Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 9

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

Page 9

our Bibles” to the point of actual separation. 16 Moreover, he was a philologist only by courtesy; the regularly ordained schoolmasters were all against him. The fear voiced by William C. Fowler, professor of rhetoric at Amherst, that Americans might “break loose from the laws of the English language” 17 altogether, was echoed by the whole fraternity, and so the corrective bastinado was laid on. Fowler, in fact, advocated heroic measures. He declared that all Americanisms were “foreign words and should be so treated.”
  It remained, however, for two professors of a later day to launch the doctrine that the independent growth of American was not only immoral, but a sheer illusion. They were Richard Grant White, for long the leading American writer upon language questions, at least in popular esteem, and Thomas S. Lounsbury, for thirty-five years professor of the English language and literature in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, and an indefatigable controversialist. Both men were of the utmost industry in research, and both had wide audiences. White’s “Words and Their Uses,” published in 1872, was a mine of erudition, and his “Everyday English,” following eight years later, was another. True enough, Fitzedward Hall, the Anglo-Indian-American philologist, disposed of many of his etymologies and otherwise did execution upon him 18 but in the main his contentions held water. Lounsbury was also an adept and favorite expositor. His attacks upon certain familiar pedantries of the grammarians were penetrating and effective, and his two books, “The Standard of Usage in English” and “The Standard of Pronunciation in English,” not to mention his excellent “History of the English Language” and his numerous magazine articles, showed a profound knowledge of the early development of the language, and an admirable spirit of free inquiry. But both of these laborious scholars, when they turned from English proper to American