The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States

By H. L. Mencken | Go to book overview

XI.

AMERICAN SLANG

1.
Its Origin and Nature

There is but one work, so far as I can discover, formally devoted to American slang, 1 and that work is extremely superficial. Moreover, it has been long out of date, and hence is of little save historical value. There are at least a dozen careful treatises on French slang, half as many on English slang, 2 and a good many on German slang, but American slang, which is probably quite as rich as that of France and a good deal richer than that of any other country, is yet to be studied at length. Nor is there much discussion of it, of any interest or value, in the general philological literature. Fowler and all the other early native students of the language dismissed it with lofty gestures; down to the time of Whitney it was scarcely regarded as a seemly subject for the notice of a man of learning. Lounsbury, less pedantic, viewed its phenomena more hospitably, and even defined it as "the source from which the decaying energies of speech are constantly refreshed," and Brander Matthews, following him, has described its function as that of providing "substitutes for the good words and true which are worn out by hard service." 3 But that is about as far as the investigation has got. Krapp has some judicious paragraphs upon the matter in his "Modern English," 4 there are a few scattered essays upon the

____________________
1
James Maitland: The American Slang Dictionary; Chicago, 1891.
2
The best of these, of course, is Farmer and Henley's monumental Slang and Its Analogues, in seven volumes.
3
Matthews' essay, The Function of Slang, is reprinted in Clapin's Dictionary of Americanisms, pp. 565-581.
4
P. 199 ff.

-360-

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The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The American Language - An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States *
  • Contents iii
  • Preface to the First Edition *
  • Preface to the Revised Edition xi
  • I - Introductory *
  • II - The Beginnings of American 45
  • III - The Period of Growth 74
  • IV - American and English Today *
  • V - International Exchanges 157
  • VI - Tendencies in American 173
  • VII - The Standard American Pronunciation 206
  • VIII - American Spelling 221
  • IX - The Common Speech 255
  • X - Proper Names in America 321
  • XI - American Slang 360
  • XII - The Future of the Language 372
  • Appendix 388
  • I - Specimens of the American Vulgate 388
  • II - Non-English Dialects in America 397
  • III - Proverb and Platitude 422
  • Bibliography 427
  • List of Words and Phrases 459
  • Index 483
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