H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
English usage. There is, for example, short i in place of long e, as in critter for creature.Critter is common to almost all the dialects of English, but American has embedded the vowel in a word that is met with nowhere else and has thus become characteristic, to wit, crick for creek. Nor does any other dialect make such extensive use of slick for sleek. Again, there is the substitution of the flat a for the broad a, as in sassy and apple-sass. England has gone back to the broad a, but in America the flat a persists, and many Americans who use sassy every day would scarcely recognize saucy if they heard it. Yet again, there is quoit. Originally, the English pronounced it quate, but now they pronounce the diphthong as in doily. In the United States the quate pronunciation remains. Finally, there is deaf. Its proper pronunciation, in the England that the colonists left, was deef, but it now rhymes with Jeff. That new pronunciation has been adopted by polite American, despite the protests of Noah Webster, but in the common speech the word is still deef.
However, a good many of the vowels of the early days have succumbed to pedagogy. The American proletarian may still use skeer for scare, but in most of the other words of that class he now uses the vowel approved by correct English usage. Thus he seldom permits himself such old forms as dreen for drain, keer for care, skeerce for scarce or even cheer for chair. The Irish influence supported them for a while, but now they are fast going out. So, too, are kivver for cover, crap for crop, and chist for chest. But kittle for kettle still shows a certain vitality, rench is still used in place of rinse, and squinch in place of squint, and a flat a continues to displace various e-sounds in such words as rare for rear (e. g., as a horse), thrash for thresh,106 and wrassle for wrestle. Contrariwise, e displaces a in catch and radish, which are commonly pronounced ketch and reddish. This e-sound was once accepted in standard English; when it got into spoken American it was perfectly sound; one still hears it from the most pedantic lips in any.107 There are also certain other ancients that show equally unbroken vitality among
Note 106. Here a distinction shows itself: a farmer thrashes his boy, but threshes his wheat. [back]
Note 107.Cf. Lounsbury: The Standard of Pronunciation in English, p. 172 ff. [back]