Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 250

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

Page 250

and dèbut, but preserves them on practically all the other terms listed above; the Concise Oxford always uses them.
  In the United States, as everyone knows, there is no such preciosity visible. Dèpôt became depot immediately it entered the language, and the same rapid naturalization has overtaken employè, matinèe, dèbutante, negligèe, tête-á-tête, exposè, rèsumè, hofbräu, and scores of other loan-words. Cafè is seldom seen with its accent, nor is senor or divorcèe or attachè. In fact, says a recent critic, 46 “the omission of the diacritic is universal. Even the English press of French New Orleans ignores it.” This critic lists some rather amazing barbarisms, among them standchen for ständchen in Littell’s Living Age, outre for outrè in Judge, and Poincaire, Poincare and Poinciarre for Poincarè in an unnamed newspaper. He gives an amusing account of the struggles of American newspapers with thè dansant. He says:
Put this through the hopper of the typesetting machine, and it comes forth, “the the dansant”—which even Oshkosh finds intolerable. The thing was, however, often attempted when thes dansants came into fashion, and with various results. Generally the proof-reader eliminates one of the the’s, making dansant a quasi-noun, and to this day one reads of people giving or attending dansants. Latterly the public taste seems to favor dansante, which doubtless has a Frenchier appearance, provided you are sufficiently ignorant of the Gallic tongue. Two other solutions of the difficulty may be noted:
        Among those present at the “the dansant”;
        Among those present at the the-dansant;
that is, either a hyphen or quotation marks set off the exotic phrase.
  Even when American newspapers essay to use accents, they commonly use them incorrectly. The same critic reports Piérre for Pierre, má for ma, and buffèt, buffêt and even buffet for buffet. But they seldom attempt to use them, and in this iconoclasm they are supported by at least one professor, Brander Matthews. In speaking of naïve and naïvetè, which he welcomes because “we have no exact equivalent for either word,” he says: “but they will need to shed their accents and to adapt themselves somehow to the traditions of our orthography.” 47 He goes on: “After we have decided