H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 286
H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 286
exists, but the perfect becomes a sort of simple tense by the elision of have. Thus the two sentences change to “I gotten what I come for” and “I got a house,” the latter being understood, not as past, but as present. 62
  In “I have got a house” got is historically a sort of auxiliary of have, and in colloquial American, as we have seen in the examples just given, the auxiliary has obliterated the verb. To have, as an auxiliary, probably because of its intimate relationship with the perfect tenses, is under heavy pressure, and promises to disappear from the situations in which it is still used. I have heard was used in place of it, as in “before the Elks was come here.” 63 Sometimes it is confused ignorantly with a distinct of, as in “she would of drove,” and “I would of gave.” 64 More often it is shaded to a sort of particle, attached to the verb as an inflection, as in “he would ’a tole you,” and “who could ’a took it?” But this is not all. Having degenerated to such forms, it is now employed as a sort of auxiliary to itself, in the subjunctive, as in “if you had of went,” “if it had of been hard,” and “if I had of had.” 65 I have encountered some rather astonishing examples of this doubling of the auxiliary. One appears in “I wouldn’t had ’a went”; another in “I’d ’a had ’a saved more money.” Here, however, the a may belong partly to had and partly to the verb; such forms as a-going are very common in American. But in the other cases, and in such forms as “I had ’a wanted,” it clearly belongs to had. Sometimes for syntactical reasons the degenerated form of have is put before had instead of after it, as in “I could of had her if I had of wanted to.” 66 Meanwhile, to have, ceasing to be an auxiliary, becomes a general verb indicating compulsion. Here it promises to displace
Note 62.  Got, of course, also has a compulsive sense, as in “I have got to go.” It is also used in the general sense of becoming, as in “I got scared.” [back]
Note 63.  Remark of a policeman talking to another. What he actually said was “before the Elks was c’m’ere.” Come and here were one word, approximately cmear. The context showed that he meant to use the past perfect tense. [back]
Note 64.  The following curious example, sent to me by Dr. Morris Fishbein of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is from a letter received by a California physician: “If I had of waited a day longer before I wrote to you I would not of had to write that letter to you.” Here the author plainly mistakes have for of. [back]
Note 65.  These examples are from Lardner’s story, A New Busher Breaks In, in You Know Me Al, pp. 122 et seq. [back]
Note 66.  You Know Me Al, op. cit., p. 124. [back]


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