H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
as chore. Among the verbs similarly preserved are to whittle, to wilt and to approbate. To guess, in the American sense of to suppose, is to be found in Henry VI:
Not all together; better far, I guess,
That we do make our entrance several ways.
In Measure for Measure Escalus says I guess not to Angelo. The New English Dictionary offers examples much olderfrom Chaucer, Wycliffe and Gower. To interview is in Dekker. To loan, in the American sense of to lend, is in 34 and 35 Henry VIII, but it dropped out of use in England early in the eighteenth century, and all the leading dictionaries, both in English and American, now call it an Americanism.48To fellowship, once in good American use but now reduced to a provincialism, is in Chaucer. Even to hustle, it appears, is ancient. Among adjectives, homely, which means only homelike or unadorned in England, was used in its American sense of plain-featured by both Shakespeare and Milton. Other such survivors are burly, catty-cornered, likely, deft, copious, scant and ornate. Perhaps clever also belongs to this category, that is, in the American sense of amiable.
Our ancestors, said James Russell Lowell, unhappily could bring over no English better than Shakespeares. Shakespeare died in 1616; the Pilgrims landed four years later; Jamestown was founded in 1607. As we have seen, the colonists, saving a few superior leaders, were men of small sensitiveness to the refinements of life and speech: soldiers of fortune, amateur theologians, younger sons, neighbouhood advanced thinkers, bankrupts, jobless workmen, decayed gentry, and other such fugitives from culturein brief, Philistines of the sort who join tin-pot fraternal orders today, and march in parades, and whoop for the latest mountebanks in politics. There was thus a touch of rhetoric in Lowells saying that they spoke the English of Shakespeare; as well argue that the London grocers of 1885 spoke the English of Pater. But in a larger sense he said truly, for these men at least brought with them the vocabulary of Shakespeareor a part of iteven if the uses he made of it were
Note 48. An interesting discussion of this verb appeared in the New York Sun, Nov. 27, 1914. [back]