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

Page 35

Gilbert Murray would blush to death if merely accused of it falsely. When, on August 2, 1914, Sir Edward Grey ventured modestly to speak of “pressing the button in the interest of peace,” the New Age denounced him for indulging in vulgarism, and, as one English correspondent writes to me, various other Britons saw in the locution “a sign of the impending fall of the Empire.”
  American thus shows its character in a constant experimentation, a wide hospitality to novelty, a steady reaching out for new and vivid forms. No other tongue of modern times admits foreign words and phrases more readily; none is more careless of precedents; none shows a greater fecundity and originality of fancy. It is producing new words every day, by trope, by agglutination, by the shedding of inflections, by the merging of parts of speech, and by sheer brilliance of imagination. It is full of what Bret Harte called the “sabre-cuts of Saxon”; it meets Montaigne’s ideal of “a succulent and nervous speech, short and compact, not as much delicated and combed out as vehement and brusque, rather arbitrary than monotonous, not pedantic but soldierly, as Suetonius called Cæsar’s Latin.” One pictures the common materials of English dumped into a pot, exotic flavorings added, and the bubblings assiduously and expectantly skimmed. What is old and respected is already in decay the moment it comes into contact with what is new and vivid. “When we Americans are through with the English language,” says Mr. Dooley, “it will look as if it had been run over by a musical comedy.” Let American confront a novel problem alongside English, and immediately its superior imaginativeness and resourcefulness become obvious. Movie is better than cinema; and the English begin to admit the fact by adopting the word; it is not only better American, it is better English. Bill-board is better than hoarding. Officeholder is more honest, more picturesque, more thoroughly Anglo-Saxon than public-servant. Stem-winder somehow has more life in it, more fancy and vividness, than the literal keyless-watch. Turn to the terminology of railroading (itself, by the way, an Americanism): its creation fell upon the two peoples equally, but they tackled the job independently. The English, seeking a figure to denominate the wedge-shaped fender in front of a locomotive, called it a plough; the Americans, characteristically, gave it the far more pungent name