Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 25

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

Page 25

  So much for the literati. The plain people of the two countries, whenever they come into contact, find it very difficult to exchange ideas. This was made distressingly apparent when American troops began to pour into France in 1917. Fraternizing with the British was impeded, not so much because of old animosities as because of the wide divergence in vocabulary and pronunciation between the doughboy and Tommy Atkins—a divergence interpreted by each as a sign of uncouthness in the other. The Y. M. C. A. made a characteristic effort to turn the resultant feeling of strangeness and homesickness among the Americans to account. In the Chicago Tribune’s Paris edition of July 7, 1917, I find a large advertisement inviting them to make use of the Y. M. C. A. clubhouse in the Avenue Montaigne, “where American is spoken.” At about the same time an enterprising London tobacconist, Peters by name, affixed a large sign bearing the legend “American spoken here” to the front of his shop, and soon he was imitated by various other London, Liverpool and Paris shop-keepers. Earlier in the war the Illinoiser Staats-Zeitung, no doubt seeking to keep the sense of difference alive, advertised that it would “publish articles daily in the American language.”

4. Foreign Observers
  What English and American laymen have thus observed has not escaped the notice of Continental philologists. The first edition of Bartlett, published in 1848, brought forth a long and critical review in the Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen by Prof. Felix Flügel, 44 and in the successive volumes of the Archiv there have been many valuable essays upon Americanisms, by such men as Herrig, Koehler and Kartzke. Various Dutch philologists, among them Barentz, Keijzer and Van der Voort, have also discussed the subject, and a study in French has been published by