H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
He does not say that the temperature is 29 degrees (Fahrenheit) or that the thermometer or the mercury is at 29 degrees, but that there are three degrees of frost. He calls ice water iced-water. He knows nothing of blue-grass country or of the pennyryal.15 What we call the mining regions he knows as the black country. He never, of course, uses down-East or up-State. Many of our names for common fauna and flora are unknown to him save as strange Americanisms, e. g., terrapin, moose, June-bug, persimmon, gumbo, egg-plant, alfalfa, catnip, sweet-potato and yam. Until lately he called the grapefruit a shaddock. He still calls the rutabaga a mangelwurzel. He is familiar with many fish that we seldom see, e. g., the turbot. He also knows the hare, which is seldom heard of in America. But he knows nothing of devilled-crabs, crab-cocktails, seafood-dinners, clam-chowder or oyster-stews, and he never goes to oyster-suppers, clam-bakes or burgoo-picnics. He doesnt buy peanuts when he goes to the circus. He calls them monkeynuts, and to eat them publicly is infra dig. The common American use of peanut as an adjective of disparagement, as in peanut politics, is incomprehensible to him.
In England a hack is not a public coach, but a horse let out at hire, or one of similar quality. A life insurance policy is usually not an insurance policy at all, but an assurance policy. What we call the normal income tax is the ordinary tax; what we call the surtax is the supertax.16 An Englishman never lives on a street, but always in it.17 He never lives in a block of houses, but in a row; it is never in a section of the city, but always in a district. The business-blocks that are so proudly exhibited in all small American towns are quite unknown to him. He often calls an office-building (his are always small) simply a house, e. g., Carmelite House. Going home by train he always takes the down-train, no matter whether he be proceeding southward to Wimbleton, westward to Shepherds Bush, northward to Tottenham or eastward to Noaks
Note 15. The herb, of course, is used in England. It is popularly regarded as an effective abortifacient. [back]
Note 16.Cf. a speech of Senator La Follette, Congressional Record, Aug. 27, 1917, p. 6992. [back]
Note 17. Of late in has come into use in America, but only in relation to minor streets. Thus a man may be said to live in Sixty-first street, but his office is on Broadway. [back]