Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 171

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

Page 171

Claude or Clarence. He associates all such terms, and the English broad a no less, with the grotesque Britons he sees in burlesque shows. Perhaps this feeling entered into the reluctance of the American soldier to borrow British war slang.
  I incline to think that both the grand dialects of English would be the better for a somewhat freer interchange, and fully endorse the doctrine laid down by Prof. Gordon Hall Gerould, of Princeton, who argues that it would be a sensible thing for Americans to adopt the English lift and tram in place of the more cumbersome elevator and trolley-car, and that the English, in their turn, would find the communication of ideas easier if they borrowed some of our American neologisms. 24 “Logophobia,” he says, “has usually been a sign, in men of our race, of a certain thinness of blood. The man of imagination and the man with something to say have never been afraid of words, even words that have rung strangely on the ear. It has been the finicking person, not very sure of himself, who has trod delicately between alternatives, and used the accepted and time-worn word in preference to the newer coinage, out of his abhorrence born of fear …. I do not wish to urge … the wiping out of those peculiarities of vocabulary by which one region of the English-speaking world is made to seem slightly exotic to the visitor from another. Without such differences of idiom, the common speech of the race would be the poorer, as the waters from many rivulets are needed to feed the river. Let him who says naturally a pail of water say so still, and him to whom a bucket is more familiar rejoice in his locution. Let my English friend call for his jug, while I demand my pitcher; for he will—if he be not afflicted with logophobia—enjoy what seems to him the fine archaic flavor of my word. What I would commend is a generous reciprocity in vocabulary, as between section and section, commonwealth and commonwealth, country and country. If it should become convenient for us Americans to use a word now peculiar to Great Britain, I hope we should not be so silly as to stop it at the tongue’s end out of national pride or