I AM not Feste, and yet the Malvolios of literature might say of me, with more reason than their prototype said of him, that I am a barren rascal, and that unless some one ministers occasion to me I am gagged. But again, in the self-perfection of their characters, they furnish me occasion themselves. Since the writing of my last article upon my present subject, the following illustration of the prevalent British ignorance upon it has appeared, A letter professing to be written by an American was published in the London World, about hotels in that city. Upon this the London Figaro undertakes to show that the writer is not an American, “ because, while trying to assume the Yankee style of expression, he shows a lack of familiarity with peculiarly American phrases.” The point in itself is well taken, and if maintained it would be fatal to the pretense of the “ American ” origin of the letter. But to accomplish this the critic must have a double knowledge as to the phrases which are the grounds of his criticism,— that they are or are not used by “ Americans,” and that they are or are not used by Englishmen. As to his possession of this knowledge we shall see. “ For example,” he says, “ Americans say railroad, not railway; they say a hotel, not an hotel; andirons, not fire-dogs; that’s so, not that is so; baggage, not luggage; parquet or reserved seats, not stalls; right away, not right off the reel; shirt bosom, not shirt front; on hand or on deck, not to the fore; and many other things besides.” What the other things are I do not know. I have seen neither the letter nor the criticism in situ, but quote the latter from a New York paper in which it is presented as settling completely the question at issue. Now whether the letter was written by a Yankee or not I shall not undertake to say; that matter is nothing to my purpose. But I shall show by a few illustrations lying just at hand that this formidable attack upon its origin based upon internal evidence is quite futile, and that the British critic was not sufficiently informed as to what are peculiarly “ American ” phrases.
As to the use of railway being evidence of non-American origin, see the following passages, the first from the most American of newspapers: —
“ The Board of Fire Commissioners of the District [of Columbia] has refused to recognize Mr. W. B. Reed. The funds for paying for the Railway Mail Service will run short in December.” (New York Tribune, October 23, 1878.)
“ Whenever the Greeks have tried to establish railway communication with the rest of the world, they have been met by the opposition of Turkey,” etc. (Speech of General Reed, United States minister to Greece, in London Week, September 21, 18 78.)
I have before me a letter dated Paris, September 12, 1878, from a gentleman now traveling in France, one who till four months ago had never been out of New England or New York, and in it are these passages: —
“ We took a bottle of old Beaune into the railway carriage, which we had to ourselves,” etc.
“In France they set the clocks in front of the railway stations ten minutes in advance, so everybody shall come early.”
Clearly, a letter may be written by an “ American” of the most pronounced type although its writer uses railway and not railroad. On the other hand, see the following evidence that Englishmen use railroad. In the very London journal which on one page quotes the American minister’s speech containing railway is the following passage: —
“For investors are not so well situated, and therefore the descriptions of American railroad securities are to be commended at this moment in preference to government bonds.” the Week, September 21, 18 78.)
“For here the railroad comes to an end, and a good riddance to it.” (The same, October 19, 1878.)
But if it should be said that this is mere newspaper writing (although upon such a point of usage there is no better evidence than that of a high-class London weekly paper), see the following examples furnished by an eminent Englishman who is regarded by many persons as the writer of the purest and most unexceptionable English of the day: —
“ In these times newspapers, railroads, and magnetic telegraphs make us independent of government messengers.” (John Henry Newman, Callista, chap, vii.)
“ Therefore, for example, education, periodical literature, railroad traveling, ventilation, drainage, and the arts of life, when fully carried out, serve to make a population moral and happy.” (The same, Apologia pro Vita sua, page 296. Note on Liberalism.)
These illustrations might be largely increased. I have taken merely what was within reach of my hand as I sat at my table.1 Clearly, again, a man need not be an “ American ” to use railroad instead of railway. But railway is right and railroad wrong, as I have shown in Words and their Uses, for the reason, in brief, that a raiheay is laid upon a road, and the road is always somewhat, and generally very much, wider than the way. Of this view of the case I find the following illustration in a recent number of a London journal: —
— “but the years passed away, and one governor-general succeeded another, and still the railway was not begun. At last it was determined, in the interests of economy, to lay down the rails on the existing trunk road, a very fine work.” (Pall Mall Budget, October 12, 1878.)
As to baggage, I have already shown (Atlantic, April, 1878) that it is not distinctively “ American ” upon the evidence of the writings of Fielding, Sterne, Walter Scott, Mrs. Trollope, Thomas Hughes, and others. As to right off the reel, I can only say that I have constantly heard it from my childhood upon the lips of New England people who, although educated, were entirely unsophisticated by British example; and it is remarkable that Mr. Bartlett gives right off, in the sense of immediately (which is a mere abbreviation of right off the reel), as an Americanism! A similarly laughable confusion exists as to fire-dogs. At the end of that excellent work, Chambers’s Dictionary of the English Language (Lond. 1872), there is a glossary of “ Americanisms,” so called; and in this glossary dogs is set forth as an Americanism for andirons! Truly, we may leave our British critics to settle what is British English and what is American English among themselves. As to andiron, there is not a word in the language more thoroughly English, past or present. I will observe, by the way, that in this same Chambers’s Glossary of Americanisms I find, under F, fleshy in the sense of stout, upon which I remarked in my last article; and flashy, in the sense of not sweet and fruitful, notwithstanding Bacon’s “else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things” (Essay, Of Studies); and, St. Patrick help us! fornent, in the sense of opposite, — a word not only never heard from Yankee lips, but the occasion of smiling remark to us when we hear it from Biddy and Murphy. We shall next be told that Ochone! is an Americanism. Returning to our critic: I hear to the fore quite as often here as I heard it in England (where I also heard on hand), and much oftener than I hear on deck, which is slang of a kind not used by persons fastidious as to their hotel accommodations. To the fore is rather rococo in both countries, and is used, as it were, within quotation marks, except among some plain provincial people. Upon the very serious question of shirt bosom for shirt front I dare not venture an opinion, but will only say that both are known to me as the name of that stiff, starchy stomacher, a fault in the set of which is the cause of so much anguish to the manly heart which beats beneath it.
The truth is that in all this array of assumed tests of Americanism in language there is only one of any value; and that one is a hotel for an hotel. According to my observation the elision of n before hotel is so general in this country that it may be regarded as universal, while in England it is very rare. This difference is the consequence of the difference in the pronunciation of hotel, which in England, except among a very few of the most highly cultivated speakers, is pronounced otel. To the tendency to this pronunciation of unaccented syllables beginning with h is to be attributed the old rule that in those cases the n is to be preserved; for example, a history, but an historian. But this usage has been for some time passing away, even in England. For example, in one of the papers lying on my table I find, “ In this sense of the word Gibbon is not a historian.” (Pall Mall Budget, October12,1878: Review of English Men of Letters.)
Leaving our British critic, I turn to the Boston Dictionary of Americanisms. The first word under the letter G is an example of a sort of word, so called, which is largely represented in this compilation; but it is a sort which has no proper place in any collection which professes to represent the vocabulary of any community or any sort of people. These words are not good English, nor are they Americanisms, nor are they the cant or the slang of England, of the British colonies, or of any part of the United States. The word in question is gabblement. It is said to be a Southern word; and an example is quoted which would seem to support that view of its origin. Doubtless the word is used at the South; but so it is at the North, as thousands of readers of The Atlantic will bear witness.
I have heard it again and again in New York, New Jersey, and New England; and more, I have heard it from the lips of children. Indeed, it is merely a grotesque word used in light, jocose, colloquial speech, — a word that might be
“made up,”as children say, by any one on the spur of the moment, as I have no doubt that it has been made again and again by persons who have never heard it used. That it has been and is so used in England I have no doubt; but, as I have had occasion to remark before, all such light and frivolous words, like other light and frivolous things, are not exhibited to the world in England as they are here. The works of British authors are full of dialect words, folkspeech, and even of vulgarisms which are characteristic; but they do not put in print words which, while they deviate from standard speech, are in their difference utterly characterless and without significance. Such are gabblement, galboy, go - aheadativeness, goneness, grandacious, grand iferons, and the like. They are merely the whimsical coinage of a moment, caught up and used again in the whim of the moment; and although some of them may have got into print in that depressing department of our journalism and our literature which professes to be humorous, they are never used, even by children, or the childish, seriously, as language, but with a full knowledge that they* are not really words, and merely for “the fun of the thing” (for to some people it is exquisitely funny to say grandacious); and they have therefore no claim to consideration or record as part of the language of a people. Goneness, indeed, has some humor and suggestiveness, and might be accepted as good slang if it were in sufficiently common use. It is described as being a “ woman’s word; ” but I have heard it from men: and I once heard a very small boy, guiltless of the word itself, give the spirit of it while suffering the sensation which it describes. At luncheon he had managed to get a tremendous swig of some strong ale that might have disturbed older heads than his. Not long after the discovery of his draught he broke in upon the general conversation by exclaiming, “Mamma, it makes my legs go out.”2Gentleman turkey, for turkey-cock, is also admitted by Mr. Bartlett into his dictionary, with the explanation that “the mock-modesty of the Western States demands that a male turkey should be so called.”With all my heart I cheer Mr. Bartlett in any attack upon mock-modesty in language; but I cannot agree with him in his appreciation of this phrase. It is used, and is put by' writers into the mouths of the personages of their sketches and stories, not with a modest motive, but jocosely, whimsically. With that thin humor and weak satire which some people enjoy, and repeat at second-hand till one is sick of it, they thus repudiate the very mock-modesty to which. Mr. Bartlett assumes that they conform. There is a great deal of this kind of talk among “ Americans ” of a sort found all over the country, but naturally most numerous at the West. Words so used are no part of the true language of the country regarded in any light; because, as I have remarked before, they are not dialect, or cant, or slang, and are not used seriously by the very persons who utter them. They have no fixed character or permanent place of any kind, but pertain to the persons who speak them and to the moment when they are spoken. Mistakenly' accepted as Americanisms, they wrongfully swell the catalogue of words which, with a seeming “ American ” authority, give occasion for the assumption, perhaps the honest belief, that the language in common use among us is something else than English.
Something similar in kind to these words and phrases is to go off, which appears in Mr. Bartlett’s third edition, but is discreetly omitted from the fourth. It is not peculiar to either country, or to any' class in either country. Nor was it in the former edition correctly explained as meaning to expire. It is an abbreviated expression, or rather one left purposely incomplete. It may mean to go off in laughter, to go off in a swoon, or something else. We may be sure that the Widow Bedott, who is quoted in illustration, when she said, “ I thought I should go off last night when I see that old critter squeeze up and hook on to you,” did not mean that she thought she would expire. She might have meant that she would go off in laughter, or in a faint, or perhaps in a “ conniption fit.”
But while go off is omitted from the last, edition, go it is added ; why, it is difficult to discover. For the phrase is not of late introduction, nor is it of “ American ” origin, or peculiar to this country in any way. I can bear witness that it has been in common use among Englishmen, educated and uneducated, for thirty years, and few of us here can remember the time when we first heard it. The explanation of it, “to undertake a thing, to go at it, to succeed in a thing, go through it, to be earnestly engaged in,” is unsatisfactory. “ Going it ” in an affair does not mean being successful in it; and a man may undertake a thing and yet not “ go it,” because he has no “ go ” in him. Perhaps “to go at earnestly ” would express its meaning; which, however, includes something more than earnestness, something of a sustained rush. Another one of the phrases which make their first appearance in the edition of 1878 is to go to the bad; the presentation of which as an Americanism is astonishing. It is a semi-slang phrase which has been in vogue in England for a generation, as any Englishman will testify; and its use was strictly confined to England until comparatively a few years ago, when it began to creep in here, although its use is still so restricted that to most people it would seem strange, if not foreign.3 All these phrases founded on go, however, are mere slang, and however good slang (and go it could not be bettered), they should be set apart by themselves. It. is one of the injurious features in the Dictionary of Americanisms that all its various matter is “ lumped ” together and arranged only in alphabetical order. The “ nigger,” the “ Injin,” the Canadian “ habitan,” the Mexican “ greaser,” the backwoodsman, the California miner, the loafer, and the decent, educated American are all mixed up together in one indistinguishable heap.
Gal. g'hal. g'lang, and gray deal (great deal) are representatives of a very numerous class of words in this collection of so-called Americanisms. They are not words, but merely slovenly pronunciations of words which are used in their simple and universally accepted English sense. Three of these, the first and the last t wo, are not in any sense peculiarly American; as the same, slovenly pronunciations prevail in England among a class of people corresponding to those who use them here. The second, g'hal, is not, but was, an affected pronunciation peculiar to a certain part of New York. It prevailed, however, but for a short time; it has entirely disappeared, with its companion, b'hoy. The Bowery boy, who used both, has not lasted so long as Mr. Bartlett’s dictionary, many items in which are of an equally circumscribed and ephemeral sort.
A large class of words to which I have before directed attention is represented under this letter by gerrymander, guano, Gulf States, Graham bread, Grahamites, gong-punch, greenback. These are not in any proper sense Americanisms. They are merely the names of things, just as hari-karu, mandarin, tabu, boomerang, and wampum are. They involve no perversion or modification of English words or phrases, such, for example, as appears in right away for immediately, or lumber for timber. The latter are examples of true Americanisms; and they are neither slang nor cant.4 Of the words in question, guano is not even the name of a thing found in the United States, or a word originating among or peculiar to the people of this country. It is a Spanish name of the product of Spanish or quasi-Spamsh islands thousands of miles from our borders; and it is used by all European peoples just as it is used by the people of the United States. I am reluctant to say what would imply or suggest any other than the most perfect conscientiousness and singleness of intent upon Mr. Bartlett’s part; but it does seem at times that he has been carried away by the mania of the specialist and the collector so far as to stick at nothing that would stand in the way of increasing the bulk of his volume.
Gad. Why this word, the meaning of which need not be told, should be included in a collection of words peculiar to the United States is a mystery past understanding. It is pure Anglo-Saxon; it appears in the Promptorium Parvulorum, 1440; in Baret’s Alvearie, 1580; and I believe in every English dictionary that has ever been published, down to Johnson and Richardson. Mr. Bartlett tells us it is used in the north of England. So indeed it is, and also in the south, and in the east, and in the west,. It is as English as a word can be. Wedgewood says of it, after remarking that gad and goad “ differ only in the more or less broad pronunciation of the vowel,” that “ the primitive meaning is a rod or switch, probably from the sound of a blow with such an implement. Then as a cut with a flexible rod or prick with a pointed one are equally efficient in urging an animal forwards, the name is extended to the implement used for either purpose, and a goad is the pointed rod used in driving bullocks.” Apart from Wedgewood’s peculiar notions as to the origin of words in descriptive sound, this presents the plain state of the case as to the ox-gad. We shall be next told that rod and spear and whip are Americanisms. Who ever supposed that the rustic teamster’s gad, or the name of it, was “ peculiar to the United States ” ? He brought the thing and the name with him from England; and his English cousin has kept both, and uses them when he “ drives fat oxen,” which, however, are going out as beasts of draft in both countries, and perhaps more rapidly in England than here. I did not see an ox-cart or an ox before the plow in my walks in any rural part of England. The horse is found the more efficient, the more manageable, and the cheaper draftster.
Gallus, or gallous, in the sense of showy, dashing, we are told is New York slang. Not more than it is London slang. It is used in the same way by corresponding classes in both countries. Ecce signum.
“ ' How? ’ replied the audacious one, 'why, with cheek, to be sure. Anything can be done if you 've only got check enough. It’s no use puttin’ on a spurt of it, and knockin’ under soon as you’re tackled. Go in for it up to the heads of your d— soul bolts. Put it on your face so gallus thick that the devil himself won’t see through it.’ ” (James Greenwood (the “Amateur Casual”), Seven Curses of London, page 214.)
“ ‘It’s cos people get so gallus ’ard’arted, that’s wot it is,’ remarked, with a grin, a young gentleman who shared the bed of the cheeky one.” (The same, page 245.)
Galoshes. This word is used by Chaucer, and was in general use in England from his day down to a recent period, and lingers there yet. It appears in the Promptorium Parvulorum, in Skinner, and in all English dictionaries (Bailey defines it as “leather cases or clogs worn overshoes”) down to Richardson. Some of these facts Mr. Bartlett himself mentions. Moreover, it has entirely passed out of use here, while, on the other hand, it is found in the best current light literature of England, and that not as a character word, or provincial or old-fashioned. See the following example from the most read novel of the day : —
“ You will begin to ask whether it is right to shoot pretty little birds in order to eat them ; you will become a vegetarian ; and you will take to goloshes.” (William Black, Macleod of Dare, chap, xxvii.)
In the name of common sense, then, why does it appear in a dictionary of Americanisms? What authority or useful guidance is there in a book which gives as Americanisms words which are and which ever have been English, and which are not in use in America? Gallowses, for suspenders or braces, is in the same predicament.
Gambrel. A gambrel-roof is one which is “hipped” or has its slope broken. Mr. Bartlett says that it is so called “ from its resemblance to the hind leg of a horse, which by farriers is called a gambrel.” As to the farriers, the word is not peculiar to their craft. Instances of its use by Beaumont and Fletcher, and by Grew, are given by Richardson in v. Nor is the name given to the roof directly from its likeness to a horse’s hind leg. From the shape of that limb a piece of wood bent like it at an obtuse angle was called a gambrel, which Halliwell tells us is “a crooked piece of wood used by butchers for hanging up or expanding a slaughtered animal.” Thus the crooked piece of wood or beam that expands the roof of a house is a gambrel. Such Americanism as may be in the word consists merely in the application of it to a large piece of wood as well as to a small one.
Gap. Mr. Bartlett says “ this pure English word is used properly of any breach of continuity,” in which he of course is right. It might possibly be said, nevertheless, that our application of it to a breach of continuity in mountains, as in the Delaware Water Gap, is peculiarly American. But this is not so. Englishmen when they came here merely gave a proper English name to a thing that did not exist in England. There are no such mountain gaps in England. And in Scotland the mountain passes are not gaps. In fact, there could not be a more thoroughly English use of gap than the one in question. Mr. Bartlett gives as a second American sense of the word “an opening in a fence.” But that has been an English use of the word from time immemorial. Bailey’s only definition of gap is “an open place in a hedge or wall.” May we be quite sure that hedge and wall are not Americanisms?
Gat, in Barnegat, Hellgat, is set forth as an Americanism; but it is not at all so. Those names were given to certain places by the Hollanders; and the names have remained. That is all. Gat has not taken any place in our speech, in our vocabulary. On the contrary, we have changed Hellgat to Hellgate. Gat as a word is unknown to us ; hardly, I am sorry to say, as the perfect tense of get.
Gaum. It would be safe to bet odds of nine to one that notone “American” reader of The Atlantic in ten ever heard or saw this word, or has the least notion of its meaning. But such a venture would not be safe as to its English readers. Halliwell gives us one meaning, to handle improperly, and says, “ This last meaning is found in Fletcher’s Poems, page 256, and is still in common use.” The sense of to smear or maul, which Halliwell also gives, is relative to and deduced from the former: improper handling has mauling and smearing as its consequence. Mr. Bartlett’s “ local in England ” implies directly that the word is general here; but, on the contrary, its use is confined within the narrowest possible limits here, and is much more widely diffused in England; although there as here it is not heard in “ society.”
“ To get the wrong pig by the tail ” and “ to get the wrong sow by the ear”
I take notice of only to say that the “chaw bacons” of England, from the Humber to Land’s End, would stare “consumedly” if they were told that they and their grandfathers had got these phrases from America.
Gent for genteel is one of the new words in Mr. Bartlett’s edition, for which he quotes Madame Knight’s journal, A. D. 1704; doing so, probably, because he forgot that a well-known Yankee named Alexander Pope wrote, about that very time,
Not to be spied of ladies gent.”
(Imitation of Chaucer.)
Verily, this going back to 1704 for Americanisms is a rather desperate resort. Gent is also given as an American abbreviation of gentleman. This case is worse, if possible, than the former. Gent has been in all modern English literature the word-sign and token of a cockney. It is almost a peculiarly Loudon vulgarism, although it has spread with trade into provincial towns, and instances of its use in literature of past generations might be produced. In America it has been gradually sneaking into low use only during the past few years.
To give out, in the sense of to desist, to become faint, to fail, is another novel Americanism which appears for the first time in the last edition of the dictionary. Just about the time that this was printing, Mr. Jennings, an Englishman who has lived here, and who is the author of one of the most charming books of foottravel ever written, heard an old woman speak thus in Sussex: —
“ 'We liked the old church best, sir,’ said the woman, who was wheezing away, dismally. ‘ This don’t seem to us as if it were the same church, like. See, yonder is the old house whore they say the vicars used to live — I would come and show you, but my chest gives out.' 'Gives out,’ — a true Americanism, if there ever was one.” (Field Paths and Green Lanes, page 77, Lond. 1877.)
Not so, good friend. There be Americanisms; but this is not one of them, as you indeed may have meant to say. It is merely a homely but suggestive metaphor, which might occur to any Englishspeaking person.
A good time. This phrase is stigmatized as an Americanism, not by Mr. Bartlett, but by British critics; on what grounds I have not been able to discover. The London Times correspondent, under date of August 5, 185-,5 says, “ In the odd phraseology of the country, he is having a good time of it.” The phrase is referred to in like manner again and again by English journalists. And yet time is used by all the best English writers to mean a succession of days, a period, a season; and good is a proper and an English qualification of it in that sense. Moreover, I am sure that there is precedent for the phrase in the books of English writers of repute in past generations, although, as when I was reading those books I had not had my attention called to this phrase, I am not now able to produce these precedents. However, I find the following examples in the recent writings of very English men: —
“ If the Divorce Court were only sitting, and a war would break out somewhere with special correspondent range, that great section of society to whom news is as food would have quite a comfortable time.” (London Spectator, August 17, 1865, page 370.)
Between “a comfortable time” and “ a good time ” there is, of course, for our purpose, no difference.
Here, also, are some passages very directly in point: —
“ ‘ I am going to ask a favor of you,’ he said in a low voice. ‘ I have spent a pleasant time in England,’” etc. (William Black, Macleod of Dare, chap, ii.)
— “if Hamish came to learn of the peril in which Macleod had been placed by the incaution of the English lad, the latter would have a bad time of it at Castle Dare.” (The same, chap, xxxi.)
Surely, if it is English to say one has a pleasant time, or a bad time, it is also English to say one has a good time. But in the following passages we have the identical phrase: —
“ He intended to forget Mr. Groschut, to ignore Dr. Pountner, and have a good time.” (Anthony Trollope, Popenjoy, chap, xiv.)
“ But there might be some sort of arrangement to do away with the nuisance. See what a good time the dogs have.” (The same, chap, xvi.)
But precedent or no precedent, examples or no examples, a good time is normal English. It cannot be otherwise, unless
“ All my times are in thy hand ” is in the “ odd phraseology ” of America.
To go ahead. Upon this phrase, which is possibly an Americanism, and which Mr, Bartlett says is a seaman’s phrase which has got into very common use, Mr. Dickens thus remarks: “ By the way, whenever an Englishman would cry, 'All right! ’ an American cries, ‘ Go ahead! ’ which is somewhat expressive of the character of the two countries.” (American Notes, vol. ii. p. 11, Loud. 1842.) Then, Indeed, the character of one of the two countries entirely changed during Mr. Dickens’s life. Long before his death all right took the place of go ahead with us; and now it has become almost a nuisance. He must himself have heard it all over the country on his second visit. Not only do conductors and expressmen and policemen, et id omne genus, use it, but cooks and maids say all right to their mistress’s orders; and, alas, mistresses say all right to the cooks and maids when they bring messages or report the condition of things in kitchen or drawing-room. Master and man all-right each other. So does this phrase pervade American speech as a servant of all work that I am not sure that our willing girls don’t say all right when their lovers pop the question, and that our clergymen do not grant absolution in that form to penitent sinners. Mr. Dickens’s comment and inference, when considered in connection with the universal use of all right in America within so short a time of his first visit here, are a striking illustration of the perils and uncertainties that environ the subject of Americanisms, particularly when they are assumed to be evidences of national character. As to the assumption that go ahead is a seaman’s phrase which came into common use, I have some doubts. Davy Crockett was far enough removed from the influences of seamen, and he made the maxim, “ Be sure you 're right, then go ahead.” But indeed this use of ahead came in at least two centuries before Crockett’s time. The notion that it is of nautical origin was first broached by Dr. Johnson, not the best judge on such a question. Milton uses it thus: —
“ But how, among the drove of custom and prejudice, this will be relisht by such whose capacity, since their youth, run ahead, into the easy creek of a system or a medulla,” etc. (Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Letter to Parliament.)
Between “run ahead” and “go ahead,” although one is indicative and the other imperative, there is no essential difference; and thus we see that the Americanism of the latter is of the utmost tenuity of fabric.
Goody. And this, too, in the sense of a well disposed, but small-minded person, is set, down among Americanisms; its turpitude having been discovered since the publication of the third edition of the dictionary ! Alas for Goody TwoShoes. and alas for Goody Blake! Oliver Goldsmith and William Wordsworth, those egregious “ Americans,” reckless and incorrigible debasers of the English tongue, have given this American title to two personages who have become famous in English nurseries and in English drawing-rooms. What is to be done if the purity of the English tongue is to be left to the mercy of such yawping Yankees! To be sure they might have the effrontery to plead in'extenuation that goody had been used in England as they used it from the time of Chaucer, and for aught we know from that of Cædmon. But what of that! Has it not been heard in New England, although from the lips of men of English blood? Go to! we’ll have none of it.
To Gouge. This, which according to the excellent and fastidious Grose, in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, is “ a cruel custom practiced by Bostonians in America,” is probably an American, although not perhaps a peculiarly Bostonian practice. But it is the practice, not the word, that is American. The word is used just as all Englishmen have used it from time immemorial; and had the habits of Bostonians in this respect never been heard of, if in some other place one man had relieved another of an eye with his thumbnail, any Englishman would have said that he gouged out the eye; that is, any Englishman but Dr. Johnson. In his remarks upon a passage in King Lear, he speaks of the “extrusion of Gloster’s eyes;” which, by the way, must sooth theBoston mind in that it affords British precedent for the practice.
Grain is set forth as an Americanism when used in two senses: first, in that of a particle, a bit, a little. In refutation of this judgment I shall go only to Shakespeare in a well-known passage:—
Rot half a grain a day ! ”
(Othello, v, 2.)
The truth is that such a metaphorical use of grain is inevitably universal; pages might be filled with examples of it from the works of English authors of repute; and among persons of not very exact discrimination or refined taste in any country where English is spoken we must expect to hear such a misuse of it as “I don’t care a grain,” and to “ move a grain nearer.” As to the rest, see Latham’s edition of Johnson. The second sense in which grain is set forth as an Americanism is that of a general name for wheat, rye, oats, barley. Indeed! And were the translators of the Bible, then, writing “ American ” when they made St. Paul say, “ And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain ’’ ? (1 Cor. xv. 87.) Indeed, it would be work of merest supererogation to show that there is no ground whatever for the assertion that wheat, rye, oats, and barley are called corn in England so exclusively as to make the calling them grain un-English. Shakespeare, the Bible, Milton, Dryden, and a throng of other writers, past a ad present, witness the contrary.6
Grass. “A vulgar contraction of sparrow-grass, that is, asparagus. Further than this the force of corruption can hardly go.” This is amazing; for it shows that a man of intelligence and reading has still to learn that grass is, and has been for certainly more than a century, a vulgar British corruption of asparagus. In a recent number of Punch one of Charles Keene’s clever social sketches shows a solemn “ heavy swell ” in the box of an eating-house with a waiter before him, to whom he says that he “be-Iieves—he — will—take some — haricot-of-mutton and some as-par-agus;" the waiter, hardly waiting for the words to pass his lips, turns and shouts into the kitchen, “ Arico ’n grass!”7 It shows also that the compiler of our dictionary is unacquainted with the following comment made by Walker upon asparagus almost one hundred years ago:
“ This word is vulgarly pronounced sparrow-grass. It may be observed that such words as the vulgar do not know how to spell, and which convey no definite idea of the thing, are frequently changed by them into such words as they do know how to spell, and which do convey some definite idea. The word in question is an instance of it; and the corruption of this word into sparrowgrass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry.” (Dictionary, in v.)
Grand in the sense of very good, excellent, pleasant, is especially set forth as an Americanism in our dictionary, with remarks upon its being much abused by us in that way. My attention has not been attracted by this word so used; but I remember that that reckless Yankee, William Shakespeare, makes King Alonzo abuse it in the same way:—
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em !
(Tempest, v. i.)
And I will undertake, on reasonable notice, to produce numerous instances of a like use of the word by Englishmen of education in modern times. Great, in a like sense, which has also the American stamp set upon it, is in the same category with grand.
Great big. “ Very large. . . . Often used by children.” Indeed, indeed, it is; and by all the children in England; and not only by the little children, but by that very big boy, William Thackeray:—
“ A crow who had flown away with a cheese from a dairy window sate perched on a tree, looking down at a great big frog in a pool beneath him.” (The Newcomes, chap, ii.)
And another big boy named George Chapman, who did some very good Greek exercises — in translation — about two centuries and a quarterage, also used it:
A little ship ; but in her bulk bestow
A great big burthen.”
(Chapman’s Hesiod, 1618. Book II., 1. 405.)
Great Spirit. Mr. Bartlett gives us this phrase, and fire-water, pale-face, tomahawk, wigwam, squaw, etc. Why? What have we to do with the “ Indians,” so called ? They form no part of our society. Their language is no part of ours. Words adopted by us from their language, and substituted for English words, if any such there be, are properly Americanisms. But words adopted by them, from us, or phrases which are translations of expressions peculiar to them, are surely not so. It is difficult to see any reason for the presence here of these words which would not equally justify that of like words from the speech of the Alaskans.
Grocery as the name of the place where groceries are sold is an Americanism; and the circumstances of its use are such that to avoid it is almost: impossible, But grocery store is not an Americanism. There are signs, old signs, which have “ grocery store ” on them in London. But this phrase and grocer’s shop are rarely heard there, according to my observation. They speak in England of going to the grocer’s, of getting things from the grocer. But groggery, which Mr. Bartlett also gives, is in use there, and I believe is of British origin.
Grouty, meaning ill-natured, troubled in spirit, a word very rarely heard here, and according to my observation never written, seriously at least, is merely a metaphorical application of an old and widely diffused English word. Grouted means begrimed; grouts are dregs, lees; and thick, muddy liquor is grouty. (See Halliwell.)
Gubernatorial. This ridiculous and pretentious word is also an Americanism, due to the affectation of those who must call the governor’s: room the gubernatorial chamber, and who “cavort’’ in like manner through all the “gubernatorial ” offices and functions. It was probably called into being as a companion to presidential.
Guava. Why this Spanish name of a fruit produced in the West Indies, a name used, of necessity, by whatever people that fruit is spoken of, in whatever country, should appear in a dictionary of words peculiar to the United States is one of the many mysteries which surround the subject of Americanisms.
Guess. I have considered this word in a previous paper,8 and shall here only mention that it was there shown to have been used in the sense of think, suppose, by Wickliffe, in the Wyckliffeite Apology for the Lollards, by Chaucer, by Bishop Jewell, by Bishop Hale, by John Locke, and by Anthony Trollope.
Gum-sucking, which Mr. Bartlett mildly calls a disgusting word, I mention merely to say that being so loathsome, and being never heard among decent people, much less written by them, it might well have been omitted from the dictionary. There are many other foul words which might with equal propriety have defiled his pages, and which he has wisely omitted.
Gunning, we are told, is “ used in the Northern States fur the act of going out with a gun to shoot game.” But it is so used in England, and has been for generations, and probably ever since the gun supplanted the bow.
Will scatter death among them us they rise.”
(Bloomfield, The Farmer’s Boy, Spring.)
“ Gunning is my theme, . . . the great art of shooting.” (Edmund Yates, The Business of Pleasure, Loud. 1865, vol. i. p. 175, and passim.)
Gutter-snipe. I shall not say that the definition of this word as “ a Wall Street term for brokers who do business chiefly on the sidewalk or in the street, and who are not members of the Stock Exchange,” is incorrect. But I am sure that this is at least a secondary meaning, and that the term was transferred from those to whom it was first applied to the “curb-stone brokers” in derision and contempt. Gutter-snipes are the little ragamuffins who play in the gutters of the poorer parts of the town. The word was known to the better class of boys and to policemen long before it got into Wall Street.
Gumption. This slang word, meaning, not understanding, skill, as Mr. Bartlett has it, but comprehension, capacity, is. and has long been, in common use in England, where it is indigenous. It, appears in Todd and Johnson, and in the glossaries of Pegge, Brockett, Forby, Jennings, and Halliwell, as Mr. Bartlett himself acknowledges. Why, then, does it appear in a dictionary of Americanisms? Because, as Mr. Bartlett adds, “ with us it is frequently heard ”? So are beef, and bread, and butter.
Richard Grant White.
Where houses thick and sewers annoy the aire,
Forth issuing on a summer’s morn to breathe
Among the pleasant, villages and formes
Ajoynd, from each thing met conclaves delight:
Or Darie : each rural sight, each rural sound.”
A darksome cloud of locusts swarming down
Must eat, and on the ground leave nothing green.”
- Railroad occurs four times on a single page (vol. i. p. 282) of Memoirs of a Quiet Life; and Mrs. Trollope, most American-eschewing of British females, furnishes this instance : “ When an individual, or set of individuals, desire to commence some expensive undertaking, such as the construction of a railroad, the establishment of steam vessels, or the like,” etc. (Vienna and the Austrians, page 183, chap.. lvii.) Dickens also writes : “ At one point, as we ascended a steep hill, athwart whose base a railroad, yet constructing, took its course, we came upon an Irish colony.”(American Notes, vol. ii p. 212, Lond. 1342.)↩
- While this article is going through the press I receive from a friend, who is cavorting over the boundless prairie, a letter dated Denver, November 20th, in which he says : “ The air here has a queer effect upon some people. It gives them a ' gone ' feeling about the knees, so that you see new comers going about as if at every step they were going to drop upon their knees.’’ This illustrates the meaning of gone and goneness, and the quotation of the word by my correspondent shows its recognition only as a slang phrase.↩
- Mr. Bartlett would have found go it and to go to the bad in any edition of the London Slang Dictionary, published by John Camden Hotten.↩
- In further illustration of this point: The Spaniards called a certain red river in the far West, Colorado ; and we have a territory, Colorado. But “river Colorado" and “Colorado territory” are not Americanisms, they are merely names of things here which are not elsewhere. If, however, we were from them to adopt Colorado as a synonym for red, and use it in that Sense, then Colorado would be an Americanism↩
- Unfortunately my memorandum is torn on the edge and the last figure of the year has disappeared.↩
- Milton uses grain thus conspicuously and distinctively for corn in general in two fine passages, where corn would have served his purpose equally well : —↩
- (Par. Lost-, is. 445.)↩
- (Par. Lost, xii. 184.)↩
- I cannot now put my hand upon this Punch , but I hold myself ready to produce it.↩
- The Federal Language, in The Galaxy for November, 1877.↩