A Dictionary of Modern American Usage

A Dictionary of Modern American Usage

A Dictionary of Modern American Usage

A Dictionary of Modern American Usage

Excerpt

'When we Americans are through with the English language, it will look as if it had been run over by a musical comedy.' In making this sensational prediction, 'Mr. Dooley' forbore to speculate as to the date when this critical stage of linguistic history was likely to be reached. Meanwhile, a less startling analogy derived from the arts would seem appropriate to describe what has so far happened to the English language in the United States. In their use of English speech, Americans have not abandoned the original tunes, but are playing them with variations.

The language spoken and written in the United States to-day presents many striking differences from that current at home. This distinction is much more strongly marked than the difference between the English of the mother country and that of the overseas dominions and colonies--with the exception, of course, of Canada, whose speech has been strongly affected by contact with her neighbour. One explanation that naturally suggests itself is that immigration into Australia or New Zealand, for instance, has been almost exclusively British, whereas in America not only were the first settlers in regions of considerable extent French or Spanish, but, over a long period, the country as a whole received many millions of immigrants from other than English-speaking lands. This immense volume of foreign immigration might have been expected to leave many traces on the language. Actually, its influence has been comparatively slight. While the new-comers have shown great activity in producing periodicals and newspapers in their native tongues, they have been content to take the language of their adopted country as they have found it.

French exploration is recalled by a few place-names, such as Baton Rouge and Terre Haute, and by the use of bad lands to denote a barren region in the West which the French called mauvaises terres. There are, moreover, a few English words whose meaning in the United States corresponds more closely to that of their French counterparts than to their meaning in England; e.g. apartment, ascension, billion, carousal, chicory and endive, circulate, diction, exposition, museum, name (verb), professor, proposition, recite, tardy, and theme. It would not be safe, however, to conclude that all these are products of French influence, for, in the case of some of them, examples of what is now the American use might be found in Shakespeare or Evelyn.

Spanish, too, has contributed several place-names, such as Los Angeles . . .

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