THE World newspaper of New York, taking a hint from its able London correspondent,1 the editor of the London Week, in his management of the latter Saturday newspaper, proposed not long ago a series of questions as to authorship, — who wrote this, that, and the other passage,—with two or three trifling prizes for the first, second, or third grade of success in answering them. As I have before remarked, I cannot understand how or why any one should take even the slightest interest in such literary mousing; but my experience certified to me what the result would be; and what it was is set forth in the following paragraph from The World of January 12th: —
“ During the first week of the contest we received about 700 letters; during the second about 1000; during the third an average of 150 letters a day; during the fourth week, as the contest drew to its close, about 600 letters; and during the last week an overwhelming mail of 1G53 letters.”
I take notice of this fact, as I proceed to give attention to a few of the letters that I have lately received, because some three or four persons have thought it proper to allude in a manner peu convenable to my occasional necessary references to my own correspondence, and one among them has been permitted to squeak out his little scoff in a corner of this very newspaper which now finds itself the Tarpeia of literary notes and queries.
Some readers of The Atlantic seem to have failed to apprehend the meaning of what I have recently said upon various alleged Americanisms, and the bearing of the passages which I have cited; some appear in the character of jealous defenders of the reputation of their countrymen for bad English, and will have it that so-called Americanisms, which are really English by origin and by past and present usage, shall not be taken away from them, but shall be accepted as American in very deed; others, I suspect, are not unwilling on the one hand to show their ability to pick a flaw in the work of a critic, and on the other to display their reading, — the weakest of all vanities.
Among the latter I must class the writer of a long communication which was sent to me in a printed slip cut from a newspaper, in which it had filled more than a column. Fault is found with my discrimination between bosom and breast, and at great length it is shown that these words have for a long time been applied by English writers of repute to men and to women indiscriminately; which no one who knows anything of English usage on this point would doubt for a moment, or should seek to establish by proof. How entirely superfluous and from the purpose the criticism is, with all its parade of passages in support, will be seen by reference to the article which is made the subject of censure (Atlantic, November, 1878, page 623), where it will be found that the expressed opinion that “ etymologically ” bosom is more appropriate than breast to man, and breast more appropriate than bosom to woman, is followed by this sentence: “ It was inevitable, however, that by long use the two words should come to be to a certain degree interchanged.”In vain, however, it seems, was this attempt by a passing remark to suggest that I was familiar with and had in mind one of the commonest of English usages. It is difficult for me to see how a competent and right-meaning editor justifies himself to himself in the admission of such communications as this to his columns.
The same writer takes mo up, or sets me down, — as he will have it, — for writing “ among these remarks is one made not long since.” Now any one may say that I write bad English, or that I write nonsense, and I shall not utter a word in reply; nor have I ever done so. It is only when I am accused of teaching bad English, or of committing the literary dishonesty of writing upon a subject which I have not well studied, that I am tempted to retort, — a temptation to which I have yielded, I believe, in only four instances. And as to this use of since I shall merely remark that it has prevailed in English literature for a very long time, and may be found in the writings of such men as Spenser, and Sir Philip Sidney, and Shakespeare, and Hooker, and Roscommon, and Bolingbroke, and Locke; and I remember seeing it a week or two ago in Wilkie Collins’s last book. And if my critic will refer to Maetzncr’s English Grammar (I suppose, of course, that such a censor knows the work and its authority), he will find it said: “ If since is put after a determination of time, a transposition of the prepositional particle is not to be assumed; but since works as an adverb which seems to confound the meaning postea with abhinc. In this case, the speaker would make his standing-point at that time the starting-point of the retrograde line of time, at the terminal point of which the activity took place. Yet the expression in question might be explicable in another manner, and rather rest upon an ellipsis. [Most certainly.] Compare, for instance, ' It is ten years since he died,” and £ Ten years since, he died,’ and ' Waverley, or ’t is sixty years since,' and we shall find it conceivable that with the rejection of it is, as with the omission of the event in question, the since which attached itself to the predicated activity was taken to determine the time adverbially. Thus since retains its original meaning, for which the predicated activity remains the point of departure.” (Vol. ii., page 272.) Since, one of the oldest words in the language, has passed through various forms and assumed different relational significances, but always with unvarying adherence to the idea of the relation between the time at which it is used and a fixed point in past time. Its use in the sense of ago is entirely in the normal line of progression; and any other of its previous relational modifications might be objected to as well as this one. These remarks, however, are made only by way of illustration. My own taste is decidedly in favor of “long ago;” but like other writers whom I could name, and by comparison with whom I should be honored, I do not always use the word that I prefer.
An article in the editorial columns of the London Daily Telegraph can hardly be reckoned as part of my correspondence, but a consideration of it here may not be out of place. After a discussion and almost an acceptance of the theory as to the nature and the meaning of music presented in The Atlantic in October last, the London journalist comes to the rescue of Lord Beaconsfield, and defends his phrase, “ the diapason of England’s diplomacy,” by pleading that diapason has two meanings: first, “ the consonant of the octave which embraces all the sounds of the scale;” and second, “ the rule or means by which makers of musical instruments adjust the bores of flutes, clarinets, organ pipes, and so forth.” Now that diapason has these two meanings, or something very like them, every tolerably well-read student of the theory of music must know. But to ask the world to believe that, Lord Beaconsfield, when he spoke of the diapason of England’s diplomacy, had in mind the consonant of the octave, or used the word with any knowledge or even any suspicion of either of its technical meanings, is rather overtasking the credulity and even the gravity of the human race. Yet, as his lordship has a vein of subtle sarcasm, which he exhibits sometimes even at the cost of his political friends, it is possible that when speaking of England’s late diplomacy he felt an adumbration of the second definition, and had a bore of some sort in his mind, and also, perhaps, an organ. I should have pleasure in agreeing with the most brilliant and most enterprising of London journals, even in its very pronounced admiration of Lord Beaconsfield, but this demand upon me is rather too much. Indeed, I cannot but suspect that his lordship’s face, as he read the article that told him with what meaning he did really use the word (for doubtless he always reads the Telegraph), must have assumed an expression of impenetrable reserve and incomprehensible wisdom more sphinxlike than ever. And in fact, if the truth must be told, the word diapason applied to diplomacy in either of these senses is simply absurd, as any one may see. It is small shame to Benjamin D' Israeli that he did not know the difference between a diapason and a keynote; and the Earl of Beaconsfield may well afford to hold the terminology of music in as light regard as the Earl of Chesterfield did the vocation of a musician.
A respected correspondent, also in England, writes as to the word clergyman that he fears I have not kept to the question, “Does the American custom of calling all ministers of religion clergymen obtain generally in England? ” The gist of his letter, which is too long to print, is that “ although this alleged Americanism is to be occasionally met with in England, nevertheless it is an Americanism, and not pure and ancient English;” that to be a clergyman in the pure and ancient English sense of the term a man must be “ episcopally ordained;” and that a dissenter cannot be a clergyman, — dissenters including “ all out of the pale of the catholic church,” that is, “ Unitarians and the 201 other sects.” The extreme “ sacerdotalism ” of this correspondent is manifest enough already; but it is still more strongly shown by his remark that “ the Greek, Latin, and English churches differ very little from each other; therefore no distinction [between them in this respect] is necessary.”
Now, in the first place, there is in America no custom of calling all ministers of religion clergymen. There are thousands of preachers and religious ministers here, men and women, who are not spoken of, or thought of, as being among the clergy. To receive the title of clergyman a man must be, in the words of Dr. Johnson’s definition, set apart for ministration in holy things; and the setting apart must be by an organized religious body of such respectability that its actions are worthy of public consideration. The mode or ceremony of setting apart is not in question. Next, the point in dispute is not whether any particular use of the word clergyman obtains generally in England, but whether it originated in England or in the United States, and whether, if it originated in England, it has continued there in respectable use. In the latter case, it may be wrong in the opinion of a great many Englishmen; it may even be positively incorrect and abnormal; but it cannot be an Americanism. The question of origin is excluded from this discussion by the fact that the term was in use in England when there was only one religion there, the Roman Catholic, and before the English colonization of America. As to usage, of course, after the Reformation, the term was for a long time necessarily confined to priests of the established church, simply because there were no others in England to whom it could be applied. But Clarendon, writing more than two hundred years ago, applied it to the Scotch Presbyterian ministers: “ Their strange condescension and submission to their ignorant and insolent clergy, who were to have great authority because they were to inflame all sorts of men upon the obligations of conscience.” (History of the Rebellion, Book II., page 271, Oxford ed., 1839, et aliunde.) From that time, when there were no Americanisms, it has grown in use, except among the exclusive Anglican high-churchmen, until such examples of good English usage occur as those I presented before, to which I now add the following, although I have not yet found the sheaf of memorandums the loss of which I mentioned in my first discussion of the subject: —
“ The Congregational clergy of New England were on the popular side, and took a prominent part in the struggle.” (R. W. Dale, in The Nineteenth Century, October, 1878, page 719.)
“ This was followed by a prayer offered by a clergyman [not an Episcopalian] who happened to be present.” (The same, page 105.)
“She has been submitting, half unwillingly, to the addresses of an excellent clergyman [a Congregational minister afterwards called “ the worthy pastor but that homely suitor has no chance against the fascinating stranger.” (Pall Mall Gazette, October 12, 1878.)
“ Nearly three fourths of these Dissenters are Presbyterians. . . . Their newspapers are liberal in tone, and their clergy, with a few insignificant exceptions, are liberal also.” (London Spectator, November 16, 1878.)
“ This is the first and perhaps one of the most important reasons why the clerical profession, both in the established church and in other sects, but especially in the established church, is apt to attract young men of amiable disposition.” (The same, November 23, 1878.)
“ Perhaps of all guests clergymen are the most difficult to assort successfully; and this is specially the case when their ‘ views ’ are closely akin. Among clerical instances of two right-hand gloves, that of a Roman and an Anglican bishop exercising authority in the same place forms perhaps the most amusing example.” 2 (Saturday Review, November 7, 1877, page 608.)
Now whether it is right or proper to call any man a clergyman who has not been “ episcopally ordained ” I shall not here undertake to say, that is not the question. But that the calling of men “ set apart for ministration in holy things” — by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other respectable organized religious bodies — clergymen is not an Americanism, either by origin or by usage, seems to me beyond dispute.
This same correspondent, at the close of his letter, says, “ It was very good of you to address me as reverend; but I claim only to be,” etc., etc. In the margin of the letter he writes with a reference to the phrase claim to be, “an Americanism.” In this grave imputation upon the Englishhood of his own language he is quite wrong. The use of claim with the infinitive of a verb is American neither in origin nor in peculiar usage. It was known in England long, long before there could have been any Americanisms, and it has the sanction of the best modern usage. For example:—
“ And a vorie great porcion of the same laude and thanke doeth ladie Fortune claime to have, by whose conveighaunce oft’ times we se thinges not without high counsaill & wisedome enterprised, to have a verie unluckie ende,” etc. (Nicolas Udall’s Translation of the Apophthegms of Erasmus, 1542, ed. 1564, preface.)
To be high steward.”
(Shakespeare, Henry VIII., Act. IV., Sc. 1.)
“ I have disregarded various publications in which facts within my own knowledge have been grossly misrepresented; but I am called upon to notice some of the erroneous statements proceeding from one who claims to be considered as Lord Byron’s confidential and authorized friend.” (Lady Byron, February 19, 1830, Byron’s Life by Moore, vol. vi. p. 280.)
“ Ormin plainly claims to have completed his self-imposed task.” (Craik, English Language and Literature, page 96.)
“ If it be true that the defendant had not conceived the intention of coming forward and claiming to be Roger,” 3 etc. (Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, Charge in Tichborne Trial.)
“Mr. Froude leaves out the fact on which the whole story turns, that William, while one of the king’s knights, was also one of the archbishop’s knights, and that the archbishops claimed to appoint clerks to all churches on lands held of the see.” (Edward Freeman, in Contemporary Review, September, 1878, page 226.)
“In older times the larger right has been asserted to keep out diplomatic representatives who claimed to be something more than diplomatists.” (Pall Mall, October 26, 1878.)
“ And it appeared at length that the baroness claimed to have been brought over from Bavaria,” etc. (Anthony Trollope, Popenjoy, chap. xxvii.)
“ Littlehampton, again, by reason of its fine sands and its mild climate, claims to be a fashionable watering-place.” (The Week, January, 1878.)
There is a use of claim in conjunction with that which is, I believe, an Americanism. For example, I read recently, in the police report of a New York newspaper, “ The girl claims that she met three men,” etc. This absurd and offensive use of the word is quite common in our newspapers, but it is very rarely found in writings of a higher class than police reports, sensational articles, the letter-gossiping and scandal-mongering correspondents, and the records of interviewers. But claimed to be is English normally and by long usage. The Americanism, if it must be recognized as one, is the use of claim for say or assert.
It is objected by one correspondent — an American, I believe— that the examples which I gave of the English use of railroad are from articles upon American affairs, and that the phrase might naturally and unconsciously have been adopted from American usage. The objection is futile, and of course does not apply to the use of railroad by Dr. Newman. The word is and has been used in the highest English quarters distinctively in regard to English railway affairs, and by English jurists, and frequently, thirty years ago, by the most eminent English writer of the past or hardly past generation.
— “ it would be strange indeed were the completion of the most extensive and magnificent railroad in Great Britain to produce no feelings of national exultation,” etc. (Thomas Roscoe, The London and Birmingham Railway with the Home and Country Scenes, etc., Preface, page i., Lond. 1837 (?).)
“But this gratifying fact — so satisfactory to the companies and proprietors of railroads who consult their real interests,” etc. (The same, page iii.)
“ The establishment of the Manchester and Liverpool line in this country at once determined the success of the railroad as the chief highway of the future.” (Saturday Review, October 28, 187S.)
“ But where there is no clause in the act requiring the railroad or canal proprietors to procure immunity from damage by purchasing the minerals, and authorizing them to make the purchase, the mine owner cannot work his mine so as to injure or destroy the railroad or canal.” (Addison on Torts, chap, iii., sec. i., p. iii., ed. N. Y. 1876.)
— “in the shape of newspaper companies, bitumen companies, galvanizediron companies, railroad companies,” etc. (Thackeray, Paris Sketch Book, ed. Lond. 1869, page 184.)
— " and who ever had pleasure in a
railroad journey? ” (The same, page 284.)
— “ and I would as lief have for companions the statues that lately took coach ... as the most part of the people who now travel on the railroad.” (The same, page 285.)
— “let us make a few moral and historical remarks upon the town of Versailles, where between railroad and concon we are surely arrived by this time.” (The same, page 285.)
It is surely not worth while to waste more time and space in showing that railroad is not in any sense an Americanism ; although, as I remarked in Words and their Uses, years ago, railway is more usual in England, and railroad in America.
Two correspondents, one unmistakably J. B., the other of doubtful nationality, are not convinced that grain for corn is not an Americanism. One objects that my citations were meagre, chiefly “ names, not examples,” and the other that the passages were “ obsolete, and not examples of current English.” Well, well! the following passages, particularly those from the writing of an English farmer of the day, will probably satisfy both my critics: —
“ If any preacher would manifest the resurrection of Christ unto the senses, why doth he not teach them by the grain of the field that is risen out of the earth? ” (Bishop Hooper, A Declaration of Christe and of his Office, 1547, chap. v., ed. 1843.)
“ Mr. Macaulay gives a very graphic picture of an epidemic of housebreaking and robbery in the fourth volume of his recent history. After alluding to the scarcity of grain, he says,” etc. (Charles Elam, A Physician’s Problems, Lond 1869, page 192.)
“ I will say generally here that it does not answer the settler’s purpose to grow any grain crop . . . beyond his own needs.” (An English Farmer, in Frazer’s Mag., November, 1878, page 624.)
“ In the mean time, English settler, be careful about growing any grain for sale.” (The same, page 624.)
— “ there being no grain there, only grass and potatoes.” (The same, page 625.)
“ If they deposit their eggs when they alight, and a warm winter succeeds, the young hoppers may afflict the young grain.” (The same, page 626.)
“ No machine has yet been invented which at once threshes the grain and shreds the straw as the bullocks like to have it done. Now, there is no other food for the bullocks except the straw; for ' to grow hay where I could grow grain was absurd.’ ” (Saturday Review, October 26, 1878.)
“ The country between Bussorah and Bagdad is described as literally surfeited with grain, which is simply wasted in districts a little removed from the river. Not only is it allowed to rot in granaries or become a spoil to the rats, but in many parts wheat is used as fuel.” (The Week, December 14, 1878.)
“ Some grain must wither; why not thy little handful?”4 (George Eliot, The Spanish Gipsy.)
But it is truly shameful that one should be called upon to show that the use of grain to mean corn is well recognized English, past and present; and it is almost ridiculous to do so. The word in that sense is found in Johnson, with illustrative passages; and in Latham’s Johnson the following passage from Burke is given in illustration of the definition, “ kind of grain.” “ As to the other grains it is to be observed, as the wheat ripened very late, the barley got the start of it and was ripe first.” Bythe-by, do my censors and correspondents ever consult English dictionaries? I confess that I do not, except on some such occasion as the present. But if I were to assume their task, or to undertake the compiling of a dictionary of Americanisms, I should deem it my duty to do so, lest I should set down as peculiarly American in origin or in usage words and phrases which form part of the vocabularies of Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton, Banyan, Goldsmith, Burke, Byron, Thackeray, George Eliot, and the writers in London magazines and newspapers of the highest class.
It is objected by a correspondent, whom I suspect of having been stupefied by the mass of quotations in Recent Exemplications, etc., that as to family I give only my opinion, without citations in its support, and that the Latin familia certainty meant the household without regard to ties of blood. He still inclines to think, with the compiler of the Dictionary of Americanisms, that family, meaning wife and children, is an Americanism. Doubtless familia did mean the household without regard to kindred; but this I mentioned myself. (How strange it is, by the way, that some men, when they set out to censure you. will do so in the very teeth of your own utterances !) We are not, however, concerned with the meaning of the Latin original of the word family, but with the sense in which family is used by modern Englishmen. Now it so happens that a recent sad event has shown this usage with very exact discrimination. The death of the Princess Alice (Grand Duchess of Hesse) and her children of diphtheria, while all the servants and other attendants and attachés of the duke escaped, was of course made the occasion of much comment by the London press; and in these comments the princess and the children were called the duke’s family, and the servants and other attendants his household.
“ The illness of the Princess Alice is causing great alarm. The attack is a grave form of the diphtheria from which the whole family have been suffering, and which has already caused the death of one of her children.” (London Spectator, December 14, 1878.)
“Bad drainage may be the cause of it; but it cannot be the only cause, for of the sixty persons forming the household of the Grand Duke of Hesse, no one outside his own family has yet been attacked. ... It is possible that the milk supplied to the children was bad. . . . The circumstances ought to be most carefully inquired into, not only in the interests of the grand duke’s family, but of humanity in general.” (The Week, December 21, 1878.)
“Meanwhile, too, she [the princess] had become the mother of a large family, five daughters and two sons.” (London Times, December 16, 1878.)
“ From the foregoing outline of the natural history of the malady it will be seen that the outbreak now under consideration presents no special or peculiar features, and that its limitation to the members of the grand duke ’s family, which may or may not continue,” etc. (The same, December 17, 1878.)
I give a few other conclusive examples from current English publications: —
“ On Admiral de Horsey’s visit in the Shah, in September last, he found sixteen men, nineteen women, twentyfive boys, and thirty girls, — say a number equivalent to some sixteen families in all.” (London Spectator, December 14, 1878.)
“ For the very fact of a man’s being a traveler is, between ourselves, by no means a good sign. Why does he not stop at home in the bosom of his family, or if he has no family, acquire one ? ” 5 (James Payn, Simpson of Bussora, Belgravia, October, 1878.)
“I want to know, can a young man or a family in London enjoy a few hours of inexpensive, out-of-door, popular music in the summer evenings? . . . But when by degrees the novelty of the thing had worn off, . . . when the shopkeeper found that he could safely bring out his wife and family, and for a few pence obtain seats and spend a cheerful hour or two, then,” etc. (Contemporary Review, quoted in New York Times, November 10, 1878.)
“ The king, who entertained a strong partiality for the homely style and dress of his Quaker subjects, at once accepted the invitation, and in company with his consort walked up into the first floor above the shop, where Barclay’s wife and family were assembled to witness the
glittering cavalcade.” (The Week, December 21, 1878.)
I have other criticisms and queries and comments before me, but the waste-basket is the best place for them; for however it may be with my readers, I am aweary of this reiteration. I will mention, as I turn away from my censors, that it has occurred to me, as to that Americanism Goody, that I forgot to mention the old English song, —
The rancour of your tongue.”
Referring to my memorandums on the fly leaves of Pepys’s Diary, I find this name for a “ simple ” woman in the following not very savory record: —
“This evening the girle that was brought to me to-day for so good a one, being cleansed of lice by my wife, and good, new clothes put on her hack, she ran away from Goody Taylour that was shewing her the way to the bake-house, and we heard no more of her.” (August 20, 1663.)
He tells us, too, that “ My Lady Batten, walking through the dirty lane with new spicke and span white shoes, she dropped one of her goloshes in the dirt, where it stuck, at which she was horribly vexed, and I led her.” (November 15, 1665.) Yet further. Some of my readers may remember that in my last article on this subject (Atlantic, January, 1879) I said as to a good time that I was “ sure that there was precedent for the phrase in the books of English writers of repute in past generations,” although I then cited no example. I now find a memorandum of a use of it by Pepys, plump and without mitigation, just as it might be used by Daisy Miller herself:
“ Up betimes and to St. James’s, thinking Mr. Coventry had lain there; but he do not but at Whitehall; so thither I went, and had as good a time as heart could wish.” (March 7, 1666.)
Also, apropos of andirons and firedogs, it is not without interest that in one of the London weekly papers cited above I found a queer, compromising mixture of the two terms, which, being novel, or at least unusual, is quite likely to be set forth, by some governess or some doctor of laws, as an Americanism: —
“ The chairs are of various kinds, to suit various tastes; the fire-place open, spacious, and fitted with dog-irons” etc. (The Week, December 21, 1878.)
Another like combination is found in hand-dog, which Dr. Bartlett gives as an Americanism. It may be so; but I never met with it, or heard it. I suspect that like dog-iron it is the bungle or the whim of an individual. I also met with a phrase that as I read it seemed to me to be just the sort of phrase that I should find in the Dictionary of Americanisms, candle-lighting, as a time of the day.
“ So many fairy tales are probably being told to children in the hours between early dusk and candle-lighting that older people may naturally ask themselves, Who were the first authors of the nursery lore of the world? ” (Saturday Review, December 7, 1878.)
Sure enough, when I turned to the dictionary, there it was: “ Candle-lighting. Time of, or near the time of, lighting candles, as ‘at early candle - lighting; ’ sometimes we hear at early candlelight. New England.” Yes, indeed, and Old England too, ever since the time when farthing rush-lights and tallowdips came in; and even from then until now. It should seem that a little refleetion would show an intelligent student of language that candle-lighting is a mark of time inevitable when clocks are few; and that even when clocks become common the charm of the hour, its associations, and the mobility of this little feasting time of memories sweet and sad, would preserve it surely in the living embalmment of folk-speech. Indeed, in spite of gas and electric light, you might almost, as well attempt to grind folk itself out of English speech as “ from early dusk to candle-lighting.”6
I might feel that I owed my readers some apology for this recurrence to former subjects; but my purpose was not merely to confirm my position in certain particulars, or even to impress those particulars more strongly upon those whom I address I hoped that it might thus appear that I am not apt to make assertions, or to give judgments, for which there are not good grounds; and that if I do not always support my assertions and my judgment by the production of proof, it is not because they rest upon conjecture or mere opinion, but sometimes because of present convenience, sometimes for the mere sake of saving room; at other times because, saying what I know is true, I think that its truth must be plain with no illustration, or with little, to any intelligent reader. As a general rule, I much prefer the least possible quotation, citation of authority, or annotation. In Words and their Uses I followed this rule, giving only what was needed in the way of mere illustration, and making no attempt at cumulative proof. But that book was one chiefly of opinion. These papers, on the contrary, refer to matter of fact, and I must generally support my assertions by sufficient evidence; indeed, the evidence is the important part of the discussion. When, however, my citations are few, my readers may rest assured that this is not because they are the limits of my knowledge on the point in question, unless I avow that to be the case. In science nothing is so unsafe — indeed, so unscientific — as to build a theory upon the observation of a few, and possibly disconnected, facts; and even in such discussions of language as the present, conclusions from few facts should be warily drawn. This I constantly remember, although I make no pretension to treat language scientifically, and have no desire to do so. Yet I likewise have in mind that one sort of fact has ten times the weight and meaning that a score of facts in regard to the same subject, but of another sort, may have. To end all this, let me say that I am glad of information, or of intelligent, honest criticism, from any quarter; but I venture to hint to some of my commentators and censors that in correcting me, or in giving me or others information upon the subjects about which I have written, it would be safe, I will not say courteous, to assume that I did not write without first having obtained some knowledge of my subject, and that a difference of opinion between us may be a fault in judgment, and is not necessarily one of ignorance,—on my part. The confidence which I ask from my readers I ask not because I know so much of my subject; on the contrary, no one knows quite so well as I do how much of it I have yet to learn. I only profess to know more of English than those who do not know so much as I do; but my censors, private and public, have hitherto shown themselves among the latter number. Of that of which I know nothing I shall say nothing; of that of which I know little I shall not say much. Hereafter, I shall take notice only of those criticisms the discussion of which may interest and possibly instruct my readers.
In the Dictionary of Americanisms, to which I now turn, a very large proportion of the words under the letter H may be dismissed without illustration, as improperly included in such a compilation.
Habitan, the first word, for example, is no more an Americanism than ryot, or sepoy, or rajah, which are daily spoken, written, and printed in England, are Orientalisms. The latter are simply the names of things peculiar to India; habitan is of their kind, and it would be and is used by British writers just as freely as by American, and in exactly the same way. With it must go hammock, hackberry, hackee, hackmatack, harbor-police, hickory, higher law (which is not even the name of a thing peculiar to America, but merely the expression of an opinion in very simple, every-day English), hoe-cake, hominy, hoppingjohn, hurricane (which went from the West Indies to England, and came thence to us), and also, I am inclined to think, Hicksite, not only because it is merely a name, but also because it is used in England just as it is here, and has been so used ever since the division in the Society of Friends, of which it is a sign. I know that many years ago I heard it so used by English Friends, themselves “orthodox,” and of marked precision in speech.
The following words and phrases may also be passed by with the mere remark that they are so undeniably common in every respect to both countries that any comment upon them is needless: halfcock, half-saved, handsome (in the sense of generous), handsomely (carefully, thoroughly, well), handle (manage), to hang up one’s fiddle, hard pushed, hard run, hard up, harsel stuff (household stuff, an example of advanced phonetic decay), haw-haw (laughter), heap (vulgar for much, a great deal), hitch (a check, an entanglement), hither and yon, how fare you ? and hipped or hypped (said of hypochondriacs). Englishmen at all familiar with the general speech of their own country will be astonished at seeing these words in a compilation of so-called Americanisms. Besides these words and others like them, which I have passed by, there is a mass of cant and slang under H which is not only never used by American writers of respectable position, but never heard from the lips of people of even the middling condition as to position, breeding, and education, — stuff which would properly have place in an American “ Grose,” but nowhere else. Taking away all this, not much is left for remark and illustration.
Had have, as, Had we have known this. This is worthy of attention only as an example of its kind. It is merely bad English, or rather nonsense, the result of ignorance and a blundering use of language; although through contagion and thoughtlessness writers and speakers really not ignorant may use it. It may be heard daily in any part of England; but like much other mere bad English, it is set down as an Americanism. This perversion is partly due to a disposition to classify all things and put labels on them, which causes and fixes much error.
To hail from. I shall only say that I believe this phrase is purely English, and is British marine cant. Among my memorandums I find the following: —
“ ' I say, Tom,’ said Frank, ' let us join, for the fun of the thing. Where do all these good ladies reside when they are at home? Do they all hail from London? ’ ” (Doctor Kemp, ed. Lond., vol. i. p. 288.)
Hain't for have not goes with had have. It is simply bad English which, either with the h or without it, is rather commoner in England than it is here.
Hand, defined as an adept or proficient, is set forth as an Americanism. As well might it be so in its ordinary sense. Nor is it ever used to mean an adept or proficient. It is always qualified, and the distinctive meaning depends altogether upon the adjective joined with it, as a good hand or a bad hand at doing this or that. In this use it is merely, by metaphor, in place of man or woman, as when we say a factory hand, a farm hand; and it is as common in England, almost, as the words for which it stands.
Hand-glasses. The comment upon this phrase is a queer one. It is, “ Eyeglasses, spectacles. Fancy hand-glasses are advertised for sale in New York.” And so they are in London. Handglasses are not spectacles, but toilet glasses, held in the hand close to the face or opposite another looking-glass, that the side face or back of the head may by seen. They are in common use by ladies, and some of them are very “ fancy.”
Hang around. This phrase is an Americanism; but the Americanism consists in the use of around for about, as in “stand around,” “went around with him,” etc.; and this error having been set forth in its proper place, mere combinations of it are superfluous, and only serve to swell the volume of the dictionary, and to increase injuriously the apparent vocabulary of the “ American language.” The same objection applies to the presence of both “hard-shell Baptists ” and " hard-shell democrats.” Hard-shell is American slang, and this being once set forth and explained, its combinations are superfluous. Any party or sect, almost anything, may be hard-shell, as it may be good or bad, big or little.
Hat. I fear that the compiler of the dictionary is not very familiar with the phraseology of the sex. For even in his last edition he says, “ Our Northern women have almost discarded the word bonnet, except in sun-bonnet, and use the word hat instead.” The authoress of that charming novel The Gayworthys, who is a Northern woman describing Northern and indeed New England women, witnesses to the contrary: —
“I hate to be curious, Joanna, but would you mind tellin’ me what they ask you for such a bunnet as that down to Selport? ” (The Gayworthys, chap, viii.)
“ Say and Joanna came down in their Sunday bonnets.'’ (The same, chap. xxviii.)
The milliners’ advertisements in the Boston, New York, and Philadelphia papers are filled with the word; and one “ mammoth millinery establishment ” in New York recently announced the opening of a “ new bonnet room.” Indeed, there is a subtle and mysterious, but all-important difference between the hat and the bonnet; and one or the other, I shall not venture to say which, is admissible on some occasions, but not on others. The difference is, I believe, either that the hat has strings and the bonnet has not, or that the bonnet has strings and the hat has not. Whichever it is, — and I would not presume to say, — the distinction is all-important. A female co-editor, or at least proof-reader, should be secured for the next edition of the dictionary.
Have, had, as, I have him, There you had him, “ We had Floyd,”“We had his artillery,” and the like. This appears for the first time in the last edition, with an example taken from the war correspondence of the New York Tribune; why, it is hard to understand. “Had him ” is a colloquial phrase common in England, just as it is here; and although colloquial phrases do not get into print, even in newspapers, so easily and so commonly there as they do here, I am sure that it might be found in English journals by any one who would take the trouble to look for it; and a bet might safely be made that it could be found in English novels.
Heft. Weight, ponderousness. This an Americanism! It is living English, centuries old. Here are two examples nearly three hundred years apart: —
Where crown and scepter hurt him with the heft.”
(Mirrour for Magistrates, 1587, II. 94. v. 15.)
“ Public opinion was much divided, some holding that it would go hard with a man of his age and heft.” (Tom Brown at Oxford, page 208.)
To heft, hefted, and hefty are in the same category with heft.
Help, for house servant, is a Northern Americanism; but applied to outdoor servants it is not. It may be often heard so used in England: just as Mr. Hughes uses it in the following passage, and in many others: —
“ I found Murdock’s ostler very drunk, but sober compared with that rascally help we had been fools enough to take with us.” (Tom Brown at Oxford, page 63.)
Hern and hisn. These vulgarisms are in use in England among people exactly in the condition of life of those who use them here. They are to be found in Pegge’s list of London vulgarisms. The latter even appears in an Ellesmere’s epitaph on himself in Sir Arthur Helps’s Realmah: —
Never Mind the Outside
Which has improved the art of building
Throughout the World
And which has tended to dignify and purify
All other departments in Human Life
Was his 'n.”
What peculiarity, then, gives them a proper place in a dictionary of Americanisms ?
High jinks, meaning “ a great frolic,” appears for the first time in the last edition of the dictionary. Why? It is of English origin, and is in common use in England after its kind. For example, see the following confession of an English burglar:—
“ I have taken part in a very paying burglary, wherein the house was cleared of every valuable in it worth taking, while one of our set was at high jinks (he standing treat) with the servants downstairs, the family being out of town.” (Pall Mall Budget, October 12, 1878.)
Ho, “ a word used by teamsters to stop their teams. ” Does Mr. Bartlett really mean to imply that this word is not so used by English teamsters, and that it has not been so used by them from time immemorial? Hardly; and indeed he seems to confine his charge of Americanism to the use of the word, colloquially, figuratively, and jocosely, as a noun, thus: “he has no ho in him.” But the word ho existing in English, such a use of it is open to all Englishspeaking persons, and is as English as can be, whether the person who happened first to use it was born in England, Canada, Australia, or “ America.” So it might be said that a man has “ no letup in him,” or “ no avast in him,” and so forth. Gascoigne has this somewhat not worthy use of the word in connection with one, equally ancient, which has long passed out of ordinary ken: —
Forbad his tongue in furder termes to go ;
His thoughts said Haight, his sillie speache cried
(Dan Bartholomew of Bathe, Poems, 1575, ed. Roxburghe, page 136.)
Haight was used to urge, as ho was used to check. Now if haight were found in use here at all, it would be an Americanism of a certain kind, — an Americanism by survival; for Gascoigne’s use of it as an imperative verb, although three hundred years old, is very late. And yet it is probable that in the “ Hey come up ” of the lower order of English drivers to their horses and donkeys, the first word is a remnant of haight, just as ma’am is a remnant of madam.
To hound appears for the first time in the fourth edition of the dictionary, apparently because an instance of its use has been met will in the New York Tribune, I remark upon it as an example of a word which could not be an Americanism. The use of a noun like hound as a verb is so inherently English that, no matter where it happened to be first used, it would be English, understood and recognized by every Englishspeaking person. Compare to dog, to hawk, to ferret, to mouse, to rat, etc.
House. This, we are told, is " used to form compounds, such as meat-house, wash-house, milk-house, where an Englishman would say, respectively, larder, laundry, dairy.” Dear, dear! and this when he whom Mr. Samuel Weller calls the young grampus was sent to eat his dinner “in the wash-' us,” because his hard breathing was too much for the nerves of the pretty housemaid! But perhaps both Mr. Dickens and Mr. Weller were Yankees. The truth is that wash-house, brew-home, bake-house, fish-house, hen-house, ale-house, and like compounds are much commoner in England than they are here.
Housen. This old plural of house is used by some — a very few — of the illiterate in the rural parts of New England, New York, and New Jersey. It is used much more frequently by the same sort of people in various rural parts of England. What, then, is its Americanism ?
Huckleberry is merely whortleberry pronounced with the old English interchange of k and t. Brickle and brittle are the same word, and both spellings are sometimes found within a few lines of each other in old English books.
Hugger-mugger. The appearance of this word in a dictionary of Americanisms can be explained only by the use of the adage so interesting to schoolboys, lucus a non lucendo. It appears in every dictionary of the English language, from Bailey down, the compilers of which quote in illustration of it passages from Ascham, Udal, Bale, Spenser, North, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Harrington, Fuller, and Sir Roger L'Estrange, — which, by the way, is rather at variance with the “colloquial and low '' applied to it in Webster’s Dictionary. It is not a common word; but the reader of the literature of the Elizabethan period meets with it not unfrequently. It means hurried secrecy. Polonius was buried in hugger-mugger, as the king confesses. (Hamlet, Act. iv., Se. a.) Its etymology is uncertain, and its form very changing. In Golding’s translation of Ovid, 1587, I met with it in this shape:—
“ But lot Ulysses tell you his [acts] doone all in
And whereunto the onlic right is privie, and
It appears now and then in English literature of the present day; but the remarkable circumstance for us in connection with it is that in the writings of Americans it is almost (I believe quite) unknown. It appears for the first time in the last edition of the dictionary, with two examples of its use taken from the New York Tribune, the writer of which,
I will venture to say, adopted it from English books in which he had met with it, and used it with a full consciousness of its rarity; but we may be sure that he hardly supposed that he was going to get for this old English word, still used in England, a place in the Dictionary of Americanisms.
Human. This word, used by Western backwoodsmen for human being, is one of those, which are regarded as peculiarly American in origin and use. It is thus grouped with guess, notion, and a few others, upon which I have heretofore remarked. But it was known in English literature of the highest order long before there were, or could have been, any Americanisms. It appears again and again in Chapman’s Homer, 1803: —
“Mars, Mars, said he, thou plague of men, smear 'd with the dust and blood
Of humans, and their ruin'd walls, yet thinks thy godhead good
(Iliad, Book V., 1. 441.)
“ For such he was that with few lives his death could not be bought,
Heaps of dead humans, by his rage, the funeral piles applied.”
(The same, Book IX., 1. 513.)
“ Neptune replied, Saturnia, at no time let your care
Exceed your reason ; 't is not fit. Where only humans are
We must not mix the hands of gods, our odds is too extreme.”
(The same, Book XX., 1. 129.)
Found no friend to afford them fire : Saturhius had turn 'd
Humans to stones.”
(The same, XXIV., 1. 640.)
“ Yet she in all abundance did bestow
Both wine, that makes the blood in humans grow,
And food,” etc.
(Odyssey, Book VII., 1. 413.)
Made me thus confident, but now am worn
With woes and labours, as a hitman boru
To bear all anguish.”
(The same, Book VIII., 1. 247.)
Nor did the word disappear from the literature of England with the Elizabethan period. Witness the elegant and edifying Thomas D’Urfey, Esquire:
You know ’s the same thing as a Place
Mongst Humans, by Court dunning.”
(Pills to Purge Melancholy, Lond. 1719, vol. ii. p. 332.)
This appearance on our Western frontier of human as a noun is an interesting illustration of the way in which a word will crop out unexpectedly in one place in a language after having disappeared from another. In the former editions of the dictionary human was designated as Western; in the last, “ sometimes Eastern ” is added, — through misapprehension, I am sure. The word is never used eastward of the line of civilization, except jocosely and with a subaudition of reference to the frontiersman’s use of it. For example, “ Lean, lank men he looked upon as the most fortunate of humans, and envied their superior condition.” (Round Table, May 21, 1864.) In all such cases there is a mild jest intended. To italicize the word or to quote it, or to emphasize it in speech, would mar the intention of the user. American speech and writing is full of such pitfalls for the ignorant and the unwary.
Hyst. This we are told is a “corruption of hoist” and means “a violent fall.” Most of us suspected as much. But is it an Americanism ? What then becomes of the old English saying, “ An Irish hyst, — a peg lower ” ?
Richard Grant White.
- Mr. Louis J. Jennings, the correspondent of the London Times, who during the hitter part of the war skillfully rectified the egregious blunders of his predecessor, and who afterwards, as editor of the New York Times, was the chief agent in exposing and discomfiting Tweed and his “ring.”He is the author of Eighty Years of Republican Government in the United States, a book full of the fruits of knowledge and sound judgment, and of Field Paths and Green Lanes, to which I have before referred, and of which the London Spectator said that it is “almost a classic.”↩
- As to the application of the word divine to any other than an episcopally ordained clergyman, which has been pronounced not current in England, — a point to which I have before referred, — see the following passage in the same article, in which mere religious persons, females as well as males, are called divines.↩
- “ We have heard it said of two excellent persons that they ought to marry each other because they are so religious ; but a male and a female divine are more likely to quarrel than an author and an authoress.”↩
- Think of Sir Alexander Cockburn’s being told that he had used an Americanism ! Be there not prisons standing ready for them that are guilty of contempt of court ?↩
- I quote this from memory, and the book is not at hand.↩
- I observe that in this humorous sketch Mr. Payn falls into the general error of attributing the joke about changing a wife of forty for two twenties to Douglas Jerrold. It is quite possible that Jerrold may have uttered it, and finding himself credited with it assumed its paternity. But it belongs to a vastly greater and much bettor man than Jerrold,—Byron ; although Byron, I believe, makes the age fifty instead of forty, and the change, of course, two twenty-fives. He had more admiration, because more knowledge, of the charms that may accumulate in forty years.↩
- It may be just worth while to mention that in three evenings reading, last week, I met with seventeen instances of the use of folk or folks by British authors, or in London publications of repute, in the sense of “people or persons,”which we are told was obsolete in Johnson’s time, and is now made by British writers a mark of Yankeeism.↩