H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 313
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 313
 
advocates it. “The double negative,” said a writer in the London Review a long time ago, 101 “has been abandoned to the great injury of strength of expression.” Surely “I won’t take nothing” is stronger than either “I will take nothing” or “I won’t take anything.”
 

9. Other Syntactical Peculiarities
 
  “Language begins,” says Sayce, “with sentences, not with single words.” In a speech in process of rapid development, unrestrained by critical analysis, the tendency to sacrifice the integrity of words to the needs of the complete sentence is especially marked. One finds it clearly in American. Already we have examined various assimilation and composition forms: that’n, use’to, would’a, them’ere and so on. Many others are observable. Off’n is a good example; it comes from off of and shows a preposition decaying to the form of a mere inflectional particle. One constantly hears “I bought it off’n John.” Sort’a, kind’a and their like follow in the footsteps of would’a. Usen’t follows the analogy of don’t and wouldn’t, as in “I didn’t usen’t to be.” Would’ve and should’ve are widely used; Lardner commonly hears them as would of and should of. The neutral a-particle also appears in other situations, especially before way, as in that-a way and this-a way. It is found again in a tall, a liaison form of at all. 102
  Various minor syntactical peculiarities may be noticed; an exhaustive study of them would afford materials for a whole volume. The use of all the further, as in, “it was all the further I could go,” seems to be American. It has bred many analogues, e. g., “is that all the later it is?” Another curious formation employs there with various negatives in an unusual way; it is illustrated in “there can’t anyone break me.” Again, there is the use of in in such constructions as “he caught in back of the plate,” apparently suggested
Note 101.  Oct. 1, 1864. [back]
Note 102.  At all, by the way, is often displaced by any or none, as in “he don’t love her any” and “it didn’t hurt me none.” [back]

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