The American Language

by H.L. Mencken

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Chapter VII - Footnotes

[1] Fowler & Fowler, in The King's English, p. 23, say that "when it was proposed to borrow from France what we [i. e., the English] now know as the closure, it seemed certain for some time that with the thing we should borrow the name, clôture; a press campaign resulted in closure." But in the Congressional Record it is still cloture, though with the loss of the circumflex accent, and this form is generally retained by American newspapers.

[2] Richard P. Read: The American Language, New York Sun, March 7, 1918.

[3] To shew has completely disappeared from American, but it still survives in English usage. Cf. The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, by George Bernard Shaw. The word, of course, is pronounced show, not shoe. Shrew, a cognate word, still retains the early pronunciation of shrow in English, but is now phonetic in American.

[4] Cf. Lounsbury; English Spelling and Spelling Reform; p. 209 et seq. Johnson even advocated translatour, emperour, oratour and horrour. But, like most other lexicographers, he was often inconsistent, and the conflict between interiour and exterior, and anteriour and posterior, in his dictionary, laid him open to much mocking criticism.

[5] In a letter to Miss Stephenson, Sept. 20, 1768, he exhibited the use of his new alphabet. The letter is to be found in most editions of his writings.

[6] R. C. Williams: Our Dictionaries; New York, 1890, p. 30.

[7] Nomenclature of Diseases and Condition, prepared by direction of the Surgeon General; Washington, 1916.

[8] American Medical Association Style Book; Chicago, 1915.

[9] Democratic Review, March, 1856.

[10] Vide English Spelling and Spelling Reform, p. 229.

[11] A Critical Review of the Orthography of Dr. Webster's Series of Books ...; New York, 1831.

[12] Good English; p. 137 et seq.

[13] Studies in English; pp. 64-5.

[14] Americanisms and Briticisms; New York, 1892, p. 37.

[15] Authors' & Printers' Dictionary ... an attempt to codify the best typographical practices of the present day, by F. Howard Collins; 4th ed., revised by Horace Hart; London, 1912.

[16] Horace Hart: Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford: 23rd ed.; London, 1914. I am informed by Mr. Humphrey Davy, of the London Times, that, with one or two minor exceptions, the Times observes the rules laid down in this book.

[17] Cassell's English Dictionary, ed. by John Williams, 37th thousand: London, 1908. This work is based upon the larger Encyclopaedic Dictionary, also edited by Williams.

[18] Caliber is now the official spelling of the United States Army. Cf. Description and Rules for the Management of the U. S. Rifle, Caliber .30 Model of 1903; Washington, 1915. But calibre is still official in England as appears by the Field Service Pocket-Book used in the European war (London, 1914, p. viii.)

[19] Even worse inconsistencies are often encountered. Thus enquiry appears on p. 3 of the Dardanelles Commission's First Report; London, 1917; but inquiring is on p. 1.

[20] Mere stupid copying may perhaps be added. An example of it appears on a map printed with a pamphlet entitled Conquest and Kultur, compiled by two college professors and issued by the Creel press bureau (Washington, 1918). On this map, borrowed from an English periodical called New Europe without correction, annex is spelled annexe. In the same way English spellings often appear in paragraphs reprinted from the English newspapers. As compensation in the case of annexe I find annex on pages 11 and 23 of A Report on the Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of War Behind the Firing Lines in France and Belgium; Miscellaneous No. 7 (1918). When used as a verb the English always spell the word annex. Annexe is only the noun form.

[21] Vide Matthews: Americanisms and Briticisms, pp. 33-34.

[22] Handbook of Style in Use at the Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass.; Boston, 1913.

[23] Notes for the Guidance of Authors; New York, 1918.

[24] Preparation of Manuscript, Proof Reading, and Office Style at J. S. Cushing Company's; Norwood, Mass., n. d.

[25] Style Book, a Compilation of Rules Governing Executive, Congressional and Departmental Printing, Including the Congressional Record, ed. of Feb., 1917; Washington, 1917. A copy of this style book is in the proof-room of nearly every American daily newspaper and its rules are generally observed.

[26] Accounts of earlier proposals of reform in English spelling are to be found in Sayce's Introduction to the Science of Language, vol. i, p. 330 et seq., and White's Everyday English, p. 152 et seq. The best general treatment of the subject is in Lounsbury's English Spelling and Spelling Reform; New York, 1909.

[27] Its second list was published on January 28, 1908, its third on January 25, 1909, and its fourth on March 24, 1913, and since then there have been several others. But most of its literature is devoted to the 12 words and to certain reformed spellings of Webster, already in general use.

[28] The Literary Digest is perhaps the most important. Its usage is shown by the Funk & Wagnalls Company Style Card; New York, 1914.

[29] Tyre was still in use in America in the 70's. It will be found on p. 150 of Mark Twain's Roughing It; Hartford, 1872.

[30] Vide the Congressional Record for March 26, 1918, p. 4374. It is curious to note that the French themselves are having difficulties with this and the cognate words. The final e has been dropped from biplan, monoplan and hydroplan, but they seem to be unable to dispense with it in aéroplane.

[31] For example, in Teepee Neighbors, by Grace Coolidge; Boston, 1917, p. 220; Duty and Other Irish Comedies, by Seumas O'Brien; New York, 1916, p. 52; Salt, by Charles G. Norris; New York, 1918, p. 135, and The Ideal Guest, by Wyndham Lewis, Little Review, May, 1918, p. 3. O'Brien is an Irishman and Lewis an Englishman, but the printer in each case was American. I find allright, as one word but with two ll's, in Diplomatic Correspondence With Belligerent Governments, etc., European War, No. 4; Washington, 1918, p. 214.

[32] Vide How to Lengthen Our Ears, by Viscount Harberton; London, 1917, p. 28.

[33] Krapp: Modern English, p. 181.

[34] Why Not Speak Your Own Language? in Delineator, Nov., 1917, p. 12.

[35] I once noted an extreme form of this naturalization in a leading Southern newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. In an announcement of the death of an American artist it reported that he had studied at the Bozart in Paris. In New York I have also encountered chaufer.

[36] Now and then, of course, a contrary tendency asserts itself. For example, the plural of medium, in the sense of advertising medium, is sometimes made media by advertising men. Vide the Editor and Publisher, May 11, 1918.

[37] Irish World, June 26, 1918.

[38] Vide The Declaration of Independence, by Herbert Friedenwald, New York, 1904, p. 262 et seq.

[39] Now and then the English flirt with the American usage. Hart says, for example, that "originally the cover of the large Oxford Dictionary had 'a historical.'" But "an historical" now appears there.


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