H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
neer; and the substitution of sh for ch in such French loan-words as machine and chevalier, making them masheen and shevaleer. He also declared for stile in place of style, and for many other such changes, and then quietly abandoned them. The successive editions of his dictionary show still further concessions. Croud, fether, groop, gillotin, iland, instead, leperd, soe, sut, steddy, thret, thred, thum and wimmen appear only in the 1806 edition. In 1828 he went back to crowd, feather, group, island, instead, leopard, sew, soot, steady, thread, threat, thumb and women, and changed gillotin to guillotin. In addition, he restored the final e in determine, discipline, requisite, imagine, etc. In 1838, revising his dictionary, he abandoned a good many spellings that had appeared in either the 1806 or the 1828 edition, notably maiz for maize, suveran11 for sovereign and guillotin for guillotine. But he stuck manfully to a number that were quite as revolutionaryfor example, aker for acre, cag for keg, grotesk for grotesque, hainous for heinous, porpess for porpoise and tung for tongueand they did not begin to disappear until the edition of 1854, issued by other hands and eleven years after his death. Three of his favorites, chimist for chemist, neger for negro and zeber for zebra, are incidentally interesting as showing changes in American pronunciation. He abandoned zeber in 1828, but remained faithful to chimist and neger to the last.
But though he was thus forced to give occasional ground, and in more than one case held out in vain, Webster lived to see the majority of his reforms adopted by his countrymen. He left the ending in -or triumphant over the ending in -our, he shook the security of the ending in -re, he rid American spelling of a great many doubled consonants, he established the s in words of the defense group, and he gave currency to many characteristic American spellings, notably jail, wagon, plow, mold and ax. These spellings still survive, and are practically universal in the United States today; their use constitutes one of the most obvious differences between written English and written American. Moreover, they have founded a general tendency, the effects of which reach far beyond the field actually
Note 11. I find soveran in the London Times Literary Supplement for Aug. 5, 1920, p. 1, art. Words for Music, but it seems to have no support elsewhere. Cassell and the Concise Oxford do not list it. [back]