The American Language

by H.L. Mencken

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Chapter V - Footnotes

[1] In Passing English of the Victorian Era; London, n. d., p. 68.

[2] The Oxford Dictionary, following the late J. H. Trumbull, the well-known authority on Indian languages, derives the word from the Algonquin cau-cau-as-u, one who advises. But most other authorities, following Pickering, derive it from caulkers. The first caucuses, it would appear, were held in a caulkers' shop in Boston, and were called caulkers' meetings. The Rev. William Gordon, in his History of the Rise and Independence of the United States, Including the Late War, published in London in 1788, said that "more than fifty years ago Mr. Samuel Adams' father and twenty others, one or two from the north end of the town [Boston], where the ship business is carried on, used to meet, make a caucus, and lay their plans for introducing certain persons into places of trust and power."

[3] Americanisms Old and New; p. vii.

[4] A. Cleveland Coxe: Americanisms in England, Forum, Oct. 1886.

[5] Reprinted, in part, in the New York Sun, May 12, 1918.

[6] Vol. xiv. pp. 507, 512.

[7] In this connection it is curious to note that, though the raccoon is an animal quite unknown in England, there was, until lately, a destroyer called the Raccoon in the British Navy. This ship was lost with all hands off the Irish coast, Jan. 9, 1918.

[8] The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage; London, 1913, p. 9. To bluff has also gone into other languages, notably the Spanish. During the Cuban revolution of March, 1917, the newspapers of Havana, objecting to the dispatches sent out by American correspondents, denounced the latter as los blofistas. Meanwhile, to bluff has been shouldered out in the country of its origin, at least temporarily, by a verb borrowed from the French, to camouflage. This first appeared in the Spring of 1917.

[9] Book iv, ch. iii. The first of the six volumes was published in 1858 and the last in 1865.

[10] Words and Their Use, new ed.; New York, 1876, p. 198.

[11] Boston, 1918, pp. 1-43.

[12] Green Book Magazine, Nov., 1913, p. 768.

[13] An interesting note on this characteristic is in College Words and Phrases, by Eugene H. Babbitt, Dialect Notes, vol. ii, pt. i, p. 11.

[14] America's Coming of Age; p. 15.

[15] March 26, 1918, pp. 4376-7.

[16] Jan. 14, 1918, p. 903.

[17] Mr. Campbell, of Kansas, in the House, Jan. 19, 1918, p. 1134.

[18] Mr. Hamlin, of Missouri, in the House, Jan. 19, 1918, p. 1154.

[19] Mr. Kirby, of Arkansas, in the Senate, Jan. 24, 1918, p. 1291; Mr. Lewis, of Illinois, in the Senate, June 6, 1918, p. 8024.

[20] Mr. Weeks of Massachusetts, in the Senate, Jan. 17, 1918, p. 988.

[21] Mr. Smith, of South Carolina, in the Senate, Jan. 17, 1918, p. 991.

[22] Mr. Borland, of Missouri, in the House, Jan. 29, 1918, p. 1501.

[23] May 4, 1917, p. 1853.

[24] Mr. Snyder, of New York, Dec. 11, 1917.

[25] Balled-up and its verb, to ball up, were originally somewhat improper, no doubt on account of the slang significance of ball, but of late they have made steady progress toward polite acceptance.

[26] After the passage of the first War Revenue Act cigar-boxes began to bear this inscription: "The contents of this box have been taxed paid as cigars of Class B as indicated by the Internal Revenue stamp affixed." Even tax-paid, which was later substituted, is obviously better than this clumsy double inflection.

[27] Mr. Bankhead, of Alabama, in the Senate, May 14, 1918, p. 6995.

[28] Bust seems to be driving out burst completely when used figuratively. Even in a literal sense it creeps into more or less respectable usage. Thus I find "a busted tire" in a speech by Gen. Sherwood, of Ohio, in the House, Jan. 24, 1918. The familiar American derivative, buster, as in Buster Brown, is unknown to the English.

[29] Pp. 133-154.

[30] L. Pearsall Smith, in The English Language, p. 29, says that "the differentiation is ... so complicated that it can hardly be mastered by those born in parts of the British Islands in which it has not yet been established"—e. g., all of Ireland and most of Scotland.

[31] Quoted by White, in Words and Their Uses, pp. 264-5. White, however, dissented vigorously and devoted 10 pages to explaining the difference between the two auxiliaries. Most of the other authorities of the time were also against Marsh—for example, Richard Meade Bache (See his Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech, p. 92 et seq.). Sir Edmund Head, governor-general of Canada from 1854 to 1861, wrote a whole book upon the subject: Shall and Will, or Two Chapters on Future Auxiliary Verbs; London, 1856.

[32] The probable influence of Irish immigration upon the American usage is not to be overlooked. Joyce says flatly (English As We Speak It in Ireland, p. 77) that, "like many another Irish idiom this is also found in American society chiefly through the influence of the Irish." At all events, the Irish example must have reinforced it. In Ireland "Will I light the fire, ma'am?" is colloquially sound.

[33] Often with such amusing results as "whom is your father?" and "whom spoke to me?" The exposure of excesses of that sort always attracts the wits, especially Franklin P. Adams.

[34] "It is I" is quite as unsound historically. The correct form would be "it am I" or "I am it." Compare the German: "ich bin es," not, "es ist ich."

[35] A common direction to motormen and locomotive engineers. The English form is "slow down." I note, however, that "drive slowly" is in the taxicab shed at the Pennsylvania Station, in New York.

[36] I quote from a speech made by Senator Sherman, of Illinois, in the United States Senate on June 20, 1918. Vide Congressional Record for that day, p. 8743. Two days later, "There is no question but that" appeared in a letter by John Lee Coulter, A.M., Ph.D., dean of West Virginia University. It was read into the Record of June 22 by Mr. Ashwell, one of the Louisiana representatives. Even the pedantic Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, oozing Harvard from every pore, uses but that. Vide the Record for May 14, 1918, p. 6996.

[37] June 15, 1918, p. 62.

[38] The English Language, p. 79.

[39] This phrase, of course, is a Briticism, and seldom used in America. The American form is "to take a matter up."

[40] P. 30.

[41] A Contribution Towards, etc., by Prof. H. Tallichet, vol. 1, pt. iv.

[42] Yale Review, April, 1918, p. 545.

[43] I Speak United States, Saturday Review, Sept. 22, 1894.

[44] Our Dictionaries, pp. 84-86.

[45] Should Language Be Abolished? by Harold Goddard, Atlantic Monthly, July, 1918, p. 63.

[46] In Yiddish, ish ka bibble. The origin and meaning of the phrase have been variously explained. The prevailing notion seems to be that it is a Yiddish corruption of the German nicht gefiedelt (=not fiddled=not flustered). But this seems to me to be fanciful. To the Jews ish is obviously the first personal pronoun and kaa probably corruption of kann. As for bibble I suspect that it is the offspring of bedibbert (=embarrassed, intimidated). The phrase thus has an ironical meaning, I should be embarrassed, almost precisely equivalent to I should worry.

[47] All of which, of course, are coming into American, along with many other Yiddish words. These words tend to spread far beyond the areas actually settled by Jews. Thus I find mazuma in A Word-List from Kansas, from the collectanea of Judge J. C. Ruppenthal, of Russell, Kansas, Dialect Notes, vol. iv. pt. v, 1916, p. 322.

[48] Louise Pound: Domestication of the Suffix -fest, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. v, 1916. Dr. Pound, it should be mentioned, has also printed a brief note on -inski. Her observation of American is peculiarly alert and accurate.

[49] For example, see the Congressional Record for April 3, 1918, p. 4928.

[50] Paprika is in the Standard Dictionary, but I have been unable to find it in any English dictionary. Another such word is kimono, from the Japanese.

[51] Cf. Vogue Affixes in Present-Day Word-Coinage, by Louise Pound, Dialect Notes, vol. v, pt. i, 1918. Dr. Pound ascribes the vogue of super- to German influences, and is inclined to think that -dom may be helped by the German -thum.

[52] Vide Pennsylvania Dutch, by S. S. Haldeman; Philadelphia, 1872. Also, The Pennsylvania German Dialect, by M. D. Learned; Baltimore, 1889. Also Die Zukunft deutscher Bildung in Amerika, by O. E. Lessing, Monatshefte für deutsche Sprache und Pedagogik, Dec., 1916. Also, Where Do You Stand? by Herman Hagedorn; New York, 1918, pp. 106-7. Also, On the German Dialect Spoken in the Valley of Virginia, by H. M. Hays, Dialect Notes, vol. iii, pt. iv, 1908, pp. 263-78.

[53] Vide Notes on American-Norwegian, by Nils Flaten, Dialect Notes, vol. ii, 1900. Also, for similar corruptions, The Jersey Dutch Dialect, by J. Dyneley Prince, ibid., vol. iii, pt. vi, 1910, pp. 461-84. Also, see under Hempl, Flom, Bibaud, Buies and A. M. Elliott in the bibliography.

[54] For all these examples of American Yiddish I am indebted to the kindness of Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward. Mr. Cahan is not only editor of the chief Yiddish newspaper of the United States, but also an extraordinarily competent writer of English, as his novel, The Rise of David Levinsky, demonstrates.

[55] What Americans Talk in the Philippines, American Review of Reviews, Aug., 1913.

[56] Cf. The English of the Lower Classes in New York City and Vicinity, Dialect Notes, vol. i, pt. ix, 1896. It is curious to note that the same corruption occurs in the Spanish spoken in Santo Domingo. The Dominicans thus change porque into poique. Cf. Santo Domingo, by Otto Schoenrich; New York, 1918, p. 172. See also High School Circular No. 17, Dept. of Education, City of New York, June 19, 1912, p. 6.

[57] The American People, 2 vols.; New York, 1909-11, vol. ii, pp. 449-50. For a discussion of this effect of contact with foreigners upon a language see also Beach-la-Mar, by William Churchill; Washington, 1911, p. 11 et seq.

[58] Vide Lounsbury: The Standard of Usage in English, pp. 65-7.

[59] For an exhaustive discussion of these formations cf. Clipped Words, by Elizabeth Wittman, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. ii, 1914.

[60] Americanisms Old and New, p. 1.

[61] Cf. Semi-Secret Abbreviations, by Percy W. Long, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. iii, 1915.

[62] The classical example is in a parliamentary announcement by Sir Robert Peel: "When that question is made to me in a proper time, in a proper place, under proper qualifications, and with proper motives, I will hesitate long before I will refuse to take it into consideration."

[63] Cf. On the Art of Writing, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch; p. 100 et seq.

[64] This use of tenderloin is ascribed to Alexander (alias "Clubber") Williams, a New York police captain. Vide the New York Sun, July 11, 1913. Williams, in 1876, was transferred from an obscure precinct to West Thirtieth Street. "I've been having chuck steak ever since I've been on the force," he said, "and now I'm going to have a bit of tenderloin." "The name," says the Sun, "has endured more than a generation, moving with the changed amusement geography of the city, and has been adopted in all parts of the country."

[65] New York Evening Mail, Feb. 2, 1918, p. 1.

[66] Horizons, by Francis Hackett; New York, 1918, p. 53.

[67] It has even got into the Continental languages. In October, 1917, the Verband Deutscher Amateurphotographen-Vereine was moved to issue the following warning: "Es gibt kein deutschen Kodaks. Kodak, als Sammelname für photographische Erzeugnisse ist falsch und bezeichnet nur die Fabrikate der Eastman-Kodak-Company. Wer von einem Kodak spricht und nur allgemein eine photographische Kamera meint, bedenkt nicht, dass er mit der Weiterverbreitung dieses Wortes die deutsche Industrie zugunsten der amerikanisch-englischen schädigt."

[68] Cf. Word-Coinage and Modern Trade Names, by Louise Pound, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. i, 1913, pp. 29-41. Most of these coinages produce derivatives, e. g., bevo-officer, to kodak, kodaker.

[69] This conscious shortening, of course, is to be distinguished from the shortening that goes on in words by gradual decay, as in Christmas (from Christ's mass) and daisy (from day's eye).

[70] The Science of Language, vol. ii, p. 339.

[71] Daniel Jones: The Pronunciation of English, 2nd ed.; Cambridge, 1914, p. 1. Jones is lecturer in phonetics at University College, London.

[72] Vide his Handbook of Phonetics, p. xv, et seq.

[73] It is given in Ellis' Early English Pronunciation, p. 1293 et seq. and in Sayce's The Science of Language, vol. i, p. 353 et seq.

[74] Every-Day English, p. 29.

[75] Robert J. Menner: The Pronunciation of English in America, Atlantic Monthly, March, 1915, p. 366.

[76] Words and Their Uses, p. 58.

[77] The following passage from Kipling's American Notes, ch. i, will be recalled: "Oliver Wendell Holmes says that the Yankee schoolmarm, the cider and the salt codfish of the Eastern states are responsible for what he calls a nasal accent. I know better. They stole books from across the water without paying for 'em, and the snort of delight was fixed in their nostrils for ever by a just Providence. That is why they talk a foreign tongue today."

[78] Lecture xxx. The English Language in America.

[79] Modern English, p. 166. Cf. A Desk-Book of 25,000 Words Frequently Mispronounced, by Frank H. Vizetelly, p. 652.

[80] Lexilogus, 2nd ed.; Berlin, 1860, p. 239. An English translation was published in London in 1846.

[81] A Desk-Book of 25,000 Words Frequently Mispronounced, p. xvi.

[82] The Pronunciation of English, p. 17.

[83] The Pronunciation of English in America, op. cit., p. 362.

[84] The Question of Our Speech, p. 29 et seq.

[85] Cf. The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. xiv, p. 487.

[86] Robert Bridges: A Tract on the Present State of English Pronunciation; Oxford, 1913.

[87] An interesting discussion of this peculiarity is in Some Variant Pronunciations in the New South, by William A. Read, Dialect Notes, vol. iii, pt. vii, 1911, p. 504 et seq.

[88] Hugh Mearns: Our Own, Our Native Speech, McClure's Magazine, Oct., 1916.

[89] The American actor imitates, not only English pronunciation in all its details, but also English dress and bearing. His struggles with such words as extraordinary are often very amusing.

[90] Cf. Duncan Mackintosh: Essai Raisonné sur la Grammaire et la Pronunciation Anglais; Boston, 1797.

[91] Fashion and the Broad A, Nation, Jan 7, 1915.

[92] High School Circular No. 17, June 19, 1912.

[93] Every-Day English, p. 243.

[94] Open Boats, by Alfred Noyes, New York, 1917, pp. 89-91.

[95] P. 30.

[96] The Science of Language, vol. i, p. 259.

[97] B. MacDonald Hastings, New York Tribune, Jan. 19, 1913.

[98] Various minor differences between English and American pronunciation, not noted here, are discussed in British and American Pronunciation, by Louise Pound, School Review, vol. xxiii, no. 6, June, 1915.


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