H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
discourse in America; who are you talking to? is heard a thousand times oftener, and is doubly American, for it substitutes who for whom and puts a preposition at the end of a sentence: two crimes that most English purists would seek to avoid. It is among the pronouns that the only remaining case inflections in English are to be found, if we forget the possessive, and even here these survivors for an earlier day begin to grow insecure. Lounsburys defense of it is me,32 as we shall see in the next chapter, has support in the history and natural movement of the language, and that movement is also against the preservation of the distinction between who and whom. The common speech plays hob with both the orthodox inflections, despite the protests of grammarians, and in the long run, no doubt, they will be forced to yield to its pressure, as they have always yielded in the past. Between the dative and accusative on one side and the nominative on the other there has been war in the English language for centuries, and it has always tended to become a war of extermination. Our now universal use of you for ye in the nominative shows the dative and accusative swallowing the nominative, and the practical disappearance of hither, thither and whither, whose place is now taken by here, there and where, shows a contrary process. In such wars a posse comitatus marches ahead of the disciplined army. American stands to English in the relation of that posse to that army. It is incomparably more enterprising, more contemptuous of precedent and authority, more impatient of rule.
A shadowy line often separates what is currently coming into sound usage from what is still regarded as barbarous. No self-respecting American, I daresay, would defend aint as a substitute for isnt, say in he aint the man, and yet aint is already tolerably respectable in the first person, where English countenances the even more clumsy arent.Arent has never got a foothold in the American first person; when it is used at all, which is very rarely, it is always as a conscious Briticism. Facing the alternative of employing the unwieldy am I not in this? the American turns boldly to aint I in this? It still grates a bit, perhaps, but arent grates
Note 32. It is I is quite as unsound historically. The correct form would be it am I or I am it. Compare the German ich bin es, not, es ist ich. [back]