers invented such locutions as interesting (or delicate) condition, criminal operation, house of ill (or questionable) repute, disorderly-house, sporting-house, statutory offense, fallen woman and criminal assault. Servant girls ceased to be seduced, and began to be betrayed. Various French terms, enceinte and accouchement among them, were imported to conceal the fact that lawful wives occasionally became pregnant and had lyings-in.

White, between 1867 and 1870, launched various attacks upon these ludicrous gossamers of speech, and particularly upon enceinte, limb and female, but only female succumbed. The passage of the notorious Comstock Postal Act, in 1873, greatly stimulated the search for euphemisms. Once that act was upon the statute-books and Comstock himself was given the amazingly inquisitorial powers of a post-office inspector, it became positively dangerous to print certain ancient and essentially decent English words. To this day the effects of that old reign of terror are still visible. We yet use toilet and public comfort station in place of better terms,[38] and such idiotic forms as red-light district, disorderly-house, blood-poison, social-evil, social disease and white slave ostensibly conceal what every flapper is talking about. The word cadet, having a foreign smack and an innocent native meaning, is preferred to the more accurate procurer; even prostitutes shrink from the forthright pimp, and employ a characteristic American abbreviation, P. I.—a curious brother to S. O. B. and 2 o'clock. Nevertheless, a movement toward honesty is getting on its legs. The vice crusaders, if they have accomplished nothing else, have at least forced the newspapers to use the honest terms, syphilis, prostitute, brothel and venereal disease, albeit somewhat gingerly. It is, perhaps, significant of the change going on that the New York Evening Post [Pg128] recently authorized its reporters to use street-walker.[39] But in certain quarters the change is viewed with alarm, and curious traces of the old prudery still survive. The Department of Health of New York City, in April, 1914, announced that its efforts to diminish venereal disease were much handicapped because "in most newspaper offices the words syphilis and gonorrhea are still tabooed, and without the use of these terms it is almost impossible to correctly state the problem." The Army Medical Corps, in the early part of 1918, encountered the same difficulty: most newspapers refused to print its bulletins regarding venereal disease in the army. One of the newspaper trade journals thereupon sought the opinions of editors upon the subject, and all of them save one declared against the use of the two words. One editor put the blame upon the Postoffice, which still cherishes the Comstock tradition. Another reported that "at a recent conference of the Scripps Northwest League editors" it was decided that "the use of such terms as gonorrhea, syphilis, and even venereal diseases would not add to the tone of the papers, and that the term vice diseases can be readily substituted."[40] The Scripps papers are otherwise anything but distinguished for their "tone," but in this department they yield to the Puritan habit. An even more curious instance of prudery came to my notice in Philadelphia several years ago. A one-act play of mine, "The Artist," was presented at the Little Theatre there, and during its run, on February 26, 1916, the Public Ledger reprinted some of the dialogue. One of the characters in the piece is A Virgin. At every occurrence a change was made to A Young Girl. Apparently, even virgin is still regarded as too frank in Philadelphia.[41] Fifty years [Pg129] ago the very word decent was indecent in the South: no respectable woman was supposed to have any notion of the difference between decent and indecent.

In their vocabularies of opprobrium and profanity English and Americans diverge sharply. The English rotter and blighter are practically unknown in America, and there are various American equivalents that are never heard in England. A guy, in the American vulgate, simply signifies a man; there is not necessarily any disparaging significance. But in English, high or low, it means one who is making a spectacle of himself. The derivative verb, to guy, is unknown in English; its nearest equivalent is to spoof, which is unknown in American. The average American, I believe, has a larger vocabulary of profanity than the average Englishman, and swears a good deal more, but he attempts an amelioration of many of his oaths by softening them to forms with no apparent meaning. Darn (=dern=durn) for damn is apparently of English origin, but it is heard ten thousand times in America to once in England. So is dog-gone. Such euphemistic written forms as damphool and damfino are also far more common in this country. All-fired for hell-fired, gee-whiz for Jesus, tarnal for eternal, tarnation for damnation, cuss for curse, goldarned for God-damned, by gosh for by God and great Scott for great God are all Americanisms; Thornton has traced all-fired to 1835, tarnation to 1801 and tarnal to 1790. By golly has been found in English literature so early as 1843, but it probably originated in America; down to the Civil War it was the characteristic oath of the negro slaves. Such terms as bonehead, pinhead and boob have been invented, perhaps, to take the place of the English ass, which has a flavor of impropriety in America on account of its identity in sound with the American pronunciation of arse.[42] At an earlier day ass was always differentiated by making it jackass. Another word that is improper in America but not in England is tart. To an Englishman the word connotes sweetness, and so, if he be of the lower orders, he may apply [Pg130] it to his sweetheart. But to the American it signifies a prostitute, or, at all events, a woman of too ready an amiability.

But the most curious disparity between the profane vocabulary of the two tongues is presented by bloody. This word is entirely without improper significance in America, but in England it is regarded as the vilest of indecencies. The sensation produced in London when George Bernard Shaw put it into the mouth of a woman character in his play, "Pygmalion," will be remembered. "The interest in the first English performance," said the New York Times,[43] "centered in the heroine's utterance of this banned word. It was waited for with trembling, heard shudderingly, and presumably, when the shock subsided, interest dwindled." But in New York, of course, it failed to cause any stir. Just why it is regarded as profane and indecent by the English is one of the mysteries of the language. The theory that it has some blasphemous reference to the blood of Christ is disputed by many etymologists. It came in during the latter half of the seventeenth century, and at the start it apparently meant no more than "in the manner of a blood," i. e., a rich young roisterer of the time. Thus, bloody drunk was synonymous with as drunk as a lord. The adjective remained innocuous for 200 years. Then it suddenly acquired its present abhorrent significance. It is regarded with such aversion by the English that even the lower orders often substitute bleeding as a euphemism.

So far no work devoted wholly to the improper terms of English and American has been published, but this lack may be soon remedied by a compilation made by a Chicago journalist. It is entitled "The Slang of Venery and Its Analogues," and runs to two large volumes. A small edition, mimeographed for private circulation, was issued in 1916. I have examined this work and found it of great value. If the influence of comstockery is sufficient to prevent its publication in the United States, as seems likely, it will be printed in Switzerland.


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