H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
use words as we sometimes are in England. Moreover, this strong revolt against conventional bonds is by no means confined to the folk-speech, nor even to the loose conversational English of the upper classes; it also gets into more studied discourse, both spoken and written. I glance through the speeches of Dr. Woodrow Wilson, surely a conscientious purist and Anglomaniac if we have ever had one, and find, in a few moments, half a dozen locutions that an Englishman in like position would never dream of using, among them we must get a move on,63 hog as a verb,64gum-shoe as an adjective with verbal overtones,65onery in place of ordinary,66 and that is going some.67 I turn to Dr. John Dewey, surely a most respectable pedagogue, and find him using dope for opium.68
From the earliest days, indeed, English critics have found this gipsy tendency in our most careful writing. They denounced it in Marshall, Cooper, Mark Twain, Poe, Lossing, Lowell and Holmes, and even in Hawthorne and Thoreau; and it was no less academic a work than W. C. Brownells French Traits which brought forth, in a London literary journal, the dictum that the language most depressing to the cultured Englishman is the language of the cultured American. Even educated American English, agrees the chief of modern English grammarians, is now almost entirely independent of British influence, and differs from it considerably, though as yet not enough to make the two dialectsAmerican English and British Englishmutually unintelligible. 69 Surely no English of position equal to Dr. Wilsons or Dr. Deweys would venture upon such locutions as dope and to hog. One might conceivably think of George Saintsbury doing itbut Saintsbury is a privileged iconoclast.
Note 63. Speech before the Chamber of Commerce Convention, Washington, Feb. 19, 1916. [back]
Note 64. Speech at workingmans dinner, New York, Sept. 4, 1912. [back]
Note 65. Wit and Wisdom of Woodrow Wilson, comp. by Richard Linthicum; New York, 1916, p. 54. [back]