IN continuing the consideration of this subject on the present occasion, and at some time hereafter, I shall be more reserved than I have been heretofore. Venturing to believe that I have established with candid readers sufficient confidence in my knowledge of that as to which I make an assertion to assure me of their considerate reception of what I may say, if not of their acquiescent belief in it, I shall not support my opinions with such an array of examples as I have sometimes before given, except in those cases in which such exemplification seems either to be specially needed, or to be interesting and instructive in itself. I shall also pass over unnoticed, or with mere mention, as in my last article, the numerous array of words and phrases in the Dictionary of Americanisms which are either out of place there obviously, or which belong to categories that have been already sufficiently commented on. Readers who are particularly interested in this subject may find deficiencies in these respects supplied should these articles be presented in a separate and more substantial form.
It may be worth while to remark here that there are words and phrases common to England and to the United States which have in both countries two senses, one of which is more frequently used in one than in the other, or which have two senses in one, and but one in the other. Of the latter, the word clever is a wellknown example. This word, which is of comparatively recent origin, or rather of recent appearance in literature, and of disputed derivation, has been for some generations generally accepted English, but its meaning has not been so long well settled. In the United States it is used in two senses: one implying a compound of good nature and obligingness; the other, to use Richardson’s definition, an active, alert, adroit, ready use of means in the power of the user. As the latter is the sense into which its use has settled in England, this clever is sometimes called “ English clever,” the former being, for like reason, designated as “ American clever.” But in England itself the word was in the last century used with very various signification, — even to mean handsome, and copious, and satisfactory, and well made, and strong. I believe that I have memorandums of its use even in other senses. As late as 1786 so careful and “ classic ” a writer as Cooper applies clever to lodging-rooms.
“ We just now learn that these clever apartments cannot be had. The son is to succeed the apprentice in the same chamber.” (Letters, April 3, 1786; works, vol. iii. p. 300, ed. Bohn.)
The so-called “ American clever,” which has been for some time passing out of vogue among educated people here, is therefore not so reproachable as it might seem to be: first, because of the until lately unsettled meaning of the word in England and its uncertain etymology, but chiefly because of the very meaning of “ American clever.” This is not kindhearted, but adaptable. An “ American clever ” man is one who adapts himself easily to the ways and wishes of those around him; he is a man of social tact. The connection of this sense with that of skill and dexterity in the use of means is obvious. But, as I have remarked, this use of the word has been rapidly disappearing during the last twenty-five or thirty years; and now among good speakers and writers it is entirely superseded by that of “ English clever.”
Of words which have two clearly distinct senses in both countries, the commonly used, but yet slangish and not very pleasant, snob is an example. This word, like swell, in the sense of distinguished, elegant, imposing, has not yet, I believe, been admitted into any dictionary of the English language ; and yet both are in constant use among all sorts of people in both countries, swell being even much more frequently heard in England than here in the very best society. One of the most fastidiously correct English gentlemen that I met in England said to me, “ Oh, it ’s no use any man’s trying to be a swell in London; for however big a swell he may be, the Duke of Westminster is a bigger swell than he.” Another of the same sort said of a distinguished barrister who had already achieved a title, “ He s sure to be a swell.” It is thus used by ladies of the highest rank and breeding, and pervades the “ polite literature ” of the day.
To return to our unpleasant snob. It first appears, I believe, in Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785 (of which, O book-hunting reader, I possess an original copy of the first, unexpurgated, edition), in which it is defined as “ a nickname for a shoemaker.” In the Modern Flash Dictionary, a tiny volume published in 1825, and intended for the waistcoat pocket of the " bucks ” of George IV.’s day, it does not appear; nor in my own copy, which was interleaved by some curious gentleman of that time for the addition in manuscript of some two hundred slang and cant phrases then prevalent, is the omission supplied. In this little glossary swell, which is not found in Grose, appears, and is defined as “a genteel dressed man. ” 1Snob crept gradually into vogue in England among the gentry as a recognized, but permitted, slang word for a low-born, vulgar, “ base mechanical ” person. This sense it retained, exclusively I believe, until the appearance in Punch of Thackeray’s Snob Papers, before which time it was not used and was almost unknown in this country. In those humorous and savagely satirical papers Thackeray applied the word to all vulgarly pretentious persons, however high their rank or large their wealth; and this sort of snob, he said, was scattered freely through all classes of society in all countries. “ There are snobs in China,” he remarked. Had he seen Dickens’s book-plate with its crest, knowing Dickens’s origin and early habits of life, he would have called that snobbish. In this sense the word came rapidly into vogue in the United States. Here it has, in New York at least, been subjected to yet another modification in certain circles, where it is used to mean a person who somewhat pretentiously affects the society of persons of condition and wealth. But in England, particularly among the aristocracy, it still retains something of its ante-Thackerayan meaning. I heard an American gentleman say jocosely of himself to a peeress, “ I'm a snob.” She looked at him in amazement, and replied, “ You ’ve a very happy faculty of concealing it, then.” I understood him at once as meaning jestingly that, although a republican, he was exclusive in his social tastes; she regarded it as an incomprehensible admission that he was of low origin and habits of life. This word, by the change in its meaning, and by its elevation into vogue among the best speakers, is an example of the power which a writer of genius may exert in language; and it is also a witness of the variation in significance given to one word by the structure of the society in which it is used.
Let us now turn to the pages of the so-called Dictionary of Americanisms, after the H division, through which we glanced together two months ago.
I remark upon the first item under I, I dad, only to say that it is one of those whimsical euphemisms for “ By G——” which are common to both countries among speakers in corresponding conditions of life, and which have been so for generations; and I will say at once that of the fifty-three words and phrases presented under this letter in the third edition of the Dictionary, I find that thirty-three have no proper place there, for reasons already assigned, which apply to all words of their respective classes, and that none of the thirty-three are of importance enough to require special comment. This is a large proportion, indeed, of such material, but it is not in excess of its kind throughout the interesting and amusing collection.
Ill, we are told, is common in Texas in the sense of vicious, a “ strange application.” It is not so common out of Texas as it once was, but it is not strange there, or anywhere. It has been used in England to mean vicious in connection with man, beast, and intentions for centuries. Thus, in the old ballad of The Widow of Watling Street, we have it applied to the first and to the last: —
Which were both lewd and ill,
His fathers heart from him was drawne,
His love and his good will.
And went to make his will, —
O husband, remember your sonne, she said,
Although he hath beene ill.”
(St. i., iii.)
Illy is not an English word; and I remark upon it merely with the purpose of saying so, having, to my surprise, received inquiries upon the subject. Its use is entirely unjustifiable; but I have a score of examples at hand from the books of British writers, past and present.
Immediately, in the sense of as soon as, is not only not an Americanism, but is one of the distinguishing marks of second and third rate British writers and speakers. Rife in England for the last half century, at least, it is almost unknown in the United States.
Improve. This word and its derivative, improvement, are in certain senses set forth as Americanisms with such elaborateness and with such pomp of authority, and the imputation has such strong support in the absence of these senses from the definitions given in any English dictionary, that they merit unusual consideration. The first of these senses is “ to render more valuable by additions, as houses, barns, or fences, on a farm.” This, Pickering is cited as declaring (in 1816) to be in common use in all parts of New England. He might have said the same of all parts of Old England; witness, first, Goldsmith: —
“ Miss Neville. It’s a good creature at bottom, and I ’m sure would wish to see me married to anybody but himself. But my aunt’s bell rings for our afternoon’s walk around the improvements.” (She Stoops to Conquer, Act I., Sc. 1.)
But more than a hundred years before the most charming social comedy in the language was written, one signing himself J. M. S. — letters now generally believed to stand for John Milton, student — wrote thus in the noblest tribute ever paid to Shakespeare’s genius: —
But by himself, his tongue and his own brest,
Was Shakespeare’s freehold, which his cunning
Improv'd, by favour of the nine-fold traine.”
(On Worthy Master Shakespeare and his Poems, ed. fol. 1632.)
As to the use in the present day of the derivative improvements in this sense of valuable additions to property, it is too common to need setting forth by example. But I remember a whimsical use of it by Richardson in his Pamela. His heroine, not very long after her marriage, is manifestly promising to make a valuable addition to her husband’s family, and her sister-in-law slyly calls this her “improvements.” I make the citation from memory, the book not being within my reach.2
The next use of the word, which we are told is peculiarly American, is that in the sense to occupy, to make use of, to employ. But this is no less a long and well established English use of it, as every one of us should know untold, remembering our old humdrum friend the little busy bee, who “ improves each shining hour by gathering honey all the day from every opening flower.” And see moreover the following passages: —
A shrewd contriver; and you know his means,
If he improve them, may well stretch so far
As to annoy us all.”
(Shakespeare, Julius Cæsar, Act II., Sc. i.)
In the passage next quoted the writer refers to the Puritan emigration to New England: —
To sell intire estates, and to remove
Their faithfull households thither, to improve
Their bettered fortunes.”
(Quarles, Shepheard’s Oracles, page 85, ed. 1646.)
“I humbly conceive you will give ine leave to insist upon this [allegation], and how I may improve it for my defense.” (Colonel Axtell in Trial of the Regicides, London, 1660, page 204.)
A thousand different ways,
Those few short moments snatched by love
From many tedious days.”
(Earl of Dorset. Park’s Brit. Poets, vol. ii. p. 111.)
“ Methinks I begin to wish myself an ass, too, that we might improve good fellowship, and dine together.” ((Durfey, Don Quixote, Act I., Sc. 1, page 10, ed. 1729.)
Embrac’d her lover and improv'd the bliss.”
(Mrs. Aphra Behn, Miscellany Poems, Lond. 1688, page 285. )
(Prior, Hymn Callimachus.)
“ But Mr. Wilkes thought his performance, although not perfect, at least worthy of some reward, and therefore offered him a benefit. This favour he improved with so much diligence that the house afforded him,” etc. (Dr. Johnson, Life of Savage, page 17, ed. 1744.)
The next use of the word which is solemnly set forth as an Americanism, that of “improving the occasion,” by preachers and by moralists and the like, is one which has perhaps been regarded as more absolutely “American” than any other, and, indeed, as being a product of New England Puritanism; how erroneously the following passages will show: —
“ And now I descend to the improvement of what I have said; and the things I have to add will be comprehended under these two generals.” (Glanvil, The Way of Happiness, ed. 1677, page 100.)
“ But I leave the reader to improve these thoughts,” etc. (Defoe, Moll Flanders, page 277, ed. Bohn.)
—" because all such things are dispatch'd, that the Improvement of it, as well to the diversion as to the Instruction of the Reader will be the same.” (Defoe, Preface to Robinson Crusoe.)
“ By this [cutting out the moral] they leave the work naked of its brightest ornaments; . . . they take from it the Improvement which alone recommends that invention to wise and good men.” (The same.)
“ This Sentence [that is, proverb] is very full, and capable of variety of Improvement according to the sense we take it in.” (Palmer, Moral Essays on Proverbs, page 51, ed. 1710.)
“ These subtle questions had most assuredly been prepared by the fathers and schoolmen; but the final improvement and popular use may be attributed to the first reformers, who enforced them as the absolute and essential terms of salvation.” (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, etc., chap. liv. vol. x. p. 190, ed. Edin. 1832.)
It may be just worth while to add the following examples from British publications of the day, in the first of which the word is applied to a physical improvement of an occasion: —
“ A neighboring pump, pool, or gutter was generally the instrument of the punishment. But in Hyde Park the occasion was improved by the Serpentine,” etc. (Larwood, Story of the London Parks, vol. i. p. 183, Lond.)
“ We read in the memoir of the Rev. W. Bull, a noted non-conformist who ' had a great aptitude For improving passing events,’ that he improved in this spirit the burning down of Haymarket Theatre, in which fifteen or sixteen persons lost their lives.” (Saturday Review, December 28, 1878, page 813.)
There are two other uses of improve which are rare, and I know no dictionary, even Stormonth’s, in which both are set. forth.3 The first, is, to augment for the worse; thus: —
“ The croaking toad and bat, in ominous squalls, Improve the horror of these desert walls.”
(Ozell, The Lutrin, canto iii., ed. 1714.)
“ This ill principle, which being thus habitually improved, and from personal corruptions spreading into personal and national, is the cause,” etc. (South, Sermons, v. 1 7.) The other sense referred to above is one in which the word is rarely used of late years: it is that of disproving, censuring, rejecting. Thus: —
“ And now, since I can prove this sense false by Scripture and St. Austin (for Scripture saith that the sphere is fastened, Heb. viii., and St. Austin expounding that text improveth the astronomers which affirm that it moveth) since, I say, this cause is proved false by Scripture,” etc. (John Frith, The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, 1533, page 404, ed. Lond. 1829.)
—" which though I have done somewhat briefly, yet could I not choose but rehearse it, for the judgement of them who when they had improved and disallowed my sayings, yet incontinent, hearing the cardinal allow them, did themselves also approve the same.” (Utopia, Tr. Rafe Robinson, 1551, vol. i. p. 98, ed. Dibdin, 1808.)
— " the whiche truely are not of anye prudent person to be rejected, improved, or dispray aed. ” (Raynald’s Birthe of Mankynde, ed. 1565, fob B. iiii.)
— " that would (without all good reason) blame and improve the same, unneth [that is, hardly, or before] yet seen.” (The same, fol. B. v.)
The omission by all the English dictionary makers of any recognition of this word in the first three of the senses illustrated above, the stigmatizing it as an Americanism by others than Mr. Bartlett, and the fact that there is no English dictionary which gives it in both the two senses illustrated by the subsequent examples, unite to show in a very marked manner how vain it is to put trust in dictionaries, or to go to them, even the best of them, as " authorities. ”
In. We are told, on the authority of Mr. Coleman and Mr. Pickering, that “ we ” misuse in and into by confounding them. Doubtless some of us do so, as doubtless some of us, like some of our blood and tongue in Great Britain, make other mistakes in the use of words. The confusion of in and into is neither new nor peculiar to “ Americans; ” nor is it hard to find in the pages of English writers of high repute.
Into [in] his house some tender chappelaine.”
(Bishop Hall, Satires, 1598, Book II., 6th ed. 1824.)
“ When the same Richard had fortunately taken in a skirmish Philip, the martial Bishop of Beaunoys, a deadly enemy of his, he cast him in [into] prison, with bolts upon his heels.” (Camden’s Remains, ed. 1623, page 231.)
Who carried scalding liquors in their hand,
Throw watery ammunition in [into] their eyes,
On which Syrena’s party frightened flies.”
(William King, The Furmetary, 1699, canto iii.)
— “ he [Mrs. Grantley speaks] could not be allowed again into [in] my drawing-room.” (Trollope, Small House at Allington, vol. iii. p. 14.)
“ By the side of every church and school where the exotic tongue was fostered a Dissenting chapel would rise up. The matter, in short, would be taken in [into] their own hands.” (Latham, The Nationalities of Europe, ii. 465.)
Thus by examples extending through three centuries, and which are furnished by writers of highest repute each in his own time, one of them being a distinguished philologer of the present day, we see that this slip implies neither Americanism nor lack of acquaintance with the language. Indeed, although such mistakes are none the less mistakes, and to be avoided, there is nothing pettier in literature than the pecking at such little flaws in a man’s writing, nothing narrower in criticism than the making correctness on such points a criterion of style. Men may be great masters of English and yet fall into errors of this kind; and those who are without sin in this respect are generally those whose English no one cares to read. Shakespeare, Bunyan, Swift, Sterne, Walter Scott, and Byron are examples conspicuous among the many that might be cited in support of the former assertion: Burke, Goldsmith, and Macaulay are equally conspicuous among the few that might be arrayed against the latter. It is remarkable that of the three greatest masters of modern English one was of Scotch descent, and two were born, bred, and educated in Ireland.
We next have no less than twentyfour phrases or compound words of which Indian forms one part. Even Indian itself is included, with the information that it is the name improperly given by early navigators to the aborigines of America. Yes; but it was not given by “ Americans,” —whatever they may be, — but by Europeans, Englishmen among others, and it was in use among them long before there were any so-called “Americans” to make “Americanisms.” It will hardly be believed by those who have not examined the Dictionary that Indian Pudding appears among the twenty-four. Now Indian pudding is an American thing; but its name is not an Americanism of the English language. But, even as to things supposed to be peculiarly American there is no little error, as I have heretofore pointed out,4 and the appearance of Indian pudding in Mr. Bartlett’s dictionary reminds me that one of the things generally supposed to he of American and of peculiarly New England origin is not so: this is nothing less than pumpkin pie. The housewives of New England brought the knowledge of pumpkin pie with them from the old home. Here is a receipt for making it, from a “ cook-book ” published in London more than two hundred years ago: —
To MAKE A PUMPION PYE.
“ Take about halfe a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handfull of Time, a little Rosemary, Parsley and sweet Marjoram slipped off the stalks, and chop them smal; then take Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Pepper, and six Cloves and beat them; take ten Eggs and beat them; then mix them and heat them Altogether, and put in as much Sugar as you think fit; then fry them like a froiz; after it is fryed let it stand till it be cold; then fill your pye; take sliced Apples thin round wayes and lay a row of
the Froize and layer of Apples with currants betwixt the layer while your Pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it; when the pye is baked take six yelks of Eggs, some white wine or Vergis, and make a Caudle of this, but not too thick; cut up the lid and put it in ; stir them well together whilst the Eggs and pumpions be not perceived, and so serve it up. ” (The Compleat Cook, Lond. 1655, page 14.)
I shall remark first upon the use of whilst in the last clause of this receipt. It means until, and it is a very good example of this once common but now obsolete use of the word. The receipt is very much more complicated than that according to which pumpkin pics have been made in New England, and among New England folk, since the publication of The Compleat Cook. But this was inevitable, for two reasons: first, it was impossible for our good foremothers in New England, for the first generation or two, to make their pumpkin pie in the luxurious style which is set. forth in The Compleat Cook, and in which many, at least of the first generation, of them had eaten it in England. Rosemary, marjoram, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, cloves, currants, sugar, white wine, and verjuice were not to be had even by the richest of them. They therefore made the best imitation they could of the old English pumpkin pie with pumpkin and milk and eggs and ginger and molasses. But the difference is all in detail, and the substance of the pie in both cases is the same. It is a custard of pumpkin and eggs, stirred well together “ whilst the eggs and pumpions be not perceived,” — a rule, by the way, which some slovenly modern cooks do not righteously follow, with consequence of lumps of unmitigated pumpkin which be perceived, to the great disgust and discomfiture of the true and thoroughbred Yankee lover of this homely dainty. The other reason for the difference in the making of the pies in the Old England and the New is the great change which has come over the whole system of cookery during the last two centuries, — a change which corresponds to one that has taken place in the preparation of medicine. This change is from complex and heterogeneous to comparatively simple compounds. The difference between the English pumpkin pie of The Compleat Cook and that now eaten in New England is not greater than that which exists between almost any dish or sauce described in the former and its modern representative in England to-day. Those who have not had opportunities of learning it do not know, and could hardly imagine, what complicated messes the food and the medicine of our forefathers were. It seems to have been thought that the more the ingredients of which they were composed the better they would be for the palate or the bowels, for pleasure or purgation. The medicines which were forced down the throats of delicate women at times when they needed the tenderest treatment were loathsome compounds of unutterable abominations. This was partly the consequence of the religious teaching of the time, which inculcated that all improvement must come through suffering; and therefore nastiness was regarded as of virtue in medicine, in which nicety was looked upon with suspicion. The proposition to cure by pleasant means would have cast suspicion upon a physician’s godliness and have been regarded as a snare of the devil.
As to food, good meat was spoiled by heterogeneous dressings and sauces, and farcings of spices and what not; confections were of such intricate structure that they were, some of them, well called subtleties. Drink was in a like manner muddled by a multitudinous compounding. Mixed drinks are no American invention, but the contrary. I could fill a column of The Atlantic with the names of the mixed drinks that were in vogue in England before the remarkable emigration which settled the fate and the language of this country between 1620 and 1645. They spoiled good ale and good wine by making messes with it, spicing it, or at least stirring it up with some aromatic herb. One of Falstaff’s few virtues was somewhat peculiar to him,—he liked his sack “simple, of itself.” And this reminds me that his friend, Justice Shallow, whom he used so selfishly and described with such pitiless humor that the world has laughed at him ever since, and will laugh sœcula sœculorum, gives us the origin of caraway seeds in New England apple pies. He invites Falstaff to an arbor in his orchard where he says, “ We will eat a last year’s pippin of my own grading with a dish of caraways, and so forth.” They could not eat even such a good creature as a pippin apple simple, of itself, but must have a dish of caraway seeds to eat with it, as a kind of native spicing. Hence, we may be sure, the caraway seeds in New England apple pies; and likely enough in those of Old England, too; but as to that I cannot say, for I did not eat fruit pie in England, nor do I remember being asked to eat of one.
Institution, we are told, is not only an Americanism, but “a flash word of recent introduction, as applied to any prevalent practice or thing.” I am sure that “recent” here does not mean a hundred years ago, at about which period the following passage was written: —
“ After evening service, during the summer months, his lordship [Bishop Porteons] a catechetical lecture addressed to the children. . . . This institution of his lordship’s I greatly admire.” (Dr. Beatty to Sir William Forbes, 1784, Elegant Epistles.)
The word is used in this sense freely in the best society of England, although it has appeared very rarely in literature until of late, when we constantly meet it in the best quarters. Thus: —
— “and the Cæsar is established as an institution at Rome.” (Heraud’s Shakespeare’s Inner Life, page 374.)
“ The croquet implements have been removed permanently down to the Small House, and croquet there has become quite an institution.” (Trollope, Small House at Allington, vol. i. chap. ii.)
“ His linen had vanished. Now this was paralysis; for the night-gown is a recent institution.” (Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth, chap, xxxiv.)
“ The Post Office Directory has long become one of the most valuable of London institutions.” (London Spectator, December 18, 1864, page 511.)
Interview appears in the fourth edition of the Dictionary as an Americanism, in the sense “ to obtain information by questioning.” As to the practice of interviewing in this sense, I am sorry to confess that I believe it is an “ institution ” which originated in the United States, and which has hitherto been confined there. But the word as a verb, in my opinion, is a perfectly legitimate one, as I have had occasion to say before; and I cannot believe that it is of American origin, although in none of the great dictionaries of the language, British or American, does it appear. But here is an example of the verb to interview, although not with the modern meaning, from an Elizabethan dramatist: —
“ This honest knave is called Innocence. 1st not a good name for a chamberlaine. He dwelt at Dunstable not long since, and hath brought me and the two Butcher’s daughters there to interview twenty times.” 1 (Dekker, Northward Hoe, Act I., Sc. 1.)
I find that I have passed by inaugurate in the sense of begin, which appears in the fourth edition of the Dictionary. I am glad to have the support of Mr. Bartlett in my opinion of the incorrectness and bad taste of this use of the word; but I cannot agree with him in his remark that “ good writers never use it as we now do.” I could produce a score of instances of its use in this offensive way by English writers of respectable position; but I must save room and time.
The list under the letter J in the Dictionary is comparatively a short one; and it gives occasion for no remark other than that every word in it might properly be omitted from a collection such as this professes to be. One word which does not appear might well have had a place, because of a slight but interesting peculiarity in its spelling, and because of its ambiguous position in the English vocabulary. I mean jewelry. The word is not in Johnson’s dictionary, or in Latham’s Johnson. The earliest example of its use yet presented by any dictionary maker or writer upon the English language is from Burke, in his speech at the trial of Warren Hastings, in 1788. Yet the word was used by Beaumont and Fletcher in The Faithful Friends, Act IV., Sc. 4, as well as by an earlier writer, as I shall show. It is spelled in two ways, jewellery and jewelry, the former of which is called the English way, and, according to my observation, is the one invariably found in English books printed since the time of Burke; the latter is called the American way. But the difference is not mere fashion; it has a meaning. Indeed jewellery and jewelry may be regarded as two words. The former is formed upon jeweller, and means the wares of the jeweller, like potter-y from potter, haberdasher-y from haberdasher, cutler-y from cutler, and mercer-y from mercer. The latter is formed upon jewel like armor-(r)y from armor, orange-ry from orange, spice-ry from spice, and butter-(r)y from butter, and means first the place where jewels are kept, and hence (by figure of speech, the containing being put for the contained), the contents of a jewelry, that is, a collection of jewels; and then, jewels in general. This I am able to prove by the following example of the use of the word at a date two centuries earlier than that known to the dictionary makers, and to those who undertook to canvass my comments on this word in Words and Their Uses:—
Till thou finde some matching thy hayre in
But that will never be ; so chuse thou ever.
Out of my Jewelrye chuse thy choyse of Dia-
Till thou find some as brightsome as thy eyes ;
But that will never be, so chuse thou ever.”
(Chapman, Blynde Beggar of Alexandria, produced 1595, published 1598.)
That the word is formed upon jewel, and means a jewelry, is shown less by its spelling than by the antithesis “ out of my treasury,” “ out of my jewelry: ” treasury, a place where treasure is kept; jewelry, a place where jewels are kept. This derivation and this meaning are supported by the contemporary definitions; first, by Florir, 1598, of givelleria as “ a jewel-house;” next, by Minshen, 1599 (Dialogues in Spanish and English), of joyeria as “ a place where they sell jewels.” Jewelry, the so-called American spelling, seems therefore to be the correct form of the word, both historically and with regard to its proper signification.
It is somewhat from my present purpose, but the mention of this early and unnoticed use of jewelry, probably its first appearance in English literature, reminds me of a like observation I have made as to the word club, in the sense of an association or habitual gathering of gentlemen. This word, the origin of which is undiscovered, came into vogue in the days and among the wits of Queen Anne. The earliest instance of its use hitherto known is Dryden’s, in the Epistle to the Whigs, prefixed to his satire The Medal; and it has been supposed that the word came up about the time of the political schemes against which that satire was directed. I am able, however, to show that it was well known at least a quarter of a century before that day. Dryden’s Medal was written and published in 1682. Now in 1660 one Clement Ellis published a book called The Gentile Sinner, the title having nothing to do with Gentiles as distinguished from Jews, but meaning merely the genteel sinner, i having then in most English words the sound that we now give to e. The book is simply a prose satire upon the raffling gallant of the time, although it was written before the Restoration. In this book is the following passage: —
“ For mine own part it hath very rarely been ray Fortune to meet with a Club of Gentlemen ; but as often as I have, I have been frighted out of it again or have good cause to repent me afterwards, that I was not so, by that wild kind of behaviour, and looseness of talk I heard or saw amongst them.” (Lec. IV., § 2.)
Clement Ellis when he wrote this was Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, and he, a man of mature years, and in this position, uses the word club as a matter of course, and mentions it as something remarkable that he has met with (that is, been at the meeting of) one but rarely. Plainly, therefore, club was used as Dryden used, and much as we use it, a considerable time before the Restoration. This use of it is probably of cavalier origin, and dates back to the days of the great civil war.
Under the letter K the first word (if word it may be called) that draws my attention is kerchug, which we are told means the noise made by popping into the water, and a little further on we have kelumpus, keslosh, kesouse, and keswollop, all with similar meanings; and we even have to kesouse, that the verb form may not be wanting! This is amazing. It only provokes a smile to see these childish imitative sounds gravely set forth as Americanisms of the English language. True, there is the βρϵkϵkϵkέξ-koαξ-koαξ-koαξ of Aristophanes, but brekekekex-koax-koax is not a Greek word, and no one would dream of so calling it. Still less would it be regarded as a solecism or a barbarism in the Greek language.
Keep. Under this word, simply or compounded, there is strange misrepresentation which seems to be the result of misapprehension. Keep as a noun, in the sense of maintenance, I feel sure that I have met with in the works of good English writers; but I shall not make the assertion positively, because I have not at hand and cannot remember any example of its use in that sense. But in any case (the verb keep, meaning to maintain, to support), the use of keep as a noun in the sense of maintenance, support, is perfectly normal English. In the phrases, “ Where do you keep? ”
“ I keep in——street,” keep is not an abbreviation of “keep shop.” Keep is and has for centuries been used in England to mean live, dwell. And so keeping room, meaning the common sitting room of a family, is no Americanism either in origin or by peculiar usage. It is common in various parts of England, notably so in Cambridge, where it is constantly heard among the undergraduates and the Fellows. The appearance of the phrase to keep company among Americans is one of the many surprises in this volume. No expression is more thoroughly English, or oftener heard from the lips of English people of humble condition. It even finds a place in Latham’s dictionary, from which I borrow the following instance of its use in literary criticism: —
“ A virtuous woman is obliged not only to avoid immodesty, but the appearance of it,; and she could not approve of a young woman[’s] keeping company with men without the permission of father or mother.” (Broome, Notes on the Odyssey.)
Kink. It is only to keep before my readers the unaccountable system upon which the Dictionary of Americanisms seems to have been formed that I take notice of this word, which appears in every English dictionary in the sense in which it is here set forth as an Americanism; which meaning is that given to it by Falconer in his Nautical Dictionary: “ Kink, a twist or turn in any cable or other rope occasioned by its being very stiff or close laid,” etc. Its figurative use to mean a powerful notion, a crotchet, is of course open to any English-speaking person, and is often heard in England. And as a rope may be kinky, so also may a wire be, or a hair.
Knock down is — of all phrases! — set. forth as an Americanism in meaning to end the bidding and assign a lot at auction by a blow on the counter. It is as common in England as auctions themselves. We shall next have town-crier set down as an Americanism. One slang, or rather cant., sense of the phrase knock down, that of extorting money in some way or other, —as, He knocked down all those men five dollars apiece, —I have heard spoken of as an Americanism, but I doubt very much that it is so. Sir dee, which, with a like legitimate meaning, is very often used instead of it (I heard one man say of another, “ He went about striking all the Broadway stores, and made a pile ” ), is, I know, very old English cant. For example: —
“ To borrow money is called striking, but the blow can hardly or never be recovered.” (Essays and Characters of a Prison and Prisoners, by Geffray Mynshull of Grayes Inn, Gent., 1618. Of a Prison, 28.)
Knock-kneed. This compound word is solemnly defined, and a passage from Irving’s Knickerbocker is quoted in illustration of its Americanism. The remark is added that “ this is doubtless an English expression, although it is not in the dictionaries.” But neither are brown - haired, gimlet - eyed, flop - eared, blubber-lipped, scrag-necked, long-eared, or mutton-headed in the dictionaries. Such compound words are made at will, they need no definition, and they ought not to be in dictionaries. As to the English use of knock-kneed, it so happened that the knees of the genuine Sir Roger Tichborne were affectionately inclined toward each other; and hence see the evidence given in the trial by witnesses of all classes: —
“ He was inclined to be knock-kneed with his left leg.” (Tichborne Trial, Evidence of Serg. Dunn.)
“ He was a slight young man, so awkward in his walk that I could recognize him across the barrack yard. He was knock-kneed, more in one leg than in the other.” (The same, Evidence of Serg. Quinn.)
“ He was slightly in-kneed. He walked as if knock-kneed, the right leg being loose.” (Charge of Chief - Justice in Tichborne Trial, Evidence of Mr. Page.)
— “ he always struck her as being knock-kneed.” (The same, Evidence of Mrs. Towneley, Sir Roger’s cousin.)
“ Roger was not in-kneed, but he had rather the appearance of being knockkneed, because he turned out his toes.” (The same, Evidence of Lord Bellew.)
We shall next have long-shanked set down as an Americanism, notwithstanding the name given to the first Norman Edward by his English subjects more than six hundred years ago; for do we not find kit, meaning a man’s baggage, here? — and an officer’s kit is a British army phrase generations old. Indeed, as to the items under K, it is only to be remarked that not one of them is a true Americanism, or has any claim whatever to a place in such a dictionary.
And now I must for a time turn away from Americanisms; not for the lack of material, or of evidence of interest on the part of my readers, but simply because other matters claim my attention. When I return to this I shall show as to the remaining part of the vocabulary of so-called Americanisms that it is even more thoroughly English than that which I have passed under view.
Dropping thus temporarily a subject upon which I am favored with many letters, I add a few words, which, being purely personal to myself, may of course be passed over entirely by most of my readers. Many of my correspondents are in the habit of putting before or after my name certain letters or abbreviated words, with more or less complimentary intention. To these I would say, with thanks, that the additions in question are superfluous. I am not a doctor of laws, a reverend, a professor (of anything, even of religion); not having been elected to serve my party (because I have none) in any capacity, I have no claim to the title of honorable; nay, verily, I am not even a colonel. I have been addressed by all these titles, by some of them frequently, and I have had opportunities offered me of bearing them each and all. But, not unwillingly, I have hitherto escaped all manner of titling, and, except my university degree and my place at the bar, I remain what I became on the day when I was first carried out of the nursery, —plain
Richard Grant White.
- Strangely enough, in this little flash dictionary there appears an early example of the phraseology is being which made a timid and almost solitary appearance, as Dr. Hall has shown, in the last years of file last century, and which, although becoming common, is not yet established. We are told that to be “ 'in Tow Street' is said of a person who is being decoyed or wrongly persuaded by another.”↩
- This indeed — the absence of the book —is true with regard to almost all my illustrative quotations in these articles. The passages are mostly written on the margins of my “ Bartlett,” or on slips of paper laid between its leaves. But although I have not seen the books themselves for many years, and of course cannot hunt them up,—and I should not if I could, — I am quite sure that my readers may rely upon the accuracy of my references.↩
- I take this opportunity of saying that I shall serve some of my correspondents by adding to my recommendation of Stormonth’s dictionary a like opinion of his Handy English Word-Book. It contains SO much and so conveniently arranged information in regard to spelling, derived and inflected words, poetical accent, punctuation, foreign phrases, prefixes and postfixes, that with it and the dictionary at hand the intelligent reader of modern English literature is fully equipped, and needs no other book on the English language, unless he intends entering upon a more or less critical study of it.↩
- Galaxy, September, 1877.↩
- It will be seen that the passage quoted above contains an example of since in the sense of ago,— “ long since ; ” and among my Defoe memorandums I find the following : —↩
- “ Well, however, being unconcerned whether she kept her word or no, I began by telling her that I had Ions since obtained the second sight.”(History of the Devil, Part II., chap. vii. p. 504, ed. Bohn.) And yet editors will allow men to take me publicly to task for the use of this phrase, on the ground not only of its incorrectness, but because it came up among Scotch writers some fifty years ago I find also in Dekker the following instance of the use of that Americanism ho as a noun : — “ Si. Methinkes you should have women here as well as men. “↩
- Tow. O I, a plague on ’em, ther’s no ho with ’em, they 're madder than March hares.” (The Honest Whore, Sc. xiii.)↩