H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
In the first chapter I mentioned the superior imaginativeness revealed by Americans in meeting linguistic emergencies, whereby, for example, in seeking names for new objects introduced by the building of railroads, they surpassed the English plough and crossing-plate with cow-catcher and frog. That was in the 30s. Already at that day the two languages were so differentiated that they produced wholly distinct railroad nomenclatures. Such commonplace American terms as box-car, caboose and air-line are unknown in England. So are freight-car, flagman, towerman, switch, switching-engine, switch-yard, switchman, track-walker, engineer, baggage-room, baggage-check, baggage-smasher, accommodation-train, baggage-master, conductor, express-car, flat-car, hand-car, way-bill, expressman, express-office, fast-freight, wrecking-crew, jerk-water, commutation-ticket, commuter, round-trip, mileage-book, ticket-scalper, depot, limited, hot-box, iron-horse, stop-over, tie, rail, fish-plate, run, train-boy, chair-car, club-car, diner, sleeper, bumpers, mail-clerk, passenger-coach, day-coach, railroad-man, ticket-office, truck and right-of-way, not to mention the verbs, to flag, to express, to dead-head, to side-swipe, to stop-over, to fire (i. e., a locomotive), to switch, to side-track, to railroad, to commute, to telescope and to clear the track. These terms are in constant use in America; their meaning is familiar to all Americans; many of them have given the language everyday figures of speech.26 But the majority of them would puzzle an Englishman, just as the English luggage-van, permanent-way, goods-waggon, guard, carrier, booking-office, railway-rug, R. S. O. (railway sub-office), tripper, line, points, shunt, metals and bogie would puzzle the average untraveled American.
In two other familiar fields very considerable differences between English and American are visible; in both fields they go back to the era before the Civil War. They are politics and that department of social intercourse which has to do with drinking. Many characteristic American political terms originated in revolutionary days and have passed over into English. Of such sort are caucus and mileage. But the majority of those in common use today were coined during the extraordinarily exciting campaigns following the defeat of Adams
Note 26.E. g., single-track mind, to jump the rails, to collide head-on, broad-gauge man, to walk the ties, blind-baggage, underground-railroad, tank-town. [back]