H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 36
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 36
 
of cow-catcher. So with the casting where two rails join. The English called it a crossing-plate. The Americans, more responsive to the suggestion in its shape, called it a frog.
  This boldness of conceit, of course, makes for vulgarity. Unrestrained by any critical sense—and the critical sense of the professors counts for little, for they cry wolf too often—it flowers in such barbaric inventions as tasty, all right, go-getter, he-man, go-ahead-ativeness, tony, semi-occasional, to fellowship and to doxologize. Let it be admitted: American is not infrequently vulgar; the Americans, too, are vulgar (Bayard Taylor called them “Anglo-Saxons relapsed into semi-barbarism”); America itself is unutterably vulgar. But vulgarity, after all, means no more than a yielding to natural impulses in the face of conventional inhibitions, and that yielding to natural impulses is at the heart of all healthy language-making. The history of English, like the history of American and of every other living tongue, is a history of vulgarisms that, by their accurate meeting of real needs, have forced their way into sound usage, and even into the lifeless catalogues of the grammarians. The colonial pedants denounced to advocate as bitterly as they ever denounced to compromit or to happify, and all the English authorities gave them aid, but it forced itself into the American language despite them, and today it is even accepted as English and has got into the Concise Oxford Dictionary. To donate, so late as 1870, was dismissed by Richard Grant White as ignorant and abominable and to this day the more careful English will have none of it, but there is not an American dictionary that doesn’t accept it, and surely no American writer would hesitate to use it.  70 Reliable, gubernatorial, standpoint and scientist have survived opposition of equal ferocity. The last-named was coined by William Whewell, an Englishman, in 1840, but was first adopted in America. Despite the fact that Fitzedward Hall and other eminent philologists used it and
Note 70.  Despite this fact an academic and ineffective opposition to it still goes on. On the Style Sheet of the Century Magazine it is listed among the “words and phrases to be avoided.” It was prohibited by the famous Index Expurgatorius prepared by William Cullen Bryant for the New York Evening Post, and his prohibition is still theoretically in force, but the word is now actually permitted by the Post. The Chicago Daily News Style Book, dated July 1, 1908, also bans it. [back]

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