H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
and their speech on the American stage. In the speech of many, perhaps of most, Americans there is scarcely any trace of diphthongal quality in the sound. Usage in the pronunciation of u still differs widely in the United States. The two sounds, that of oo in goose and that of u in bush, are used by different speakers in the same word. The oo-sound prevails in aloof, boot, broom, food, groom, proof, roof, rood, room, rooster, root, soon, spook, spoon and woof, and the u-sound in butcher, cooper, hoof, hoop, nook, rook and soot, but there are educated Americans who employ the oo-sound in coop, hoof and hoop. In hooves I have heard both sounds, but in rooves only the oo-sound. Rooves seems to be extinct in the written speech as the plural of roof, but it certainly survives in spoken American. In words of the squirrel, syrup and stirrup class Americans commonly substitute a u-sound for the e-sound used by Englishmen, and squirrel becomes a monosyllable, squrl. In words of the com class, save company, Americans substitute a broad a for the u used by Englishmen; even compass often shows it. The English are far more careful with the shadowy y preceding u in words of the duty class than Americans. The latter retain it following m, f, v and p, and usually before r, but they are careless about it following n and g, and drop it following l, r, d, t, th and s.Nyew, nyude, dyuke, enthyusiasm and syuit would seem affectations in most parts of the United States, and ryule and blyue would be impossible. 30 Schoolmasters still battle valiantly for dyuty, but in vain. In 1912 the Department of Education of New York City warned all the municipal high-school teachers to combat the oo-sound 31 but it is doubtful that one pupil in a hundred was thereby induced to insert the y in induced. In figure, however, Americans retain the y-sound, whereas the English drop it. In courteous the English insert an o-sound, making the first syllable rhyme with fort; Americans rhyme it with hurt. In brusque the English give the first syllable an oo-sound; Americans rhyme it with tusk. In clerk, as everyone knows, the English change the e into a,
Note 30. A woman teacher of English, born in Tennessee, tells me that the y-sound is much more persistent in the South than in the North. I have never, she says, heard a native Southerner fail to retain the sound in new. The same is true of duke, stew, due, duty and Tuesday. But it is not true of blue and true. [back]