H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 234
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 234
 
the reformer. Cobb and Worcester, in the end, accepted the -or ending and so surrendered on the main issue, but various other champions arose to carry on the war. Edward S. Gould, in a once famous essay, 14 denounced the whole Websterian orthography with the utmost fury, and Bryant, reprinting this philippic in the Evening Post, said that on account of Webster “the English language has been undergoing a process of corruption for the last quarter of a century,” and offered to contribute to a fund to have Gould’s denunciation “read twice a year in every school-house in the United States, until every trace of Websterian spelling disappears from the land.” But Bryant was forced to admit that, even in 1856, the chief novelties of the Connecticut schoolmaster “who taught millions to read but not one to sin” were “adopted and propagated by the largest publishing house, through the columns of the most widely circulated monthly magazine, and through one of the ablest and most widely circulated newspapers in the United States”—which is to say, the Tribune under Greeley. The last academic attack was delivered by Bishop Coxe in 1886, and he contented himself with the resigned statement that “Webster has corrupted our spelling sadly.” Lounsbury, with his active interest in spelling reform, ranged himself on the side of Webster, and effectively disposed of the controversy by showing that the great majority of his spellings were supported by precedents quite as respectable as those behind the fashionable English spellings. In Lounsbury’s opinion, a good deal of the opposition to them was no more than a symptom of antipathy to all things American among certain Englishmen and of subservience to all things English among certain Americans. 15
  Webster’s inconsistencies gave his opponents a formidable weapon for use against him—until it began to be noticed that the orthodox English spelling was quite as inconsistent. He sought to change acre to aker, but left lucre unchanged. He removed the final f from bailiff, mastiff, plaintiff and pontiff, but left it in distaff. He changed c to s in words of the offense class, but left the c in fence. He changed the ck in frolick, physick, etc., into a simple c, but restored it in such derivatives as frolicksome. He deleted the silent
Note 14.  Democratic Review, March, 1856. [back]
Note 15.  Vide English Spelling and Spelling Reform, p. 229. [back]

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