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

Page 21

by the greater rigidity and formality of the English of modern England. In American, he said, there was to be seen that easy looseness of phrase and gait which characterized the English of the Elizabethan era, and particularly the Elizabethan hospitality to changed meanings and bold metaphors. American, he argued, made new words much faster than English, and they were, in the main, words of much greater daring and savor.
  Howells’ position was supported by that of many other well-known American authors of his generation, including especially Lowell, Whitman and John Fiske. Fiske, always truculent, carried the war into Africa by making a bold attack upon Briticisms, and even upon English pronunciation and intonation. “The English,” he said in 1873, “talk just like the Germans. So much guttural is very unpleasant, especially as half the time I can’t understand them, and have to say, ‘I beg your pardon?”’ 39 In more recent days there have been many like defiances. Brander Matthews, as I have said, was an eager apologist for Americanisms until he joined the Ochs lodge of Anglo-Saxon brothers. Others in the forefront of the fray are Dr. Richard Burton and Rupert Hughes. “Who can doubt,” says Dr. Burton, “that Mr. Mencken is right in speaking of the ‘American language’?… One recalls the cowboy who made a trip to Paris and was asked by his bunkie on returning to the big plains, how he had got along with French; to which he answered: ‘I got along fine, but the French had a hell of a time.’ English has that sort of time in the United States, but the people are perfectly happy about it. Why worry? A few professors are hired, at very small pay, to do that, and the populace prefers to do its suffering vicariously.… When a mayor of a large western city says has went twice in a public speech, and a governor of a great eastern state in public utterances declares that ‘it ain’t in my heart to hurt any man,’ it gives one a piquant sense of the democracy of language in these United States.… We get a charming picture of proletariat and pedants amiably exchanging idiom, while school larnin’ goes glimmering, and go-as-you-please is the order of the day. Why bother about the form of sentences when vital questions are for settling, and when to make others understand your meaning is the main purpose of words? That, at least,