H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
The English of Australia, though it is Cockney in pronunciation and intonation,18 becomes increasingly American in vocabulary. In a glossary of Australianisms compiled by the Australian author, C. T. Dennis,19 I find the familiar verbs and verb-phrases, to beef, to biff, to bluff, to boss, to break away, to chase ones self, to chew the rag, to chip in, to fade away, to get it in the neck, to back and fill, to plug along, to get sore, to turn down and to get wise; the substantives, dope, boss, fake, creek, knockout-drops and push (in the sense of crowd); the adjectives, hitched (in the sense of married) and tough (as before luck), and the adverbial phrases, for keeps and going strong. Here, in direct competition with English locutions, and with all the advantages on the side of the latter, American is making steady progress. Moreover, the Australians,20 following the Americans, have completely obliterated several old niceties of speech that survive in Englandfor example, the distinction between will and shall. An Australian, says a recent writer,21 uses the phrase I shall about as often as he uses the accusative whom. Usually he says I will or Ill; and the expectant we shall see is the only ordinary shall locution which I can call to mind. But perhaps it is Irish influence that is visible here, and not American.
This American language, says a recent observer, seems to be much more of a pusher than the English. For instance, after eight years occupancy of the Philippines it was spoken by 800,000, or 10 per cent, of the natives, while after an occupancy of 150 years of India by the British, 3,000,000, or one per cent, of the natives speak English.22 I do not vouch for the figures. They may be inaccurate, in detail, but they at least state what seems to be a fact.
Note 18.Cf. The Australian Accent, Triad (Sydney), Nov. 10, 1920, p. 37. [back]
Note 19. It is in Doreen and the Sentimental Bloke; New York, 1916. [back]
Note 20. It is a pity that American has not borrowed the Australian invention wowser. Says a writer in the Manchester Guardian: Wowser, whether used as an adjective or a substantive, covers everyone and everything that is out of sympathy with what some people consider la joie de vivre. A wowser, as a person, is one who desires to close public-houses, prevent shouting (Australese for treating), and so onin short, one who intends to limit the opportunities of all professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire. In the United States fully 99 per cent of all the worlds wowsers rage and roar, and yet we have no simple word to designate them. [back]