H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
defended it, it aroused almost incredible opposition in England. So recently as 1890 it was denounced by the London Daily News as an ignoble Americanism, and according to William Archer it was finally accepted by the English only at the point of the bayonet.71
The purist performs a useful office in enforcing a certain logical regularity upon the process, and in our own case the omnipresent example of the greater conservatism of the English corrects our native tendency to go too fast, but the process itself is as inexorable in its workings as the precession of the equinoxes, and if we yield to it more eagerly than the English, it is only a proof, perhaps, that the future of what was once the Anglo-Saxon tongue lies on this side of the water. The story of English grammar, says Murison, is a story of simplification, of dispensing with grammatical forms.72 And of the most copious and persistent enlargement of vocabulary and mutation of idiom ever recorded, perhaps, by descriptive philology. English now has the brakes on, but American continues to leap in the dark, and the prodigality of its movement is all the indication that is needed of its intrinsic health, its capacity to meet the ever-changing needs of a restless and emotional people, constantly fluent in racial composition, and disdainful of tradition. Language, says Sayce, is no artificial product, contained in books and dictionaries and governed by the strict rules of impersonal grammarians. It is the living expression of the mind and spirit of a people, ever changing and shifting, whose sole standard of correctness is custom and the common usage of the community. The first lesson to be learned is that there is no intrinsic right or wrong in the use of language, no fixed rules such as are the delight of the teacher of Latin prose. What is right now will be wrong hereafter, what language rejected yesterday she accepts today.73
Note 71.Scientist is now in the Concise Oxford Dictionary and in Cassells. So are reliable, standpoint and gubernatorial. But the Century Magazine still bans standpoint and the Evening Post (at least in theory) bans both standpoint and reliable. The Chicago Daily News accepts standpoint, but bans reliable and gubernatorial. All of these words, of course, are now almost as good as ox or and. [back]
Note 72. Changes in the Language Since Shakespeares Time, in Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. xiv, p. 491. See also Jespersen, op. cit. [back]
Note 73. Introduction to the Science of Language, vol. ii, pp. 3334. [back]