H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
novelist, Scotch to boot. But it is so common in American that when Mr. Harding used it in the first sentence of his inaugural address even his Democratic editorial enemies failed to notice it, and when I denounced it in the Nation it was vigorously defended. The appearance of a redundant S in such words as towards, downwards, afterwards and heavenwards is equally familiar. In England this S is used relatively seldom, and then it usually marks a distinction in meaning, as it does on both sides of the ocean between beside and besides. In modern standard English, says Smith,37 though not in the English of the United States, a distinction which we feel, but many of us could not define, is made between forward and forwards; forwards being used in definite contrast to any other direction, as if you move at all, you can only move forwards, while forward is used where no such contrast is implied, as in the common phrase to bring a matter forward. 38 This specific distinction, despite Smith, probably retains some force in the United States too, but in general our usage allows the S in cases where English usage would certainly be against it. Gould, in the 50s, noted its appearance at the end of such words as somewhere and anyway, and denounced it as vulgar and illogical. Thornton traces anyways back to 1842 and shows that it is an archaism, and to be found in the Book of Common Prayer (circa 1560); perhaps it has been preserved by analogy with sideways. Henry James, in The Question of Our Speech, attacked such forms of impunity as somewheres else and nowheres else, a good ways on and a good ways off as vulgarisms with what a great deal of general credit for what we good-naturedly call refinement appears so able to coexist.39Towards and afterwards, though frowned upon in England, are now quite sound in America. I find the former in the title of an article in Dialect Notes, which plainly gives it scholastic authority. 40 More (and
Note 38. This phrase, of course, is a Briticism, and seldom used in America. The American form is to take a matter up. [back]
Note 39. The Question of Our Speech, p. 30. He might have been even more eloquent had he tackled no place and some place, latter-day substitutes for nowheres and somewheres. Or the common American habit of treating such plurals as woods, falls, links, works, yards, grounds, etc., as singulars. See Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. i, p. 48 (1913). [back]
Note 40. A Contribution Towards, etc., by Prof. H. Tallichet, vol. i, pt. iv. But the s is omitted in the index to Dialect Notes, vol. iv, p. 459. [back]