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

Page 264

speaks of “the enormous gap between the literate and unliterate American.” He is apparently the first to call attention to it. It is the national assumption that no such gap exists—that all Americans, at least if they be white, are so outfitted with sagacity in the public schools that they are competent to consider any public question intelligently and to follow its discussion with understanding. But the truth is, of course, that the public school accomplishes no such magic. The inferior man, in America as elsewhere, remains an inferior man despite the hard effort made to improve him, and his thoughts seldom if ever rise above the most elemental concerns. What lies above not only does not interest him; it actually excites his derision, and he has coined a unique word, high-brow, to express his view of it. Especially in speech is he suspicious of superior pretension. The school-boy of the lower orders would bring down ridicule upon himself, and perhaps criticism still more devastating, if he essayed to speak what his teachers conceive to be correct English, or even correct American, outside the school-room. On the one hand his companions would laugh at him as a prig, and on the other hand his parents would probably cane him as an impertinent critic of their own speech. Once he has made his farewell to the schoolmarm, all her diligence in this department goes for nothing. 17 The boys with whom he plays baseball speak a tongue that is not the one taught in school, and so do the youths with whom he will begin learning a trade tomorrow, and the girl he will marry later on, and the saloon-keepers, star pitchers, vaudeville comedians, business sharpers and political mountebanks he will look up to and try to imitate all the rest of his life.
  So far as I can discover, there has been but one attempt by a competent authority to determine the special characters of this general tongue of the mobile vulgus. That authority is Dr. W. W. Charters, now Professor of Education at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh. In 1914 Dr. Charters was dean of the faculty of education and professor of the theory of teaching in the University of Missouri, and one of the problems he was engaged upon was that of the teaching of grammar. In the course of this study he encountered the theory that such instruction should be confined to the