H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 47
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 47
 
the first and most vigorous of the attacks upon it at home was delivered by John Witherspoon, a Scotch clergyman who came out in 1769 to be president of Princeton in partibus infidelium. This Witherspoon brought a Scotch hatred of the English with him, and at once became a leader of the party of independence; he signed the Declaration to the tune of much rhetoric, and was the only clergyman to sit in the Continental Congress. But in matters of learning he was orthodox to the point of immovability, and the strange locutions that he encountered on all sides aroused his pedagogic ire. “I have heard in this country,” he wrote in 1781, “in the senate, at the bar, and from the pulpit, and see daily in dissertations from the press, errors in grammar, improprieties and vulgarisms which hardly any person of the same class in point of rank and literature would have fallen into in Great Britian.” 5 It was Witherspoon who coined the word Americanism—and at once the English guardians of the sacred vessels began employing it as a general synonym for vulgarism and barbarism. Another learned immigrant, the Rev. Jonathan Boucher, soon joined him. This Boucher was a friend of Washington, but was driven back to England by his Loyalist sentiments. He took revenge by printing various charges against the Americans, among them that of “making all the haste they can to rid themselves of the [English] language.” He was vigorously supported by many Englishmen, including Samuel Johnson, whose detestation of all things American is familiar to every reader of Boswell. Johnson’s recognition of and aversion to Americanisms, in fact, long antedated the Revolution. When, in 1756, one Lewis Evans published a volume of “Geographical, Historical, Philosophical, and Mechanical Essays,” with a map, the sage wrote of it: “The map is engraved with sufficient beauty, and the treatise written with such elegance as the subject admits, though not without some mixture of the American dialect; a trace of corruption to which every language widely diffused must always be exposed.”
  After the adoption of the Constitution nearly all the British reviews began to maintain an eager watchfulness for these abhorrent
Note 5.  The Druid, No. 5; reprinted in Witherspoon’s Collected Works, edited by Ashbel Green, vol. iv; New York, 1800-1. [back]

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