H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
and unable to appreciate a joke. Certain it is that very few of their authors, even after the most careful preparation, show any capacity for writing American in a realistic manner. A proof of it is offered by the English novelist, W. L. George, in a chapter entitled Litany of the Novelist in his book of criticism, Literary Chapters.14 George has been in the United States, knows many Americans, and is here addressing Americans and trying to help out their comprehension by a studied use of purely American phrases. One hears, not of the East End, but of the East Side; not of the City, but of Wall Street; not of Belgravia or the West End, but of Fifth avenue; not of bowler hats, but of derbys; not of idlers in pubs, but of saloon loafers; not of pounds, shillings and pence, but of dollars and cents. In brief, a gallant attempt upon a strange tongue, and by a writer of the utmost skillbut a hopeless failure none the less. In the midst of his best American, George drops into Briticism after Briticism, some of them quite as unintelligible to the average American reader as so many Gallicisms. On page after page they display the practical impossibility of the enterprise: back-garden for back-yard, perambulator for baby-carriage, corn-market for grain-market, coal-owner for coal-operator, post for mail, and so on. And to top them there are English terms that have no American equivalents at all, for example, kitchen-fender. In other chapters of the same book his blunders are even worse: petrol and cruet most certainly puzzle many of his American readers.
Nor is he alone. Every English author who attempts to render the speech of American characters makes a mess of it. H. G. Wells American in Mr. Britling Sees It Through is only matched by G. K. Chestertons in Man Alive. Even Kipling, who submitted the manuscript of Captain Courageous to American friends for criticism, yet managed to make an American in it say Hes by way of being a fisherman now. The late Frank M. Bicknell once amassed some amusing examples of this unanimous failing.15 Max Pemberton, in a short story dealing with an American girls visit to England, makes her say: Im right glad . Youre as pale as spectres, I guess . Fancy that, now! You are my guest, I