The American Language

by H.L. Mencken

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Chapter IV - Footnotes

[1] It should be noted that mews is used only in the larger cities. In the small towns livery-stable is commoner. Mews is quite unknown in America save as an occasional archaism.

[2] Sometimes whiffle-tree.

[3] The latter has crept into American of late. I find it on p. 58 of The United States at War, a pamphlet issued by the Library of Congress, 1917. The compiler of this pamphlet is a savant bearing the fine old British name of Herman H. B. Meyer.

[4] Living-room, however, is gradually making its way in England. It was apparently suggested, in America, by the German wohnzimmer.

[5] This form survives in the American term city-stock, meaning the bonds of a municipality. But government securities are always called bonds.

[6] Cf. A Glossary of Colloquial Slang and Technical Terms in Use in the Stock Exchange and in the Money Market, by A. J. Wilson, London, 1895.

[7] Or bailiffs.

[8] But he is run by his party organization. Cf. The Government of England, by A. Lawrence Lowell; New York, 1910, vol. ii, p. 29.

[9] Until very recently no self-respecting American newspaper reporter would call himself a journalist. He always used newspaper man, and referred to his vocation, not as a profession, but as the newspaper business. This old prejudice, however, now seems to be breaking down. Cf. Don't Shy at Journalist, The Editor and Publisher and Journalist, June 27, 1914.

[10] Cf. a speech of Senator La Follette, Congressional Record, Aug. 27, 1917, p. 6992.

[11] According to the New International Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (Art. Apartment House), the term flat "is usually in the United States restricted to apartments in houses having no elevator or hall service." In New York such apartments are commonly called walk-up apartments. Even with the qualification, apartment is better than flat.

[12] Canoeing was introduced into England by John MacGregor in 1866, and there is now a Royal Canoe Club. In America the canoe has been familiar from the earliest times, and in Mme. Sarah Kemble Knight's diary (1704) there is much mention of cannoos. The word itself is from an Indian dialect, probably the Haitian, and came into American through the Spanish, in which it survives as canoa.

[13] "An act was passed to prohibit playing nine-pins; as soon as the law was put in force, it was notified everywhere, 'Ten-pins played here.'"—Capt. Marryat: Diary in America, vol. iii, p. 195.

[14] "The term chapel," says Joyce, in English as We Speak It in Ireland, "has so ingrained itself in my mind that to this hour the word instinctively springs to my lips when I am about to mention a Catholic place of worship; and I always feel some sort of hesitation or reluctance in substituting the word church. I positively could not bring myself to say, 'Come, it is time now to set out for church' It must be either mass or chapel."

[15] Certain dissenters, of late, show a disposition to borrow the American usage. Thus the Christian World, organ of the English Congregationalists, uses Episcopal to designate the Church of England.

[16] So long ago as the 70's certain Jews petitioned the publishers of Webster's and Worcester's dictionaries to omit their definitions of the verb to jew, and according to Richard Grant White, the publisher of Worcester's complied. Such a request, in England, would be greeted with derision.

[17] But nevertheless he uses begotten, not begot.

[18] This specimen is from the Congressional Record of Dec. 11, 1917: "I do not like to be butting into this proposition, but I look upon this postoffice business as a purely business proposition." The speaker was "Hon" Homer P. Snyder, of New York. In the Record of Jan. 12, 1918, p. 8294, proposition is used as a synonym for state of affairs.

[19] Already in 1855 Bristed was protesting that to fix was having "more than its legitimate share of work all over the Union." "In English conversation," he said, "the panegyrical adjective of all work is nice; in America it is fine." This was before the adoption of jolly and its analogues, ripping, stunning, rattling, etc.

[20] In the Appendix to the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases, London, 1916, p. iv., I find the following: "Mr. C. J. Symonds, F.R.C.S., M.D.; Mr. F. J. McCann, F.R.C.S., M.D.; Mr. A. F. Evans, F.R.C.S". Mr. Symonds is consulting surgeon to Guy's Hospital, Mr. McCann is an eminent London gynecologist, and Mr. Evans is a general surgeon in large practise. All would be called Doctor in the United States.

[21] Among the curious recipients of this degree have been Gumshoe Bill Stone, Uncle Joe Cannon and Josephus Daniels. Billy Sunday, the evangelist, is a D.D.

[22] Congressional Record, May 16, 1918, p. 7147.

[23] Vide his annual reports, printed at Sing Sing Prison.

[24] I encountered this gem in Public Health Reports, a government publication, for April 26, 1918, p. 619.

[25] For the Record see the issue of Dec. 14, 1917, p. 309. For the New International Encyclopaedia see the article on Brotherhood of Andrew and Philip. For the World Almanac see the article on Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, ed. of 1914. The grammar-book is Longman's Briefer Grammar; New York, 1908, p. 160. The editor is George J. Smith, a member of the board of examiners of the New York City Department of Education.

[26] Edwin S. Gould: Good English; New York, 1867, pp. 56-57.

[27] Despite the example of Congress, however, the Department of State inserts the the. Vide the Congressional Record, May 4, 1918, p. 6552. But the War Department, the Treasury and the Post Office omit it. Vide the Congressional Record, May 11, 1918, p. 6895 and p. 6914 and May 14, p. 7004, respectively. So, it appears, does the White House. Vide the Congressional Record, May 10, 1918, p. 6838, and June 12, 1918, p. 8293.

[28] In the 60's an undertaker was often called an embalming surgeon in America.

[29] In a list of American "universites" I find the Christian of Canton, Mo., with 125 students; the Lincoln, of Pennsylvania, with 184; the Southwestern Presbyterian, of Clarksville, Tenn., with 86; and the Newton Theological, with 77. Most of these, of course, are merely country high-schools.

[30] The Rev. John C. Stephenson in the New York Sun, July 10, 1914: ... "that empty courtesy of addressing every clergyman as Doctor.... And let us abolish the abuse of ... baccalaureate sermons for sermons before graduating classes of high schools and the like."

[31] Cf. Dardanelles Commission Report; London, 1916, p. 58, § 47.

[32] Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug" is called "The Golden Beetle" in England. Twenty-five years ago an Englishman named Buggey, laboring under the odium attached to the name, had it changed to Norfolk-Howard, a compound made up of the title and family name of the Duke of Norfolk. The wits of London at once doubled his misery by adopting Norfolk-Howard as a euphemism for bed-bug.

[33] A recent example of the use of male-cow was quoted in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 17, 1917, advertising page 24.

[34] New York Organ (a "family journal devoted to temperance, morality, education and general literature"), May 29, 1847. One of the editors of this delicate journal was T. S. Arthur, author of Ten Nights in a Bar-room.

[35] John Graham Brooks: As Others See Us; New York, 1908, p. 11.

[36] Domestic Manners of the Americans, 2 vols.; London, 1832; vol. i, p. 132.

[37] Female, of course, was epidemic in England too, but White says that it was "not a Briticism," and so early as 1839 the Legislature of Maryland expunged it from the title of a bill "to protect the reputation of unmarried females," substituting women, on the ground that female "was an Americanism in that application."

[38] The French pissoir, for instance, is still regarded as indecent in America, and is seldom used in England, but it has gone into most of the Continental languages. It is curious to note, however, that these languages also have their pruderies. Most of them, for example, use W. C., an abbreviation of the English water-closet, as a euphemism. The whole subject of national pruderies, in both act and speech, remains to be investigated.

[39] Even the Springfield Republican, the last stronghold of Puritan Kultur, printed the word on Oct. 11, 1917, in a review of New Adventures, by Michael Monahan.

[40] Pep, July, 1918, p. 8.

[41] Perhaps the Quaker influence is to blame. At all events, Philadelphia is the most pecksniffian of American cities, and thus probably leads the world. Early in 1918, when a patriotic moving-picture entitled "To Hell with the Kaiser" was sent on tour under government patronage, the word hell was carefully toned down, on the Philadelphia billboards, to h——.

[42] Cf. R. M. Bache: Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech; Phila., 1869, p. 34 et seq..

[43] April 14, 1914.


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