Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 163

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 163

though wash-hand-stand and wash-hand-basin are also given. To boom, to boost and to boss are listed as Americanisms; so are highfalutin, skeedaddle and flat-footed. But to donate and to feature are not there at all, and neither are non-committal, bay-window, semi-occasional, square-meal, back-number, spondulix, back-yard, stag-party, derby (hat) and trained-nurse.Drug-store is slowly making its way in England; the firm known as Botts Cash Chemists uses the term to designate its branches. But it is not yet listed by either Cassell or the Concise Oxford, though both give druggist. L. Pearsall Smith adds platform (political), interview, faith-healing, co-education and cake-walk. 12 Cassell says that letter-carrier is obsolete in England and that pay-day is used only on the Stock Exchange there. Tenderfoot is creeping in, though the English commonly mistake it for an Australianism; it is used by the English Boy Scouts just as our own Boy Scouts use it. Scalawag, characteristically, has got into English with an extra l, making it scallawag.Rambunctious is not in any of the new English dictionaries, but in Cassell I find rumbustious, probably its father.
  It is easy to overestimate the importance of these exportations, and of the transient slang-phrases that go with them. It takes a long while for one of them to become thoroughly naturalized in England, and even then the business is commonly achieved only at the cost of a change in meaning or spelling. To the Englishman Americanisms continue to show an abhorrent quality, even after he has begun to use them; he never feels quite at ease in their use, and so he seldom uses them correctly. When, a few years ago, the English borrowed the highly characteristic American phrase, I should worry (probably borrowed by American, in turn, from the Yiddish), they changed it absurdly into I should not worry. In the same way they confused the two Americanisms, gink and jinx, and so produced the bastard ginx. 13 Perhaps their inability to understand the generality of Americanisms or to enter naturally into the spirit of the language helps to explain the common American notion that they are dull-pated