H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
foothold in the United States, and would be unintelligible to nine Americans out of ten.
It is on far higher and less earthly planes that Briticisms make their entry into American, and are esteemed and cultivated. Because the United States has failed to develop a native aristocracy of settled position and authority, there is still an almost universal tendency here, among folk of social pretensions, to defer to English usage and opinion.18 The English court, in fact, still remains the only fount of honor that such persons know, and its valuations of both men and customs take precedence of all native valuations. I cant imagine any fashionable American who would not be glad to accept even so curious an English aristocrat as Lord Reading or Lord Birkenhead at his face value, and to put him at table above a United States Senator. This emulation is visible in all the minutiæ of social intercourse in Americain the hours chosen for meals, in the style of personal correspondence, in wedding customs, in the ceremonials incidental to entertaining, and in countless other directions. It even extends to the use of the language.19 We have seen how, even so early as Websters time, the intransigent Loyalists of what Schele de Vere calls Boston and the Boston dependencies imitated the latest English fashions in pronunciation, and how this imitation continues to our own day. New York is but little behind, and with the affectation of what is regarded as English pronunciation there goes a constant borrowing of new English words and phrases,
Note 18. The curious who desire to pursue this subject will find it discussed at greater length in the essay, The National Letters, in my Prejudices: Second Series; New York, 1920, and in my preface to The American Credo, by George Jean Nathan and me; New York, 1920. [back]
Note 19. Sometimes this colonialism goes to amusing lengths. During the Summer of 1921 a reviewer in the London Times was troubled by the word hick, used in a book by my associate, George Jean Nathan. At once an American woman novelist, Roof by name, dispatched a long letter to the Times, denouncing this hick as middle class slang from the West, hinting that such barbarisms were deliberately given circulation by the German-speaking Jewish population of New York, assuring the editor that her own ancestors came to America in 1620, and offering him a pledge that she would never cease to adhere to the Kings English. This letter, which appeared in the Times on July 14, was quoted with approbation by the Christian Science Monitor, the organ of New England Kultur, on Aug. 14. But already on July 21 the Times had printed a letter from William Archer showing that hick was actually perfectly sound English, and that it could be found in Steeles comedy, The Funeral. Two weeks later, a Norwegian philologist, S. N. Baral, followed with a letter showing that hick was connected with the Anglo-Saxon haeg, indicating a menial or lout, and that it had cognates in all the ancient Teutonic languages, and even in Sanskrit! [back]