Assorted Americanisms

THERE are folk, scientific folk, whose joy of labor is to collect, to arrange, to name, and to index. They seem to think that when they have gathered together many things or many facts, and then have put by themselves those having a certain likeness,— for instance, all the beetles that have backs or horns alike, all the leaves that have edges alike, or all the words that have a beginning, an end, or a middle alike, and have given the beetles, or the leaves, or the words a name (generally a Latin one, meaning merely in Latin what any one with half an eye would see at a glance, — that the beetles have backs and horns of such a color or such a shape, or that the leaves have such or such edges, or the words such or such beginnings, middles, or endings), — when they have done this, I say, these folk seem to think that they have been very scientific and have greatly enlarged the boundaries of knowledge. The truth is. however, that they have learned nothing at all but that there are some things, more or fewer, which have a certain likeness, more or less; and they have done nothing but to put these things into a pigeon-hole — their Latin name — for convenient reference. Their labor has a certain value in that it makes real study easier. It corresponds to the getting together a library, and classifying and cataloguing it. But this a man may do as well as it can be done; he may know where every book stands; indeed, he may be able to tell you in what press and on what shelf in every other great library all the important books stand, as Mezzofanti could, and he may be as barren of ideas born of those books as Mezzofanti was himself. And nothing is added to knowledge, nor is any stimulus given to thought, by calling beetles “ coleoptera,” a figure of speech an “ aposiopesis,” or a word “ an agential.” So much of so-called science consists in merely giving a learned name to common knowledge, sometimes to ignorance !

In fact, science has become an intellectual fetish, and scientific a cant word of high pretension. A very recent use of it in England, “ a scientific frontier ” is somewhat puzzling. “ Happily the warnings of the last campaigns have not been neglected, and the advantages of our scientific frontier will, we trust, become apparent.” (The Examiner, London, September 13, 1879.) — “ and re-

tire, either within our own proper boundaries, the boundaries fixed by nature to India; or, if official pride will have it so, within the line now called the scientific frontier.” (The London Spectator, September 13, 1879.) Now what a natural frontier is, or a military frontier, we all know; but what else a scientific frontier is, it would, I think, puzzle the inventor of the phrase to make clear to commonsense. It seems to be mere cant, either born of the scientific craze of the day, or craftily adapted to the humor of its complacent victims.

Americanisms in speech might of course be collected, and classified and named “ scientifically.” They have been so classified, — as Indian, Foreign (that is, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Negro, and Chinese), Western, Religious, Political, Trading, Seafaring, Railway, etc. The result, however, of this classification seems to me to have been misleading to the ingenious writer who made it. One effect of such treatment of a subject by a “ specialist ” is to lead him to an ambitious endeavor to enlarge his various departments, and to make all fish that comes to his net. For, turning to the classification just referred to, we find that the number of true words of “Indian” origin is so small that they would make a poor show in a “ work ” upon the subject ; and therefore we have the names of all the birds and beasts and fishes and trees and shrubs peculiar to the country dragged in as “ Americanisms ” of “Indian” origin; and a like omnivorous indiscrimination appears in the filling up the ranks of the other classes.

A classification of so-called Americanisms might be adopted which would be something like the following: —

(1.) Words and phrases of “American” origin.

(2.) Perverted English words.

(3.) Obsolete English words commonly used in “ America.”

(4.) English words “ American ” by inflection or modification.

(5.) Sayings of “ American ” origin.

(6.) Vulgarisms, cant, and slang.

(7.) Words brought by colonists from the continent of Europe.

(8.) Names of “ American ” things.

(9.) Individualisms.

(10.) Doubtful and miscellaneous.

All words and phrases that could by the largest and most liberal use of the term be called Americanisms may, I believe, be properly ranked in one of these classes. Now it happens that the list under the letter L in Mr. Bartlett’s dictionary affords good examples of each class, besides those which cannot be called Americanisms at all; and I shall consider them in this manner.


Of these there could not be a more thoroughly characteristic example than loafer. Of course the noun implies the verb to loaf and the abstract noun loaferishness, with the adjective loafer-like. The root word, which in this case is the noun, has been adopted in England not merely as American slang, but as a useful contribution to the language. To loaf is something other than to lounge. A loafer is a low, vagabondish lounger. A gentleman may lounge as he may flâer; but a gentleman may not loaf. An elaborate setting forthof the contrary by a Philadelphia newspaper, which is quoted at length by Mr. Bartlett, needs no refutation. The origin of the word is very uncertain. It has been suggested that it is the German laufer = a runner, and also that it comes from the Spanish gallofero = a wandering beggar. But loafer is a word of New York origin, and it came into vogue there long before there were any Germans in the town, other than such transient or sporadic denizens as may be found in any large commercial place. The word was not uncommon in the New York newspapers of more than forty years ago. The time of its birth is against its suggested German origin; and the place is equally against its otherwise not very probable Spanish derivation. I believe that it is simply a corruption of low feller, which, becoming naturally and easily in speech low-f’er, was, when it came to be written by those who knew its sound and its meaning, but not its etymology, spelled loafer. It is worthy of remark that although words beginning with the letter L occupy thirtyfive of Mr. Bartlett’s octavo pages, this word is the only one of “ American ” origin among them.


The worst “ Americanisms ” are those which are perversions of good English words. They are also the most numerous of those words and phrases which may with any propriety be called “ Americanisms.” Of such there could not be in any way a better example than lumber = sawed timber. The proper meaning of lumber is, cumbrous and refuse articles which are hindrances unless they are put away; whence all large dwellinghouses have a lumber-room. In its legitimate sense the word is a very useful one, and expresses what is meant by no other ; for lumber is different from rubbish; and, on the other hand, timber, meaning wood for building houses or ships, is so good a word that no other is needed in its place. But lumber, meaning timber, is so rooted in our commercial speech that there is no hope of its displacement. The perversion of the meaning of this word is probably due to the huge disorder of a timber-cutting place and of a timber-yard. Some one called the heaps of logs and beams and planks lumber, and the expression “took" and was continued among slovenly speakers, until it has pervaded half a continent. The perversion of one word is sure to injure that one, and is apt to injure and even to destroy another. The perversion of lumber has not only injured that word, but has almost driven timber out of use. Loan used as a verb is an Americanism. A loan is that which is lent. There is no reason for substituting this noun for the good English verb lend. The doing so is an Americanism in language, although Todd found the word so used by two little-known English writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These examples, however, are merely of misuse, which of course may occur in one country as well as in another; but the turning of the misuse into common usage is “ American.”

Lay, in the sense of the conditions of bargain, is, I believe, an Americanism. But I should not be much surprised at the production of evidence to the contrary; for this sense of the word is quite in keeping with its etymological signification. It is akin to the sense which the word has in the phrase, “ on this lay:” for I cannot agree with Mr. Bartlett in regarding it as being probably a contraction of outlay. The idea conveyed by it is more abstract than that of a sum of money expended. Of course, wherever it originated, it cannot be regarded as good English; but the perversion is quite as likely to have occurred among incorrect speakers in one country as in the other, and the sense attached to it seems to me to smack of lower-class English trade.

Likely, if it is used to mean respectable, worthy of esteem, sensible, as our dictionary says it is, must be set down among the Americanisms by perversion. But I do not remember ever having heard or read it as used in that sense. I have been accustomed to hearing it from my youth up in New England and New York, from all sorts and conditions of men; and I do not remember having ever heard it used with any other meaning than handsome, well made, pleasing to the eye. A likely woman, a likely man, meaning a fine, healthy, proper woman or man, but not necessarily pretty or handsome in the face. This is the true English sense.


Lam. I do not know exactly how to classify this word. It certainly is not of “ American ” origin, and as certainly it is not in use in this country except as a low colloquialism. On the other hand, it is a word of long and respectable usage in English literature. For example : —

“ Not that I have Beaten you. but beaten one that will be beaten, One whose dull body will require a lamming As surfeits to the diet, spring and fall.” 1 (Beaumont and Fletcher, A King and No King, Act V., Sc. 3.)

“ Gage. Whilst each man can toss off his own bouse.

Mump. And kiss his own or another’s wench on his own straw.

Scrip. Without danger of being lam'd.”(Coffey, The Beggar’s Wedding, Act I., Sc. 3.)

— “to others again he unjoynted the spondyles or knuckles of the neck, disfigur'd their chaps, gashed their faces, made their cheeks hang flapping on their chins, and so swinged and belaimmed them that they fell down before him like hay before a mower.” (Urquhart’s trans. of Rabelais, ed. 1694, vol. i. chap. xxvii.)

We thus see that this word, instead of being merely “ provincial in Yorkshire,” as our dictionary informs us that it is, has long had a recognized place, although not a high one, in English literature. It is very rarely heard here, even as a low colloquialism. It is not properly an Americanism at all; but if it had any place in our classification, it would be as an obsolete English word preserved in use here.


Lengthy. By the common suffix y, meaning filled with, or having the nature of, length has been made info lengthy, which is a perfectly normal and legitimate English word, belonging to a large class, of which health-y, wealth-y, bulk-y, and earth-y are examples. Still the adjective is of American origin. Mr. Lowell, in the introduction to the second series of the Biglow Papers, says that “ we have given back to England the excellent adjective lengthy; ” but with all Mr. Lowell’s aquaintance with English literature, he could not (or I am much in error) produce one instance of the use of lengthy in a book printed in England before the eighteenth century. As to the word itself, I doubt its excellence. Its only claim to reception is that, in the words of Lord Harrowby, it imports what is tedious as well as long; and that sense is much better expressed by the word longsome, which is of the kindred of wearisome and wholesome and fulsome and gladsome and lonesome. And longsome has not only this expressiveness and this analogy in its favor, but it has the support of the best usage in English literature, as may be seen by consulting Richardson, who gives these instances of its use: —

“They have had so little mercy of him as to put him to the penance of their longsome volume.” (Bishop Hall, Defence of the Humble Remonstrance.)

“ Here from the labours of the longsome way
Respiring, they indulge a short delay.”
(Lewis’s Statius’s Thebaid.)

And here are examples of it in royal use, and also of another unfamiliar word, foulsome, made in the same way : —

“ Which bringing home and guiding back
The daies and nights againe,
Be wrathfull now with me, reguides
My longsum woe and paine.”
(King James I., The Furies, 1. 5.)
“ The guts of sheepe ; whome in the place
Of longsome bleating still,
They after hend their death make on
A sweet lute speake at will.”
(The same, 1. 168.)
“ To fill her foulsome guts, to eat
Her guts she doth not spare.”
(The same, 1. 534.)


Among these are “ the last of pea time,” a most happy and picturesque phrase, as every one knows who has seen the draggled vines and sallow pods that hang forlorn upon the half-bare, ragged brush; “level best” and “the little end of the horn,” which need no explanation; “to lie around loose,” in which the Americanism is chiefly in the use of around for about; “to lift his hair,” that is, scalp, although this is rather local and low to be received under this class; and “ lock, stock, and barrel,” meaning the whole, which it is strange that our much - shooting and much-fighting English cousins left for us to invent.


Such are “let her rip,”“let her went,” “ lickety split,” “ lickety cut,”

“ liquor up,” “ long sass,” “ go it with a looseness,” “ lie around loose,” “ like Sam Hill,” and “ loco-foco.” But such trivial and meaningless and ephemeral phrases as these are might much better be omitted from a Dictionary of Americanisms. They are, most of them, of the lowest vulgarity; but their vulgarity is a secondary consideration. Vulgarity and grossness are not unfrequently conjoined with humor and raciness and satire, so closely united that the elements are inseparable. Slang and vulgar phrases and (but very rarely) cant are sometimes double-shotted with coarse fun and fine significance; and when they are so they are taken into general service, and do duty for which they were not molded. Phrases of this sort may well be recorded in a glossary of the daily speech of a people; indeed, such a collection would be very incomplete without them. But the childish emptiness of such phrases as “ lickety split ” and the mere vulgarity of “liquor up” (which needs no explanation, has no hidden or humorous sense, and is as plain as “ to fire up,” “ to wood up,” “ to stone up,” being like them made upon a model recognized as idiomatic in English) should exclude them from all dictionaries except such as are intended exclusively as records of the vulgar triviality of the day.


English as spoken in “ America ” contains, or rather is mixed with, words and phrases from the languages of Continental Europe. But the same may be said of English as spoken in England. It is almost needless to mention such words and phrases as soirée, matinée, renaissance, á la mode, al fresco, sierra, etc., which are common to speakers and writers in both countries. (It is very significant that with all our German immigration there is not a single German phrase current among us.) These have either been caught by English people in casual inter-course with those to whom they are vernacular, or they have been brought into common use by the deliberate adoption of them by English writers. In reckoning our examples under this head, we must therefore be careful to take in only such words of French, or Spanish, or Italian origin as are used in the common speech and writing of the United States exclusively.

Such a word, for example, is lariat, meaning the rope of raw-hide with which cattle are caught and tethered, which, although a mere prairie word and almost technical, may perhaps be correctly regarded as an Americanism in speech. But such is not lasso, which is also given in the Bartlett dictionary; for lasso is as common in British literature, where hunting or herding wild cattle is the subject, as it is in “ American ” literature of a like sort. Indeed, it is far from certain that lasso was not used first by British writers. I believe that it was.

Of foreign words which are properly Americanisms, levee is well known in its two senses: first, as the name of the dikes by which the Mississippi is artificially banked; next, that extraordinary one in which it used to mean an evening party at the White House! This is almost as bad as Sam Weller’s invitation to a “ swarry consistin’ of a biled leg of mutton with the usual trimmins. ” The use of the word in this sense is, I believe, rapidly passing away, if it has not already disappeared. It is worthy of attention only as an illustration of the way in which language is perverted, which is almost always by a misapprehension of the real meaning of words by those who catch them from their superiors in education and breeding. An accident of the reality is taken for the reality. Thus lever, meaning to rise, and a great man’s or a great lady’s morning reception at the time of rising being called a lever, the word was mistaken to mean the assembly itself, or, in the old phrase, the “ party; ” and hence the ludicrous misapplication of it to an evening party.

Lève, pronounced lave, and meaning rise, get up, is another word of this class, and is of kindred to the foregoing. It is the imperative of lever, and has been carried from the mouth of the Mississippi northwestward to the prairies, where only it is heard. It is hardly an Americanism, for it is no part of current “ American ” speech, and would not be understood except among prairie rangers.

Llano (adj.), meaning level, and hence a plain, a prairie, cannot, however, be properly classed under this heading. For it is in use only among the Spaniards and half-breeds, and their companions on the borders of New Mexico and the extreme Southwest, where Spanish is as well understood, and almost as much spoken, as it is in Mexico itself. The language of such people belongs to no particular nation or race. To the mass of the American people llano is as foreign and as meaningless as any other Spanish word. To loma, the Spanish for a ridge of hills, the same objection applies.


These have no proper place among Americanisms, as I have sufficiently insisted heretofore. They are not Americanisms, simply because any writer or speaker, of whatever race or language, who wishes to mention the things must use the names. It may be well, however, to see how long a list of such things is set forth in our Dictionary of Americanisms under a single initial letter. It is: Labrador tea, an herb of which tea is made in the Northwest; lacrosse, a Canadian game; ladies’ tresses, an herb; Lafayette fish, said to be a delicious sea-fish well known in New York, but of which I never heard, and about which I can learn nothing ; lamb-kill, and lamb’s-quarter, both herbs; lake lawyer, another fish; leather-wood, a shrub; lever-wood, a plant; loblolly bay and loblolly pine trees ; log cabin ; log canoe; long moss, a parasite vegetable; salt-lick. Now if these names were applied to things which in England were known by other names; if, for example, in “ America ” cricket were called lacrosse, if woodbine were called ladies’ tresses, and trout were called Lafayette fish, and so forth, these latter words would be Americanisms; but as it is, they are not isms of any sort. They are merely names which must be used by all people in speaking of the objects to which they belong.


It not very rarely happens that a word is made by a writer for his own use, and that by accident, irrespective of the worth of the word or its propriety, it is never used by any other writer than himself, and perhaps that it is used by him only once. If the maker of such a word were what is called an “ American,” the eager hunter after Americanisms would be sure, if he lighted upon the word, to set it down in his list; for Don Giovanni not more eagerly would add one more to his catalogue of a thousand and three Spanish beauties. But such a word is not an Americanism, although it is made in “ America.” For it is plain that a word cannot be a part of the language of a country unless it passes into use among its speakers or its writers. Such words are mere “ individualisms ” (I do not like the term), and belong to no country and to no people. Among such words are to line, meaning to fish with a line, and to seine, meaning to fish with a seine, which it seems have been used by the author of a book on the fishes of Massachusetts. Mr. Bartlett has lighted upon them, and has set them down in his dictionary. He might with equal reason describe a personal trait peculiar to the writer in question, and send that forth to the world labeled as an “ American ” trait. I do not mean to imply that to line and to seine are not good verbs ; for to use any simple noun in a verbal sense is very English. My remarks are entirely irrespective of the merits or the demerits of the words. But I cannot so indifferently pass over to logicize, meaning to use logic, that is, to reason, — another “ individualism,” which Mr. Bartleft records as having been used by Professor Tappan in the preface to his Elements of Logic. It is with reluctance that I say there seems to me no reason or justification for this word; because I own with pleasure my indebtedness to Professor Tappan’s personal instructions in my college days. All the more I wish that he had remained content, as he was then content, with to reason. And even he writes, “ the faculty which reasons, or logicizes.” It is to be hoped that logicize will never become a naturalized word - citizen of the United States of North America. Syllogize is old enough, indeed, in good usage; but the two words differ in kind no less than in sound. Logic is an art; a syllogism is a thing, an implement of that art. Syllogism requires the indefinite article, when it is not definitive; logic does not admit it: for example, a bad syllogism, but not a bad logic; although we say, a philosophy. The question as to logicize, however, may be merely one of taste.


First in this class I should place the common word lot, meaning a plot of ground, or what is called in deeds and mortgages a parcel of land. That lot in this sense is of “ American ” origin I can neither admit nor deny. But I certainly do feel myself in a position to say that the assertion in our dictionary that this use of the word is “ peculiar to this country ” is incorrect. The supposed original meaning of the word, a place or a piece of ground assigned by lot, is certainly in favor of the alleged “ American ” origin of the use of the word in the sense in question. But it is not decisive, for there is in Chapman’s translation of Homer, which was made before there were any Americanisms, or any “ Americans,” a passage in which Jupiter speaks of Hades as “ the black lot” which came into possession of Pluto.2 Moreover, it is eminently worthy of consideration that the word in this sense was freely used by men who were English by birth and breeding in the very earliest years of English colonial life in this country, and that it was so used in the mother country as well as in the colony. For example: —

“ For although they have taken new plots of ground, and built houses upon them, yet doe they retaine their old houses still, and repaire to them every Sabbath day; neyther doe they esteem their old lots worse than when they first took them: what if they doe not plant on them every yeare? ” (Wood’s New England’s Prospects, pp. 12, 13, ed. 1634.) 3

As far back as A. D. 1632, in the records of Cambridge, Massachusetts, — then called Newtown, — there is mention of the “ home lot ” of John White, afterwards known as Elder John White, a gentleman without whose presence there these papers on Americanisms would not have been written. The same stern Church of England Puritan having removed to Connecticut because of religious dissensions which he himself fomented, and having acquired land both in Hartford and in Hadley, we find in the town records of the latter place, under date A. D. 1659, that he had among other property “ one house lott containing eight acres more or less as it lyes.” And there was a Matthew Grant who came to New England in the same ship with this John White, and who went also with him to Connecticut, one of whose descendants is somewhat known to the world at the present day, who says of himself: —

“ And if any question my uprightness and legal acting about our town affairs that I have been employed in, measuring of land and getting out of lots of men, which have been done by me from our first beginning here come next Sept, is 40 yere,” etc., etc. (Testimony of Matthew Grant, April 21, 1675, concerning lands in dispute, etc., Archives of Hartford.)

It would seem that Matthew, like his descendant Ulysses, was much confided in by his countrymen, but also that, like him, he did not escape calumny.

In the translation of Plutarch’s Lives called Dryden’s, published in 1703, in the Life of Lycurges, translated by Mr. Knightly Chetwood, Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, is the following passage in regard to the division of the country of Laconia: —

“ Some authors say that he made but six thousand lots for the citizens of Sparta, and that King Polydore added three thousand more.” (Vol. i. p. 143.)

Here lot plainly does not mean either that which falls by lot, or an allotment, but a piece or parcel of something which is divided; and that in this case to a Fellow of King’s College at that period it meant a patch of ground is shown by the following passage on the same page_ —

“ A lot was so much as to yield one year with another about seventy bushels of grain [not “ corn,” Mr. Bartlett] for the master of the family, and twelve for his wife, with a suitable proportion of oil and wine.”

In later days the use of the word in this sense, so far from being peculiar to this country, has been common in England both in books and in the best periodical literature, as will appear by the following passages: —

“ Let death be welcome : seemly 'tis in combat for one’s country
To die, if need be ; but his wife and children safe behind him,
And house and lot inviolate abide, whene’er the Achaians
Back to their native land beloved depart upon their galleys,”

(Newman’s Translation of the Iliad, Book XV., 1. 496.)

“ It was not the princes of the tribes, the men with vast herds, or it may be lots in the cities of refuge, who betook themselves to the cave, but the discontented, distressed people who did not inhabit, much less own, the Belgravia of the day.” (London Spectator, March 24, 1866.)

— “ presenting the sort of aspect a new colonial settlement may be supposed to exhibit when the building lots are beginning to be taken up, with long intervals between them.” (Robert Bell, The New Play House, Once a Week, December 3, 1859.)

These passages refer to building lots; indeed, the “ house and lot ” of Newman’s Iliad reads like an extract from the advertisement of a “ real-estate agent.” But the lots in the following passages are such lots as Yankee farmers plow and Yankee boys “cut across:”

“ In the Northern and Eastern Ridings the hay harvest was commenced last week. . . . Several lots mown last week are now in stack, the hot sun and drying wind making the grass into hay in twenty-four hours.” (London Times, date lost.)

“ ' Byrne should vote, or give up his lot.’

“ ' Then,’ said Byrne, ' I will give up my lot; but if I vote, I ’ll vote for Pryor.'" (Maxwell Drewit, chap. vii.)

Numberless examples even more to the purpose might be easily found in the current English literature of the day. To the foregoing I shall add only the following, which have a bearing upon the real meaning of the word as originally used: —

“ In January, 1829, the heir at law of E. Buttersbee and the assignees of W. G. Morris sold off the property in lots.” (J. C. M. Bellow, Shakespeare’s House, Lond. 1863, page 23.)

— " the trustees of Lucy Smith, under her will, sold the lot A to Mr. David Rice, surgeon.” (The same, page 25.)

“ Mr. Leyton then settled the whole of the remainder of lots B and C to himself for life.” (The same, page 25.)

These passages, in connection with that from the translation of Plutarch and that from the archives of Hartford, do not favor the assumption that lots of land in New England were so called because they fell to the lot of this or that person. It would seem rather that the land was divided into lots or parcels, and that these were distributed, not by chance, but by the agency and according to the judgment of such men as the forefather of General Grant, who had had that business upon his hands “ this 40 yere.” In this sense lot is certainly not an Americanism, either by origin, or, as we have seen, by peculiar usage, although it is more common here than it is in England.

Locate is an unlovely companion of lot in the doubtfulness of its nationality. It seems to have made its appearance in the last quarter of the last century, and whether first in England or in “America,” it would be unsafe to say; and that question, indeed, is of very little consequence. The difference of a few years one way or the other, on such a point, is of no importance. Since that time it has been used in both countries more or less, but more in America, where it is much in favor with those who speak the worst English. It is an Americanism by a certain use, if not by origin. I shall neither deny nor admit that it may have some peculiar and useful function of narrow limits; but as it and its cognate words, location, locality, and localize, are generally used, they are pretentious superfluities. Worst of all is locality, which might be tolerated in an abstract sense (like sublimity, profanity), but which when used as a big substitute for place, seal, site, country, neighborhood, region, or situation is ridiculous. Think of an English-speaking man who wished to express any one of those ideas taking an adjective like local, and tacking the suffix ty upon it, to make a noun with which he may say his say! The worthy place of the word is in such mouths as that into which it is put in the following characteristic contribution to the funny column of a Western newspaper, and such speakers always use it : —

“ His chin whiskers had n’t been trimmed for years, and his pants had a careworn look at the knees; but he was a wide-awake old ebap, and when he heard two or three other passengers on the car talking about the late frosts and asserting that they had never seen anything like such weather for the middle of May, he began: —

“ ‘ Gentlemen, on the l6th day of May, 1827, snow fell to the depth of fourteen inches in this locality.’

“ They looked at him very much as if they doubted it, when he rose up, pulled a paper from his pocket, and read: —

“ ‘ State of Michigan, county of Wayne, ss. Personally appeared before me Peter Clark, who, being duly sworn, deposes and says that on the l6th day of May, 1827, snow fell in this locality to the depth of fourteen inches, so help him God. John Doe, Notary Public.’

“ He folded and replaced the document, and looking around him with pity and contempt depicted on his face he remarked, —

“‘I’d either let the weather alone, or I’d swear to it.’

“ They let it alone.”

It will be seen that this use of locality is entirely different from that in the following passage: “Something of the kind would, sooner or later, have arisen, it may be, elsewhere; but its locality came to be determined partly by the accidental existence of certain eager and courageous men,” etc. (The London Spectator, September 13, 1879.) Here locality does not stand for place or situation, locus in quo. Its meaning is more abstract. In passages like the following, from the London Times,— “ Mr. Stephenson has bequeathed by his will a sum amounting to 25,000l. to various public institutions located chiefly in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the vicinity of which he was born,” — located takes the place which would be better filled by situated. Observe that the writer who uses located also says that Mr. Stephenson was born in the vicinity of Newcastle, instead of in its neighborhood. His work was at least of a piece. Locate without an object, as “I don’t think I shell locate previous to the depot’s bein’ built,” “ I expect he located in Oshkosh or vicinity last fall,” is a word to shudder at, and is, I believe, thoroughly “American.” The men who used lot did very well without locate: for example, “ for he being once seated and quietly settled, his increase comes in double.” (Wood, New England’s Prospects, ed. 1634, p. 218.) In any sense locate is a word which a man who knows and loves good English will be likely to eschew.

Lope, meaning a long, easy gallop, is also among the doubtful Americanisms. It is a colloquialism the use of which is so confined to the West that eastward of the Niagara it would not be understood by one person in a thousand; and it therefore has hardly a rightful place among Americanisms, even if it is of “American ” origin. That it is a contraction of gallop, as Mr. Bartlett assumes, I cannot believe. That the last syllable of that word, lup, should be taken and extended into lope is not the normal course of language. Much more probably it might be a corruption of the Low Dutch loopen, to run. But that word would hardly prevail at the West, and be unheard in New York and its neighborhood. And when we consider that lop is the old English word for a flea, and that lope and lopen are both old forms of the preterite of leap, we may well at least be cautious about assigning to the Western lope any other than an English origin. Like human, it may well have disappeared from England and the old English colonies here to reappear in the far West.

But as the negro in counting the stock in a swine yard found one little pig that would n’t stay still long enough to be counted, so I find many words under the letter L which I cannot classify, and which I shall remark upon merely in their order. Almost without exception, they are words which are in no proper sense of the term Americanisms.

Lager-beer, for example: what reason is there for regarding this word as American in any way? True, the beer has been introduced here by the Germans, and the name accompanies the thing. But so meerschaum and sauerkraut have been introduced : are they, or rather the names of them, Americanisms? There is now an effort to introduce lager-beer into England; if it succeeds, will the name cease to be an Americanism, or will it be a Tentonism? It is neither; it is simply a name, — the name of a very good thing, which, by the way, is now made here, and chiefly in Toledo and in Milwaukee, better than it is made in Germany, as the Germans themselves admit.

And how is lagoon an Americanism? It means not only the sounds and long, shallow channels between the islands or sand rifts and the main on our southern sea-coast, but any great, shallow water or marsh. It is used by all English writers who have occasion to mention the thing, and is spelled lagune as often as lagoon. Its connection with lacus and lake is manifest.

Lame duck and dead duck, meaning a ruined stock-jobber, Mr. Bartlett himself tells us are “as old as the London Stock Exchange,” With what semblance of reason, then, do they appear in his dictionary! No fact can be more certain than that they never have been “regarded as peculiar to the United States.” I remark upon these cases of obvious introduction of words which have no “American” character, because it is my purpose to show that injury has been done by the presentation of this enormous glossary as a vocabulary of “ American” speech.

Landscapist, attributed to the New York Tribune, is as common, almost, in English art criticism of the day as landscape itself; and land shark, a sailor’s name for the men on shore who prey upon him, is almost as old as the British Jack tar. We shall next have Shylock’s land rats and water rats set forth as Americanisms.

Lathy, which needs no definition, is an example not only of a thoroughly English word in common use in England, but of a word which, whether it happened to be first used in Australia, or in England, or in New England, could be nothing else than English. There being the noun lath, the adjective lathy follows it as a matter of course, to be used by any English-speaking man without a thought whether it had ever been used before.

Laws, laws-a-me, law sakes, and law suz are corruptions or euphemisms. In all such phrases law stands for Lord; and the change in the word is as common in England as it is here among a corresponding class of speakers, as every reader of English plays and novels knows. Laws-a-me is “ Lord have mercy upon me.” As well might good-by, which is “ God be with ye,” be reckoned among Americanisms. Mr. Bartlett gives “law suds ” instead of “ law suz ” as the contracted euphemism of “ Lord save us.” I have never heard the former, and have often heard the latter; and indeed there is no good phonological reason for the introduction of the d,—rather the contrary.

Lay for lie, as “ I shall lay down,” “ He laid there a good while,” is a vulgar error which, as Mr. Bartlett rightly says, is equally common in England and in the United States. Why, then, does it appear in this dictionary! It is merely bad English. I have sufficiently remarked upon this solecism in Words and their Uses, and have there pointed out the distinction between the two verbs which are so often confused. It is a point which is well worth the attention of speakers who are not quite sure of their English.

To lay on thick, meaning to flatter. It was, I presume, because this phrase was usually regarded in Shakespeare’s time as peculiar to the United States that Celia says, “ That was laid on with a trowel.” Mr. Bartlett may rest assured that “to lay it on ” and “ to lay it on thick ” are more commonly used in England than they are here to express any sort of demonstrative excess in speech, flattery or other.

Lean-to is an example of a good English compound word, of which the more we have the better. No one needs to be told that it means a small addition made to a house by setting up beams and planks which lean to it. It is of English origin, and is recognized even by architects. Yet here it is set forth as an Americanism! Every boy who has read Robinson Crusoe knows better.

“ The outer circuit was cover’d as a lean-to all round this inner apartment, and long rafters lay from two and thirty angles to the top of the posts,” etc. (Robinson Crusoe, page 41l, ed. 1866.)

But as if it were not enough that this common English word should be labeled as an Americanism, and although Pickering’s remark is cited, that it is generally pronounced linter in New England (as indeed it would inevitably be pronounced by slovenly speakers anywhere), we have linter itself actually given afterwards as a separate word. Anything to swell the catalogue of Americanisms!

Let slide. This picturesque phrase having been given in the early editions of the dictionary, Mr. Lowell pointed out examples of its use among the Elizabethan writers, and it also appears in Gower’s Confessio Amantis. It should seem that thereupon in the next edition of the dictionary the phrase would have been omitted. But no, it is retained, and Mr. Lowell’s citations are quoted by way of illustration. “ Let her slide " is not very elegant English; but it is no more an Americanism than fall is for autumn.

Lift. A kind of rude gate, or short, movable barrier, which must be lifted instead of being swung, is called a lift in England, and also in New England. There are unimportant varieties in its construction in both countries. Neither the thing nor the name of it is peculiarly “ American.” Indeed, such a use of the verb as a noun is characteristically English, and was inevitable in the case of things that were made either to be lifted or to lift. Thus what is generally called in America, with imposing elegance, an elevator is in England called a lift. Now elevator in this sense is an Americanism, and a poor one. The wag is to be thanked who malaproped the name into alleviator.

Like for as, as in the phrase “like I do,” our dictionary tells us is not peculiar to America. Why, then, is it here? In fact, like lay for lie, it is merely bad English. Mr. Bartlett in his last edition adds that it is never heard in New England. I sympathize with Mr. Bartlett in his desire to believe in the excellence of New England English. But he may be sure that this mistake is often made eastward of the Housatonic, as it is between the Tweed and Land’s-End, by ignorant and slovenly speakers.

Limb for leg, the dictionary tells us, “ is one of the mock-modest expressions of which our people are over fond.” Most heartily am I with Mr. Bartlett in his scorn of all such squeamishness; but as to its being peculiar to our people, I cannot agree with him. People who are afraid to call a spade a spade, because in the cant of spurious delicacy it would “ bring a blush upon the cheek of innocence,” are found everywhere. And as to limb for leg, the man who did not hesitate to write the coarse but not injurious scenes which make Tom Jones a tough book to read aloud in mixed company, yet hesitated to say that his heroine had beautiful legs, although he wished us to know that she had them: —

“ Her shape was not only exact, but delicate, and the nice proportion of her arms promised the truest symmetry in her limbs.” (Tom Jones, Book IV., chap. ii.)

And here Fielding was entirely wrong in his inference, as any student of art or anatomy could have told him. Dr. Knox, late professor of artistic anatomy in London University furnishes the following examples of the same use of limb : —

“ Their [the Kaffirs’] limbs are of great strength, but not their arms; and their elongated narrow foot can at once be distinguished from all others.” (Races of Men, page 272.)

— “in stature and weight inferior to the Saxon ; limbs muscular and vigorous; torso and arms seldom attaining any very large development.” (The same, page 319.)

Living-room appears for the first time in the last edition of the dictionary, with the comment that in New England it is called the keeping - room. The latter phrase I have already remarked upon and shown to be of long-established use in England. The same is true of livingroom. How indeed could it be otherwise among people who live in rooms and who speak English!—of which here is an example in evidence: —

“ On the contrary, it [marriage] is a contract in which so much pride is taken [among the lowest classes in London] that the certificate attesting its due performance is not uncommonly displayed on the wall of the living-room, as a choice print or picture might be.” (James Greenwood, the “ Amateur Casual,” The Seven Curses of London, page 20.)

To love for to like, as “ Do you love pumpkin pie?” This is indeed an amazing word to find registered among Americanisms; in such a position it would have astonished Cowper; for,

“ Now Mistress Gilpin, careful soul!
Had two stone bottles found,
To hold the liquor that she loved,
And keep it safe and sound.”

It is a sin so to degrade the word love, making it do the inferior work of like; but no English-speaking people are without those who are guilty of it. ’T is as common as lying.

What remains under the letter L may well be passed over without remark; for to take notice of such thoroughly English phrases, such downright John Bullisms, for example, as leastways, leave out in the cold, lie out of whole cloth, and lots, as “ lots of people,” or of such phrases as land-grant, land-scrip, land-office, land-warrant, which are mere signs that an English-speaking people have a business in the sale and distribution of public lands, would be a needless waste of time and labor.

Richard Grant White.

  1. It will be seen that in this one passage of three lines and a half we have two alleged Americanisms; the second being fall.
  2. I Wrote out this passage long ago, and I have seen my memorandum within a month in my bulging " Bartlett.”To my surprise, I cannot find it; but I hold myself responsible for its production.
  3. William Wood went to New England in 1629, returned home in 1633, and published New England’s Prospects at London the next year.