H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
of the colonial speech which I have briefly reviewed, and on the other hand, the preservation of many words and phrases that gradually became obsolete in England. The Pilgrims of 1620 brought over with them the English of James I and the Authorized Version, and their descendants of a century later, inheriting it, allowed its fundamentals to be but little changed by the academic overhauling that the mother-tongue was put to during the early part of the eighteenth century. In part they were ignorant of this overhauling, and in part they were indifferent to it. Whenever the new usage differed from that of the Bible they were inclined to remain faithful to the Bible, not only because of its pious authority but also because of the superior pull of its imminent and constant presence. Thus when an artificial prudery in English ordered the abandonment of the Anglo-Saxon sick for the Old Norse ill(r, the colonists refused to follow, for sick was in both the Old Testament and the New;46 and that refusal remains in force to this day.
A very large number of words and phrases, many of them now exclusively American, are similar survivals from the English of the seventeenth century, long since obsolete or merely provincial in England. Among nouns Thornton notes fox-fire, flap-jack, jeans, molasses, beef (to designate the live animal), chinch, cordwood, home-spun, ice-cream, julep and swingle-tree; Halliwell47 adds andiron, bay-window, cesspool, clodhopper, cross-purposes, greenhorn, loop-hole, ragamuffin and trash; and other authorities cite stock (for cattle), fall (for autumn), offal, din, underpinning and adze. Bub, used in addressing a boy, is very old English, but survives only in American. Flapjack goes back to Piers Plowman, but has been obsolete in England for two centuries. Muss, in the sense of a row, is also obsolete over there, but it is to be found in Anthony and Cleopatra. Char, as a noun, disappeared from English a long time ago, save in the compound, charwoman, but it survives in America
Note 46. Examples of its use in the American sense, considered vulgar and even indecent in England, are to be found in Gen. xlviii, l; II Kings viii, 7; John xi, 1, and Acts ix, 37. [back]
Note 47. J. O. Halliwell (Phillips): A Dictionary of Archaisms and Provincialisms, Containing Words now Obsolete in England All of Which are Familiar and in Common Use in America, 2nd ed.; London, 1850. See also Gilbert M. Tuckers American English; New York, 1921, p. 39 ff. [back]