H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
sense of the beauty of words, says another,31 comes from the manner in which the language of the United States is spokenthat monotonous drone, generally nasal, or that monotonous nasal whine. English reviews of American books frequently refer in this way to the growing differences between the two dialectsin fact, it is rare for an English reviewer to refrain from noting and sneering at Americanisms. Even translations from foreign languages made by Americans are constantly under fire.32
But, now and then there appears a defender. One such is William Archer, already quoted, who lately protested eloquently against pulling a wry face over American expressions, not because they are inherently bad, but simply because they are American. He continued:
The vague and unformulated idea behind all such petty cavillings is that the English language is in danger of being corrupted by the importation of Americanisms and that it behooves us to establish a sort of quarantine in order to keep out the detrimental germs. This notion is simply one of the milder phases of the Great Stupidity. The current English of today owes a great deal to America, and though certain American writers carry to excess the cult of slang, that tendency is not in the least affecting serious American literature and journalism. Much of the best and purest English of our time has been, and is being, written in America. If English journalists make a show of arrogant and self-righteous Briticism, it is quite possible that a certain class of American journalists may retaliate by setting afoot a deliberately anti-British movement and attempting (as an American has wittily put it) to deserve well of mankind by making two languages grow where only one grew before.33
Another attorney for the defense is Richard Aldington, the poet. Are Americans, he asks,34 to write the language they speak, which is slowly but inevitably separating itself from the language of England, or are they to write a devitalized idiom learned painfully from books or from a discreet frequentation of London literary cliques? Now and then, says Mr. Aldington, one encounters an American who speaks perfect standard [i. e., British]
Note 32. For example, see the Athenums review of Barrett H. Clarks translation of Romain Rollands Danton, April 4, 1919, p. 152. In the same way J. C. Squire protested bitterly because an American translator of the Journal of the Goncourts spoke of a pavement as a sidewalk. See the Literary Review of the New York Evening Post, July 23, 1921. [back]
Note 33.Westminster Gazette, reprinted in the Literary Review of the New York Evening post, July 23, 1921. [back]
Note 34. English and American, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, May, 1920, p. 94. [back]