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THE ENGLISH OF THE NEW WORLD.
M. SCHELE DE VERE, LL.D.,
PROFESSOR OF MODERN LANGUAGES IN THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA,
NEW YORK :
CHARLES SCRIBNER & COMPANY.
ENTERED according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
JOSEPH J. LITTLE, Stereotyper, Electrotyper, and Printer, 108 to 114 Wooster St., N. Y.
MR. MARCY, when Secretary of State, issued a circular to the diplomatic and consular agents of the United States in foreign countries, requiring them to make all communications to his department in the American Language. The order excited much comment abroad and at home, and the American Language, thus for the first time introduced into official documents, was everywhere gravely discussed. Did the Americans really have an idiom of their own? or did the order refer to the Choctaw or Cherokee, the Sioux or Comanche tongue? A few years later the same term reappeared in a diplomatic circular of gravest import. The late Emperor Alexander of Russia, smarting under the defeat he had suffered in the Crimea at the combined hands of the French and the English, decreed that certain documents should be translated from the Russian into the American tongue. The Czar was, as R. W. Emerson would say, wiser than he knew, and unconsciously uttered a half-truth.
But a half-truth only, for as yet there is no American Language. We are far too practical a people, not to appreciate fully all the admirable qualities of the speech of our fathers, and are really far too busy with the task allotted us by Providence of creating a New World, to find time for studying grammar and making words. It is only now and then, when the old tools cannot do the new work required of them, that we cast them aside and invent a better one; or perhaps in the rich virgin soil of the great West an old root sends up new suckers, full of vigor and new meaning, but still bearing the image of the parent stock in all their fea
tures. As English itself is omnivorous, and this great continent has opened its doors wide to many millions of men of other races, we have, besides, freely admitted the useful foreign word with the foreign immigrant and granted to both full citizenship after a short trial.
Hence we still speak English, but we talk American. The native of the New World may, in dress and appearance, in culture and refinement, pass unnoticed in European society, but no sooner does he open his lips, than his intonation, choice of words, and structure of sentence, betray his foreign birth. The difference is, in reality, very slight, but it is characteristic, and as there is no better key to the habits and temper of a people, than the study of its watchwords and nicknames, its likes and dislikes of terms and phrases, we have endeavored to collect enough of these peculiarities to furnish an idea of the way we talk.
The whole literature of Americanisms is so far limited to three works, the Vocabulary of the late John Pickering, the Dictionary of John Russell Bartlett, and the Glossary of supposed Americanisms by Alfred L. Elwyn. Mr. Bartlett's admirable and exhausting work has naturally supplied many words and a few illustrations (marked B.) even to this compilation, nor would it have appeared desirable to attempt a new collection, if the time between its publication and the present, had not been unusually productive in changes and great events. In the interval many millions of immigrants have been added to our population, and new Territories and new States to our Union; a civil war of gigantic proportions has shaken the political edifice to its foundations and altered every feature of the aspect of society, and the mind of the whole nation. has received a new impulse. Language, always a faithful mirror of the life of a people, has been proportionately enriched and modified. The war alone has added a large number of new words to our idiom; every branch of industry, every new way of thinking, every change in politics, is fully represented by a new word or a
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA,
peculiar phrase. Many of these will, no doubt, pass away again, while others will become parts of our speech; but in either case it seemed to be desirable to record them before they are set aside once more, or, if preserved, before their origin is forgotten.
The author has been most kindly and courteously aided by friends and strangers. He owes especial thanks to the Hon. John Hammond Trumbull, of Hartford, Connecticut, for a master's guidance in Indian matters; to Professor S. S. Haldeman, of Chickis, Pennsylvania, for like aid in scientific terms, and to Mr. Hugh Blair Grigsby, of Edge Hill, Charlotte County, Virginia, for valuable hints as to old English terms preserved in the South. The names mentioned in the chapter on Natural History are taken from the various publications of the Smithsonian Institution, courteously supplied by its distinguished officers.
On the other hand, it must be stated that the task of collecting so-called Americanisms is necessarily one of overwhelming difficulty. The license of the press, the independent freedom of daily speech, the very small number of strictly American works, and the utter indifference of the people to the minutiae of speech, are so many obstacles. A collection like the present must, therefore, be unavoidably imperfect and incomplete, and the author will feel himself amply rewarded, if his good intentions shall awaken a deeper interest in so important a feature of our national life, and lead to more satisfactory results hereafter.