H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
and the acute feeling for the succinct and savory. The same qualities are in rough-house, water-wagon, near-silk, has-been, lame-duck and a thousand other such racy substantives, and in all the great stock of native verbs and adjectives. There is, indeed, but a shadowy boundary in these new coinages between the various parts of speech. Corral, borrowed from the Spanish, immediately becomes a verb and the father of an adjective. Bust, carved out of burst, erects itself into a noun. Bum, coming by way of an earlier bummer from the German bummler, becomes noun, adjective, verb and adverb. Verbs are fashioned out of substantives by the simple process of prefixing the preposition: to engineer, to chink, to stump, to hog. Others grow out of an intermediate adjective, as to boom. Others are made by torturing nouns with harsh affixes, as to burglarize and to itemize, or by groping for the root, as to resurrect and to jell. Yet others are changed from intransitive to transitive: a sleeping-car sleeps thirty passengers. So with the adjectives. They are made of substantives unchanged: codfish, jitney. Or by bold combinations: down-and-out, up-state, flat-footed. Or by shading down suffixes to a barbaric simplicity: scary, classy, tasty. Or by working over adverbs until they tremble on the brink between adverb and adjective: right and near are examples.
All of these processes, of course, are also to be observed in the English of England; in the days of its great Elizabethan growth they were in the lustiest possible being. They are, indeed, common to all languages; they keep language alive. But if you will put the English of today beside the American of today you will see at once how much more forcibly they are in operation in the latter than in the former. The standard southern dialect of English has been arrested in its growth by its purists and grammarians. It shows no living change in structure and syntax since the days of Anne, and very little modification in either pronunciation or vocabulary. Its tendency is to conserve that which is established; to say the new thing, as nearly as possible, in the old way; to combat all that expansive gusto which made for its pliancy and resilience in the days of Shakespeare. In place of the old loose-footedness there is set up a preciosity which, in one direction, takes the form of unyielding affectations in the spoken language, and in another form shows itself in