H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
In the only really proper sense of the term, an Americanism is a word or phrase naturally used by an educated American which under similar conditions would not be used by an educated Englishman. The emphasis, it will be seen, lies in the word educated.
This curious criticism, fantastic as it must have seemed to European philologists, was presently reinforced, for in his fourth article Lounsbury announced that his discussion was restricted to the Written speech of educated men. The result, of course, was a wholesale slaughter of Americanisms. If it was not possible to reject a word, like White, on the ground that some stray English Poet or other had once used it, it was almost always Possible to reject it on the ground that it was not admitted into the Vocabulary of a college Professor when he sat down to compose formal book-English. What remained was a small company, indeedand almost the whole field of American idiom and American grammar, so full of interest for the less austere explorer, was closed without even a peek into it.
White and Lounsbury dominated the arena and fixed the fashion. The later national experts upon the national language, with a few somewhat timorous exceptions, pass over its Peculiarities without noticing them. So far as I can discover, there is not a single treatise in type upon one of its most salient charactersthe wide departure of some of its vowel sounds from those of orthodox English. Marsh, C. H. Grandgent, and Robert J. Menner have printed a number of valuable essays upon the subject, and George Philip Krapp has discussed the matter incidentally in The Pronunciation of Standard English in America, but there is no work that co-ordinates these inquiries or that attempts otherwise to cover the field. When, in preparing materials for the following chapters, I sought to determine the history of the a-sound in America, I found it necessary to plow through scores of ancient spelling-books, and to make deductions, perhaps sometimes rather rash, from the works of Franklin, Webster and Cobb. Some time ago the National Council of Teachers of English appointed a Committee on American Speech and sought to let some light into the matter, but as yet its labors are barely begun and the publications of its members get little beyond preliminaries. Such an inquiry involves a laboriousness which should