The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.
Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of Baltimore. In 1902, Mencken remarked on the "queer words which go into the making of 'United States.'" The book was preceded by several columns in The Evening Sun. Mencken eventually asked "Why doesn't some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language... English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land?" It would appear that he answered his own question.
In the tradition of Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary, Mencken wanted to defend "Americanisms" against a steady stream of English critics, who usually isolated Americanisms as borderline barbarous perversions of the mother tongue. Mencken assaulted the prescriptive grammar of these critics and American "schoolmarms", arguing, like Samuel Johnson in the preface to his dictionary, that language evolves independently of textbooks.
The book discusses the beginnings of "American" variations from "English", the spread of these variations, American names and slang over the course of its 374 pages. According to Mencken, American English was more colorful, vivid, and creative than its British counterpart.
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PROPER NAMES IN AMERICA
The Nature of Slang
Cant and Argot
THE FUTURE OF THE LANGUAGE
English or American?
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LIST OF WORDS AND PHRASES
accent adjectives Allen Walker Read Ameri American English American language American Mercury American Speech appears April argot becomes borrowed Boston British C. K. Ogden called cant Century changed Chicago chieﬂy Chinese common commonly conﬁned consonants Czech deﬁnite Dialect Notes Dictionary Dutch editor England English Language English words Englishman example feminine ﬁnal ﬁnd ﬁrst ﬁve ﬂat French George German given-names grammar grammatical gender guage heard idioms immigrants indebted Indian inﬂections inﬂuence Italian Jews John Krapp large number late letter lish literature loan-words London Louise Pound meaning names native Negro newspapers Noah Webster nouns origin Oxford persons philologians phrases plural preterite printed pronounced pronunciation says Dr sense signiﬁcance slang sometimes sound Spanish speak spelling spoken surnames Swedish tion tongue translation Ukrainian United University usage verb vocabulary vowel vulgar vulgate write Yiddish York