The American Language
This study shows a certain utility.… But its chief excuse is its human interest, for it prods deeply into national idiosyncracies and ways of mind, and that sort of prodding is always entertaining.—Preface to the First Edition
H.L. Mencken

The American Language

An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States

H.L. Mencken

This classic was written to clarify the discrepancies between British and American English and to define the distinguishing characteristics of American English. Mencken’s groundbreaking study was undoubtedly the most scientific linguistic work on the American language to date and continues to serve as a definitive resource in the field.

Bibliographic Record


Subject Index  Word and Phrase List


Preface to the First Edition

Preface to the Second Edition

I. Introductory
1. The Diverging Streams of English
2. The Academic Attitude
3. The View of Writing Men
4. Foreign Observers
5. The General Character of American English
6. The Materials of the Inquiry

II. The Beginnings of American

1. The First Differntiation
2. Sources of Early Americanisms
3. New Words of English Material
4. Changed Meaning
5. Archaic English Words
6. Colonial Pronunciation

III. The Period of Growth
1. Character of the New Nation
2. The Language in the Making
3. The Expanding Vocabulary
4. Loan-Words and Non-English Influences
5. Pronunciation Before the Civil War

IV. American and English Today
1. The Two Vocabularies
2. Differences in Usage
3. Honorifics
4. Euphemisms
5. Expletives and Forbidden Words

V. International Exchanges
1. Americanisms in England
2. Briticisms in the United States

VI. Tendencies in American
1. General Characters
2. Lost Distinctions
3. Processes of Word-Formation
4. Foreign Influences Today

VII. The Standard American Pronunciation
1. General Characters
2. The Vowels

VIII. American Spelling
1. The Two Orthographies
2. The Influence of Webster
3. The Advance of American Spelling
4. British Spelling in the United States
5. Simplified Spelling
6. The Treatment of Loan-Words
7. Minor Differences

IX. The Common Speech
1. Grammarians and Their Ways
2. Spoken American As It Is
3. The Verb
4. The Pronoun
5. The Adverb
6. The Noun
7. The Adjective
8. The Double Negative
9. Other Syntactical Peculiarities
10. Vulgar Pronunciation

X. Proper Names in America
1. Surnames
2. Given Names
3. Geographical Names
4. Street Names

XI. American Slang
1. Its Origin and Nature
2. War Slang


I. Specimens of the American Vulgate
1. The Declaration of Independence in American
2. Baseball-American
3. Ham-American
4. Vers Américain

II. Non-English Dialects in America
1. German
1. French
2. Spanish
3. Yiddish
4. Italian
5. Dano-Norwegian
6. Swedish
7. Dutch
8. Icelandic
9. Greek
10. The Slavic Languages

III. Proverb and Platitude


     1. General

     2. Dictionaries of Americanism

     3. The Process of Language Growth

     4. Loan-Words

     5. Pronunciation

     6. Regional Variations
a. General Discussions
b. New England
c. The Middle States
d. The South
e. The Middle West
f. The Far West
g. The Colonies
h. Negro-English

     7. Spelling

     8. Geographical Names

     9. Surnames and Given Names

     10. Non-English Languages in America
a. German
b. French
c. Dano-Norwegian
d. Dutch
e. Swedish
f. Spanish
g. Icelandic
h. Italian
i. Yiddish
j. Portuguese
k. General

     11. Other Colonial Dialects of English
a. Australian
b. Beach-la-Mar
c. South African
d. Canadian
e. East Indian
f. Pidgin-English

     12. Slang

     13. Euphemisms, Nicknames, and Forbidden Words

     14. Rudimentary Speech

     15. The Future of the Language

     16. Bibliographies of American English

List of Words and Phrases

General Index