The American Language

by H.L. Mencken

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Chapter VI - Footnotes

[1] Sweet, perhaps the abbot of the order, makes almost indecent haste to sin. See the second paragraph on the very first page of vol. i of his New English Grammar.

[2] Yale Review, April, 1918, p. 548.

[3] Yale Review, op. cit., p. 560.

[4] The Difficulties Created by Grammarians Are to be Ignored, by W. H. Wilcox, Atlantic Educational Journal, Nov., 1912, p. 8. The title of this article is quoted from ministerial instructions of 1909 to the teachers of French lyceés.

[5] Op cit. p. 7. Mr. Wilcox is an instructor in the Maryland State Normal School.

[6] See especially chapters ix and x of Words and Their Uses and chapters xvii, xviii and xix of Every-Day English; also the preface to the latter, p. xi et seq. The study of other languages has been made difficult by the same attempt to force the characters of Greek and Latin grammar upon them. One finds a protest against the process, for example, in E. H. Palmer's Grammar of Hindustani, Persian and Arabic; London, 1906. In all ages, indeed, grammarians appear to have been fatuous. The learned will remember Aristophanes' ridicule of them in The Clouds, 660-690.

[7] The case is well summarized in Simpler English Grammar, by Patterson Wardlaw, Bull. of the University of S. Carolina, No. 38, pt. iii, July, 1914.

[8] Cincinnati, 1868; rev. ed., 1878.

[9] New York, 1903; rev. ed., 1915.

[10] Even Sweet, though he bases his New English Grammar upon the spoken language and thus sets the purists at defiance, quickly succumbs to the labelling mania. Thus his classification of tenses includes such fabulous monsters as these: continuous, recurrent, neutral, definite, indefinite, secondary, incomplete, inchoate, short and long.

[11] By W. F. Webster and Alice Woodworth Cooley; Boston, 1903; rev. eds., 1905 and 1909. The authors are Minneapolis teachers.

[12] Op. cit. p. 8.

[13] Bulletin No. 2; Washington, 1917.

[14] The Middle American, American Magazine, March, 1907.

[15] Cf. White: Every-Day English, p. 367 et seq.

[16] Cf. Sweet: New English Grammar, vol. i, p. 5.

[17] Dr. Charters' report appears as Vol. XVI, No. 2, University of Missouri Bulletin, Education Series No. 9, Jan., 1915. He was aided in his inquiry by Edith Miller, teacher of English in one of the St. Louis high-schools.

[18] You Know Me Al: New York, 1916.

[19] Saturday Evening Post, July 11, 1914.

[20] Bin is the correct American pronunciation. Bean, as we have seen, is the English. But I have often found ben, rhyming with pen, in such phrases as "I ben there."

[21] See p. 209.

[22] Seldom used. Get is used in the place of it, as in "I am getting old" and "he got sick."

[23] Burned, with a distinct d-sound, is almost unknown in American. See p. 201.

[24] Not used.

[25] Cotched is heard only in the South, and mainly among the negroes. Catch, of course, is always pronounced ketch.

[26] But "I drew three jacks," in poker.

[27] Fotch is also heard, but it is not general.

[28] Fit and fitten, unless my observation errs, are heard only in dialect. Fit is archaic English. Cf. Thornton, vol. i, p. 322.

[29] Glode once enjoyed a certain respectability in America. It occurs in the Knickerbocker Magazine for April, 1856.

[30] Hanged is never heard.

[31] Het is incomplete without the addition of up. "He was het up" is always heard, not "he was het."

[32] Always so pronounced. See p. 236.

[33] See pp. 57 and 202.

[34] Always used in place of rinse.

[35] Always used in place of roil.

[36] Sot is heard as a localism only.

[37] See set, which is used almost invariably in place of sit.

[38] Thunk is never used seriously; it always shows humorous intent.

[39] See pp. 201 and 211.

[40] Cf. Lounsbury: History of the English Language, pp. 309-10.

[41] English As We Speak It In Ireland, p. 77.

[42] The Science of Language, vol. i, p. 166.

[43] The last stand of the distinct -ed was made in Addison's day. He was in favor of retaining it, and in the Spectator for Aug. 4, 1711, he protested against obliterating the syllable in the termination "of our praeter perfect tense, as in these words, drown'd, walk'd, arriv'd, for drowned, walked, arrived, which has very much disfigured the tongue, and turned a tenth part of our smoothest words into so many clusters of consonants."

[44] A New English Grammar, pt. i, p. 380.

[45] History of the English Language, p. 398.

[46] And still more often as an adjective, as in "it was a boughten dress."

[47] You Know Me Al, p. 180; see also p. 122.

[48] Cf. Lounsbury: History of the English Language, pp. 393 et seq.

[49] Remark of a policeman talking to another. What he actually said was "before the Elks was c'm 'ere." Come and here were one word, approximately cmear. The context showed that he meant to use the past perfect tense.

[50] These examples are from Lardner's story, A New Busher Breaks In, in You Know Me Al, pp. 122 et seq.

[51] You Know Me Al, op. cit., p. 124.

[52] The Making of English, p. 53.

[53] Cf. Dialect Notes, vol. iii, pt. i, p. 59; ibid., vol. III, pt. iv, p. 283.

[54] Henry Bradley, in The Making of English, pp. 54-5: "In the parts of England which were largely inhabited by Danes the native pronouns (i. e., heo, his, heom and heora) were supplanted by the Scandinavian pronouns which are represented by the modern she, they, them and their." This substitution, at first dialectical, gradually spread to the whole language.

[55] Cf. Sweet: A New English Grammar, pt. i, p. 344, par. 1096.

[56] Before a noun beginning with a vowel thine and mine are commonly substituted for thy and my, as in "thine eyes" and "mine infirmity." But this is solely for the sake of euphony. There is no compensatory use of my and thy in the absolute.

[57] The Making of English, p. 58.

[58] Cf. The Dialect of Southeastern Missouri, by D. S. Crumb, Dialect Notes, vol. ii, pt. iv, 1903, p. 337.

[59] It occurs, too, of course, in other dialects of English, though by no means in all. The Irish influence probably had something to do with its prosperity in vulgar American. At all events, the Irish use it in the American manner. Joyce, in English As We Speak It in Ireland, pp. 34-5, argues that this usage was suggested by Gaelic. In Gaelic the accusative pronouns, e, i and iad (=him, her and them) are often used in place of the nominatives, sé, si and siad (=he, she and they), as in "is iad sin na buachaillidhe" (=them are the boys). This is "good grammar" in Gaelic, and the Irish, when they began to learn English, translated the locution literally. The familiar Irish "John is dead and him always so hearty" shows the same influence.

[60] Pp. 144-50.

[61] Modern English, p. 300.

[62] A New English Grammar, pt. i, p. 339.

[63] History of the English Language, pp. 274-5.

[64] Modern English, p. 288-9.

[65] Cf. p. 145n.

[66] A New English Grammar, pt. i, p. 341.

[67] It may be worth noting here that the misuse of me for my, as in "I lit me pipe" is quite unknown in American, either standard or vulgar. Even "me own" is seldom heard. This boggling of the cases is very common in spoken English.

[68] A New English Grammar, pt. i, p. 341.

[69] The King's English, p. 63.

[70] "Hon." Edward E. Browne, of Wisconsin, in the House of Representatives, July 18, 1918, p. 9965.

[71] Cf. Vogue Affixes in Present-Day Word-Coinage, by Louise Pound, Dialect Notes, vol. v, pt. i, 1918.

[72] The Speech of a Child Two Years of Age, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. ii, 1914.

[73] A New English Grammar, pt. i, pp. 437-8.

[74] The King's English, p. 322. See especially the quotation from Frederick Greenwood, the distinguished English journalist.

[75] Report of Edward J. Brundage, attorney-general of Illinois, on the East St. Louis massacre, Congressional Record, Jan. 7, 1918, p. 661.

[76] The King's English, op. cit.

[77] Oct. 1, 1864.

[78] At all, by the way, is often displaced by any or none, as in "he don't lover her any" and "it didn't hurt me none."

[79] See the bibliography for the publication of Drs. Read and Pound.

[80] The only book that I can find definitely devoted to American sounds is A Handbook of American Speech, by Calvin L. Lewis; Chicago, 1916. It has many demerits. For example, the author gives a z-sound to the s in venison (p. 52). This is surely not American.

[81] Maryland edition, July 18, 1914, p. 1.

[82] Cf. Lounsbury: The Standard of Pronunciation in English, p. 172 et seq.

[83] Stomp is used only in the sense of to stamp with the foot. One always stamps a letter. An analogue of stomp, accepted in correct English, is strop (e. g., razor-strop), from strap.

[84] Our Own, Our Native Speech, McClure's Magazine, Oct., 1916.


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