American History19 Jun 2010 07:12 pm
In the mid-19th century, American writers began (belatedly) asserting their own independence from Britain. Rather than writing in a British idiom that had little to do with the English spoken in the saloons and churches of the United States, they began writing in a uniquely American English. No writer did more for American English than Mark Twain, but the writer who codified the new language was the Baltimore journalist H. L. Mencken.
Along with Mark Twain, Mencken drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including (in his words) “the argot of the colored waiters” of Washington D.C. Mencken’s project began with a series of articles in The Evening Sun (the evening edition of The Baltimore Sun) and eventually wrote a column asking “Why doesn’t some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language… English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land?” Nobody answered the call, so Mencken did it himself.
The first volume of The American Language was published in 1921, with many supplementary volumes to follow. Of course, Mencken was preceded in his work by Noah Webster, who published the first American dictionary a century earlier. That said, no writer had ever gone as far as Mencken in the project of celebrating the vocabulary and usage of American English.
Interested in reading The American Language yourself? entire book is available online by the good graces of the Google Books project.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.