H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
Jacksons time is well indicated in the anonymous Men and Manners in America that I have already quoted. The amount of bad grammar in circulation, said the author, is very great; that of barbarisms [i. e., Americanisms] enormous. Worse, these barbarisms were not confined to the ignorant, but came almost as copiously from the lips of the learned. I do not now speak, explained the critic, of the operative class, whose massacre of their mother-tongue, however inhuman, could excite no astonishment; but I allude to the great body of lawyers and traders; the men who crowd the exchange and the hotels; who are to be heard speaking in the courts, and are selected by their fellow-citizens to fill high and responsible offices. Even by this educated and respectable class, the commonest words are often so transmogrified as to be placed beyond recognition of an Englishman. He then went on to describe some of the prevalent barbarisms:
The word does is split into two syllables, and pronounced do-es. Where, for some incomprehensible reason, is converted into whare, there into thare; and I remember, on mentioning to an acquaintance that I had called on a gentleman of taste in the arts, he asked whether he shew (showed) me his pictures. Such words as oratory and dilatory are pronounced with the penult syllable long and accented; missionary becomes missionairy, angel, ângel, danger, dânger, etc.
But this is not all. The Americans have chosen arbitrarily to change the meaning of certain old and established English words, for reasons they cannot explain, and which I doubt much whether any European philologist could understand. The word clever affords a case in point. It has here no connexion with talent, and simply means pleasant and (or) amiable. Thus a good-natured blockhead in the American vernacular is a clever man, and having had this drilled into me, I foolishly imagined that all trouble with regard to this word, at least, was at an end. It was not long, however, before I heard of a gentleman having moved into a clever house, another succeeding to a clever sum of money, of a third embarking in a clever ship, and making a clever voyage, with a clever cargo; and of the sense attached to the word in these various combinations, I could gain nothing like a satisfactory explanation.
The privilege of barbarizing the Kings English is assumed by all ranks and conditions of men. Such words as slick, kedge and boss, it is true, are rarely used by the better orders; but they assume unlimited liberty in the use of expect, reckon, guess and calculate, and perpetrate other conversational anomalies with remorseless impunity.
This Briton, as usual, was as full of moral horror as of grammatical disgust, and put his denunciation upon the loftiest of grounds. I will not go on with this unpleasant subject, he concluded, nor