English in England

THE worst English that I have ever heard spoken, I heard in England. There, however, I also heard the best that could be spoken, — not better, indeed, than I have heard in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; but of this good English I must acknowledge that I heard much more, in proportion to their numbers, among my British than among my American acquaintances. The standard of comparison in all cases is a British standard; for it is a postulate in the discussion of this question that the best English is that which is accepted as the best by people of the best education and social standing in England. What is accepted by them ; not necessarily what is spoken by them. For, as we shall see, they are somewhat remarkable for individual variation from their own undisputed standard.

Almost all Americans who live in cities have opportunities now and then of hearing English spoken by natives of Old England, which, however, is not therefore necessarily the best English. For, as many Frenchmen, even many Parisians, speak very bad French, so many Englishmen and many Londoners, in fact most Englishmen and most Londoners, speak bad English. I think that the vilest French that I ever heard was from a Parisian born and bred; and a sociétaire of the Théâtre Franchise agreed with me in my opinion of it. It would seem superfluous to say this, were it not for the general assumption that a Parisian must speak good French, and for the assumption by many Englishmen, who speak in the vulgarest way, that because of their English birth they are competent to criticise and to censure the speech of men born elsewhere, who are as thoroughly English in blood as they are, and whose education and training have been far superior to theirs. Nor is mastery of idiom so absolutely a matter of race, or even of early education. Whose English surpasses in clearness and in idiomatic strength that of the German Max Müller, first as an English writer among all contemporary philologists ?

Among home-keeping Yankees who had never visited England, I was, I am inclined to believe, somewhat exceptional in my opportunities of observing the speech of Englishmen, which began when I was a boy, and went on increasing in frequency until I crossed the ocean. There was therefore nothing very new to me in the average speech around me when I found myself among my cousins in the old home, and nothing at all new in the English that I heard from the friends that I found there, and from their acquaintances. How should there be ? This, too, would seem a superfluous remark, were it not for the common assumption and frequent assertion that there is an essential difference between the language of the two peoples, due in part to the preservation in this country of phrases and pronunciations which are obsolete or obsolescent in England, and in part to changes which have taken place here, some of which are attributed — Heaven help us! — to the influence of the aboriginal “ Indians ” upon our habits of mind and body ! Many Yankees who speak with unconscious freedom the language of good American society must have encountered with amusement the complimentary expressions of surprise at their “pure English,” with which they were favored in England. A friend of mine, a lady, met one of these with a whimsical and characteristic reply. She was on both sides a Yankee of the Yankees ; but her mother bore a name which stands high among the historical patronymics of England. She was as fair, golden-haired, blue-eyed, and buxom a matron as you would find in New England ; and being once where there were many portraits of members of the family in question, her likeness to some of them was so striking that it was remarked upon. Nevertheless, a gentleman, an officer in the British army, thought it necessary not only to compliment her upon her English, but to ask her if she was not peculiar in this respect among her countrywomen. “ Oh, yes,” she immediately replied; “ but then I have had unusual advantages. There was an English missionary stationed near my tribe.” His captainship subsided at once into silence, and seemed to be revolving the matter in his mind in a more or less dazed fashion, which afforded her great amusement.

Between the majority of Englishmen and the majority of Americans there is a difference of pitch and inflection of voice. The English pitch is generally higher; the inflection is almost always more varied. The “ average American’s ” voice is comparatively hard and monotonous. But upon this point, and upon the general superiority of the Englishwoman’s voice in its quality, — a soft, rich sweetness, — I have said enough elsewhere. Nor would any remark upon this point be on this occasion either requisite or pertinent. This has nothing to do either with the substantial part of language, the vocabulary, or with pronunciation, which varies more or less from generation to generation, which differs more or less in different circles, and which is not quite alike in all individuals in the same circle. This of course is true of both countries.

The first peculiarity that attracted my attention in the speech of Englishmen was a thick, throaty utterance. It was not new to me, but I was struck by its general diffusion. The effect is somewhat as if the speaker were attempting to combine speech with the deglutition of mashed potato. This peculiar utterance, in which a guttural aw seems to prevail, is, however, far from being universal. It is not high-class speech. Yet it begins to manifest itself somewhat high up in the social scale, being perceptible just below what may be called the Oxford and Cambridge level. Then it broadens down from precedent to subsequent, until, when it reaches the lowest level, it is broad enough and thick enough for the foundation of a very substantial theory of peculiarity in national speech. It manifests itself chiefly in the utterance of a, o, and u in combination with I and r ; for example, in such words as ale, pale, and royal, which are spoken by Englishmen of the lower and lower middle classes much as if they were written ayull, payull, and ryull, the I’s being gobbled low in the throat with a desperate gulp. I thought that the tendency to this mode of speech seemed to be strongest in those who were shortnecked and corpulent. I remember one obese, red-faced shopman who gulped at " Royal Wilton ” in such a strangling fashion that I should hardly have been surprised to see him fall down upon the spot in a fit of apoplexy. General negative assertions are dangerous; and I shall therefore not say that this gulp is never heard among educated English gentlemen and ladies ; but I am sure that in such society I never heard it.

The ill treatment which the letter h receives from a very large proportion of the English people is of course known to the most superficial observer of their speech. It is the substance and the point of a standing joke which never loses its zest. Mr. Punch’s artists, when hard put to it for the subject of a social sketch, can always fall back upon the misfortunes of the aspirate. H in speech is an unmistakable mark of class distinction in England, as every observant person soon discovers. I remarked upon this to an English gentleman, an officer, who replied, “ It’s the greatest blessing in the world; a sure protection against cads. You meet a fellow who is well dressed and behaves himself decently enough, and yet you don’t know exactly what to make of him; but get him talking, and if he trips upon his h’s that settles the question. He’s a chap you’d better be shy of'.” Another friend said to me of a London man of wealth, and of such influence as comes from wealth and good nature, “The governor has lots of sense, and is the best fellow in the world; but he has n’t an h to bless himself with.” And there seems to be no help for the person who has once acquired this mode of pronunciation. Habits of speech, when formed in early life, are the most ineradicable of all habits ; and this one, I believe, is absolutely beyond the reach of any discipline, and even of prolonged association with good speakers. I have had opportunities of observing many English persons of both sexes who came to America in their early childhood, who were educated here, and who had attained mature years, and yet they could not utter the initial h, but, for example, would say ee for he. If they did, by special effort, sound the h, it was with a harsh ejaculation, and not with that light touch which, although so distinctly perceptible, Is but a delicate breathing, and which comes so unconsciously to good speakers in England, and to bad speakers as well as good — to all — in America. In England I observed many people in a constant struggle with their h, overcoming and being overcome, and sometimes triumphing when victory was defeat.

The number of h’s that come to an untimely end in England daily is quite incalculable. Of the forty millions of people there cannot be more than two millions who are capable of a healthy, well-breathed h. Think, then, of the numbers of this innocent letter that are sacrificed between sun and sun! If we could send them over a few millions of h’s a week, they would supply almost as great a need as that which we supply by our corn and beef and cheese.

There is a gradation, too, in the misuse of this letter. It is silent when, it should be heard; but it is also added, or rather prefixed, to words in which it has no place. Now the latter fault is the sign and token of a much lower condition in life than the former. The man who puts on a superfluous h, and says harm for arm and heyes for eyes, will surely drop the h from its rightful place, and say ed and art for head and heart; but the converse is far from being true. This superfluous h is a much graver solecism than the suppressed. It is barbarous. To hear it you must go very low indeed in the social scale. But, on the other hand, the suppression of the h is a habit that creeps up into the very highest ranks, diminishing in strength and extent as it rises, until it wholly disappears. For example, only Englishmen of the very uppermost class and finest breeding say home and hotel; all others, ’ome and ’otel. And the latter are so unconscious of their slip, so sure that, they do say home and hotel, that if they are charged with dropping the h they will deny it, and make desperate efforts to utter the sound, which result only in throwing a very great stress upon the o.1 These two words are the last and most delicate test of the h malady. Past that line English speech, when not impaired by individual incapacity or tainted by affectation, is perfect, " express and admirable.”

Widely spread as this incapacity for managing the h is, it seems to have attracted little other attention in England titan that which manifests itself in ridi cule. No English orthoepist or phenologist whose work I have met with has made it the subject of examination, or of more than a mere passing remark. Nor does it seem to have been even laughed at until very lately, — hardly before the beginning of this century. Until that time there is no evidence which I now remember that it had ever been taken note of. The Elizabethan dramatists make the English speech of Frenchmen and of Hollanders the occasion of laugh ter; and among their own countrymen the Welshmen do not escape. The dramatists of the Restoration ridicule the Irish speech till we are surfeited with their Teagues and their “ dear joys.” The speech of English clowns is also imitated, and in general ridiculed, not only in plays but in ballads, and at last in novels, from the first of these periods to the close of the last century. But in all this mass of low character painting there is not a touch of fun that depends upon a misplaced or a displaced h. Even such personages as Lord and Lady Duberly, Zekiel and Cicely Homespun, in The Heir at Law, and Old Rapid and Young Rapid, Farmer Oatlands and Frank Oatlands, in A Cure for the Heart Ache, although their “ cacology ” supplies no small part of the fun in the performance, are not represented as maltreating their h’s. Sheridan, who belongs to the last quarter of the eighteenth century, leaves this trait of speech unridiculed, although he has low characters, and he made a Mrs. Malaprop. To imagine such personages in a play or a novel of to-day without being made the butt of laughter on this account, is almost impossible.

That English writers on language should have made no remark upon this trait of English speech is in itself remarkable. For it is peculiarly English, or rather South British. The Lowland Scotch, who are as English in blood as the people of England themselves, and whose speech is an ancient and important English dialect, are entirely without this h trait; and so are the English people of Irish birth, the descendants of them of the old “ English pale.” Men of English blood and American birth, New Englanders, Virginians, and the like, are also without it entirely. Yet it so pervades England that it might be regarded as the normal form of English speech, bat for the fact that it is entirely absent from the speech of those who speak the best English, and is to them a cause of aversion and an occasion of ridicule. It is remarkable, too, that this trick of speech is not at all the consequence of any inability with regard to the proper utterance of h. Quite the contrary ; for the man who threatens to “ punch yer ’ed ” will also “ blarst yer heyes.”

These facts seem to me to point to a conclusion which yet cannot be accepted as established because of another fact which cannot be set aside, although it may be explained. The absence of any allusion to the h difficulty by English dramatists and humorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can hardly be accounted for except by the supposition either that it did not exist, or that it was not then peculiar to a low condition of lifeThe fact that it does not exist and never has existed in the speech of the English people of Ireland or of America almost compels the conclusion that it was unknown in England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when (as to Ireland mainly, and as to North America absolutely) the English language was translated to those countries. The sudden outbreak of ridicule provoked by the dropping and adding of the h, about the beginning of this century, would seem to indicate either that the habit had been formed or had come into vogue with the lower classes during the eighteenth century, or that, having until that time prevailed among all classes, it was dropped and stigmatized as vulgar by the upper classes about the end of that century.

To these inferences there is opposed the very stubborn fact that there is evidence in old English literature that what is now called the vulgar use of h was in past centuries the common and received pronunciation of English. This is not the place for a purely linguistic discussion; but I will mention that in the Lay of Havclok the Dane, written about A. D. 1280, and existing in a manuscript of about that date, eye is written heie, earl herle, old hold, eat hete, ate het, ever hever, and English Henglishe. There is a great deal of such evidence. Moreover, there is the evidence given by the presence of the full form of the indefinite article an before words beginning with an accented aspirated syllable: as, for example, “an household,” “an habit,” “an headache,” “an history,” “ an hundred.” This continued until a recent period, and has not yet entirely passed away, although it is passing. For example, Mr. Trollope, in his Three Clerks writes, “ If the Board chose to make the Weights and Measures an hospital for idiots, it might do so. . . . He would never remain there to see the Weights and Measures become an hospital for incurables.” The presence of the n in such cases shows pretty clearly that the h was silent; in which case there is evidence that it was dropped by the best English writers of the last century in a multitude of words in which it is now de rigueur that it should be heard. The change in some words is not yet quite perfected. Mr. Thackeray spoke of the English humorists, and that pronunciation is given by Phelp of Cambridge in Stormonth’s dictionary ; but I heard Cambridge dons talk of “ Every Man in his Umour.” In this, however, they merely preserved the pronunciation of the last generation, as certain English clergymen do, who offer "’umble and ’earty thanks ” in the church service every Sunday. Walker gives the pronunciations, hospital ospital, humble umble. humor yumer, in all of which Phelp calls for the sound of h. Mr. Trollope’s “ an hospital ” is merely a remnant of old-fashioned pronunciation, which, if I remember rightly, will not be found in his later novels.

The question is one which it is not safe to undertake to decide without a careful and thorough examination of the whole range of English literature ; but I venture the conjecture, which, however, is somewhat more than a conjecture, that the suppression of h was once very widely diffused throughout England among all speakers, including the best, during which time — a very long one — the function of h was to throw a stress on the syllable which it ushered in, as it is in the Spanish word hijos ; that the widely diffused suppression of the breathing among the lower classes of modern England is, like many other so-called vulgarisms, a mere survival among them of what has perished among their “ betters ; ” and that this suppression of the h was so general, even among the upper classes so late as the middle of the last century, that it provoked no remark, — indeed commanded no attention from the social critics and satirists. This theory leaves the correct pronunciation of the h by all classes in Ireland and in America unaccounted for. But that remarkable fact may possibly be the result of a predominance in the emigrants to those countries of people from the north of England. For the dropping and the adding of the h is even now, after forty years of railway intercourse, so much more common in the southern counties of England than in the northern as to be remarkable on that account. It is sometimes called a " cockneyism.” No view of it could be farther from the truth. Some of the most marked cases of it that I have ever met with were Cornish people from near Land’s-End, who had never been in or near London.

Nor do all London people of the lower orders have this trouble with their h’s. I observed this in many instances. One particularly impressed me. On my way from Rochester to London I left my own seat, and entered a third-class carriage, on a visit of observation, which I had found that I was permitted to do. Taking my seat next a woman, I soon fell into talk with her, which before we had gone many miles became somewhat confidential on her part. She was, I found, a commercial traveler ; in a word, a female bagman. But although she was born and brought up in London, and was quite in her proper place in a third-class carriage, I observed that her pronunciation was perfectly correct, and that she never dropped an h, much less added one superfluously. Her language also was good, although her manner of speech and the tone of her voice revealed the lowness of her origin. She was very intelligent; and although she talked with a strange man thus freely, her behavior and her manner were perfectly modest.

One pronunciation, which is called a Yankee trait, I was surprised to find diffused all over England and through all classes,—aou for ou. I had first observed this some years before in the case of an English gentleman, an author of some note whom I met in New York, and who said very plainly paound for pound. I thought it might be a trick peculiar to him ; but when I was in England I found it quite to the contrary. Paound was the rule ; pound the exception. In Liverpool, the next morning after my arrival, I went to look at a house which was to let; and the young lady who was kind enough to show it to me (the daughter of the tenant, a physician, and of repute, as I found) told me that it was “ a beautiful haouse,” which indeed it was. A railway porter, on my asking him how long I should have to wait for a train, replied, “ Nearly a haour, sir.” I was at breakfast in London at the University Club with an author of distinction and a Fellow of his college, when a friend of his, evidently a member of the club, came up and said, “ Haou d’ deau ? ” At Westminster Abbey, at the door of which I presented myself at a certain time in the service, a verger said to me, “You cawnt pahss in neaou, sir.” In a first-class carriage on the South Eastern Railway I had as fellow passengers two men, who were quite well dressed, and one of whom was nicely gloved. Their talk was bucolic. “ Osses are bad to git.” “ They are bad to git; 'igh prices.” “Haou abaout eaouws ? ”

“ Caouw cattle are very good at Aylesbury.” These men said “ di'-rectly ” and “sheootin. ” (shooting) ; and one of them, “ Must n’t we alleaow [that is, confess] that ? ” On my walk from Canterbury to Harbledown I asked direction of a boy whom I met, who said, “ Ther’s an old church up aour way that they call Hairbledaoun church,” just like a rustic Yankee boy that I might have met in the remotest parts of New Hampshire. In Kent the farmers and the peasants spoke warmly of the goodness of the graound.

One instance of this pronunciation produced an odd effect. At Warwick Castle, as I walked across the greensward on my way to the great tower, I picked up a large, handsome gray feather, which I still have. I asked the man who stood at the foot of the tower to take my shilling what bird had dropped this feather. Looking at it a moment, he said, “ It, ’s an auk.” Of course I knew that he did not mean the bird called the auk, and I showed him that it could not be a hawk’s feather, when he exclaimed,

“ Oh, it’s a. haowl, it’s a haowl! We've got a big haowl 'ere, and 'e’s dropped one of ’is feathers.” Two evenings afterwards I was at a performance of King Lear in Birmingham by an actor of reputation. In the last act, as the poor old king is coming in with the dead Cordelia, he cries, “ Howl, howl, howl! ” These words are heard from behind the scenes before Lear actually appears ; and they were on this occasion so very nearly “ Haowl, haowl, haowl! ” that they brought the Warwick “ haowl ” instantly and vividly to my mind ; and the result was far from being in keeping with the feeling proper to the scene.

These examples, it will be seen, come from all quarters and from all classes. This rueful note is, however, uttered with a difference in the two countries. In England the aou has none of that nasality which enters into its composition in America, and makes it, not lovely in itself, certainly one of the most offensive sounds that can be uttered by the human voice. But among the better class of speakers in America this aou, compounded with nasality or pure and simple, is never heard.

There is, however, in the pronunciation of the upper classes in England no marked difference from that of welleducated. well-bred people in the Northern and Eastern States of the Union. I observed, however, a stronger tendency to the full, broad ah in some words, and to the English diphthongal a (the name sound of the letter, aee) in others. At Westminster Abbey I observed that the officiating canon said “ commahndment ” and “remembrahnce,” trilling the r as well as broadening the a ; and at King’s Chapel, Trinity, Cambridge, where I sat next the reader, my ear was pleased with his “power and commahndment.” I heard the same broad ah sound of a in transplant, past, cast, ask, and the like from three distinguished authors, one of them a lady, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in London. At the debates among the young men at the Oxford Union, I heard the same broad sound, — grahted, clahss, pahsture, and so forth. But at St. Paul’s, in London, a young deacon who said, “ Heah beginneth the tenth ehaptah of the book of Kings,” said, “ And it came to păss,” and yet worse “ păth,” clipping his a’s down to the narrow vowel sound of an. On the whole, however, the broad sound very greatly prevailed among the university-bred men.

The name sound of a attracted my attention chiefly in proper names, mostly classical. It seemed somewhat strange to hear a Cambridge don say Cleopaytra and Coriolaynus; and not the less so because he did not say Aythens. But I remember that Byron (somewhere in Don Juan, I believe) by a rhyme requires the pronunciation Sardanapaylus. This use of the English a is carried into Latin; and at Oxford the prevailing pronunciation of Balliol, in spite of its two I’s, is Bayliol. Yet at the Union debates and elsewhere I heard the Continental i insisted upon strongly in calibre, — pronounced caleebre, — although the accepted pronunciation is calĭbre, as in America.

In words like “ institute,” “ duke,” and “constitution,” in which u follows d or t, the English u (iotized u) is generally uttered with very unmistakable clearness by the best speakers. Some of them are so very particular on this point that they suggest the spelling institewt; constitewtion, which seemed to me somewhat extravagant and affected. It is well to avoid institoot and dook; but still one need not tew the word, like a rustic Yankee saying too.

From a clergyman in Kent, the rector of one of three parishes, which, lying together, are called “ the three Graces,” because the living of each is a full thousand pounds, I heard the old pronunciation of were, making it a perfect rhyme to ware and there. This pronunciation, which prevailed for centuries, and which is correct, if in pronunciation there is any correctness other than a conformity to the best usage, had passed out of vogue before Walker’s time, more than three quarters of a century ago. From the same reverend gentleman I heard the old pronunciation of mercy, earth, and virtue, — not murcy, urth and vurtue, but a sound of c like that in the first syllable of error, which I had heard from well-educated old people in my boyhood. And yet this gentleman was not an aged man. He had merely preserved the pronunciation which he had learned in his youth. The fact is worthy of remark chiefly as it is an illustration of a certain independence, or rather individuality, of speech which is not uncommon in England. English people do not fear to maintain a little singularity even in their language.

Among the clergymen I observed a general retention of the final ed of the participle, as belov-ed, betray-ed, observ-ed, and the like. To this I had been accustomed, of course, in the reading of the Liturgy and of the Bible; but in England I heard it even in sermons, in the delivery of which American clergymen, according to my observation, always use the contracted form. In other respects the delivery of the clergy of the two countries seemed to me quite alike, making allowance, of course, for merely individual peculiarities on both sides. And when I speak of clergymen in America, I do not mean such men as he who preached the sermon on “ a harp of a thousand strings,” but men like Dr. Dix, Dr. Potter, and Dr. Schenck in the Episcopal church, and Dr. Adams, Dr. Bellows, and Dr. Chapin among the Presbyterians, Unitarians, and Congregationalists. It is, however, true, I believe, that in England more than in the United States clergymen read the service, the Bible, and their sermons not only with a more settled emphasis, but with a perceptible cadence, which in some cases approaches a see-saw inflection, and which has somewhat the effect of a measured chant. I heard this from one old clergyman here in my childhood, — Dr. Milnor, of St. George’s, where I first went to church. I was only six years old when I last saw him in surplice and bands, but I can now hear the regular rise and fall of his silvery voice, the measured inflections of which seemed to my childish ears to have a certain sanctity in them in keeping with the place and with the religious function which he was performing.2 But after that time I never heard it until I went to England, and there not from all clergymen. This style of delivery is a survival of the old style of elocution. The late Hon. Luther Bradish told me that in his boyhood he was at a country house in England, not far from London, and that Mrs. Siddons used to be there often, and would read poetry to the ladies as they sat at needlework in the morning parlor. He spoke with great admiration of the beauty of her voice and the nobility of her expression. I asked him what was the style of her reading, — whether it was free and natural. He replied, “ Not quite. She read with a measured cadence. As I remember it now, there must have been a good deal of sing-song about it; and there was the same in her delivery of long speeches on the stage. But still it was very fine, and from her it seemed to my boyish taste angelic.”

The conversion of final ng into n is remarkably common in England, even by speakers of the highest classes ; far more so, I should say, than it is in America ; certainly much, very much, more so than it is among our best bred people, who indeed are very rarely guilty of this slovenliness. But in England members of Parliament, Fellows of colleges, dukes and dandies, farmers, philologists, say doin’, bein’, seein’, and even line for lying. I heard an absurd little swell (and yet I believe he was at bottom a good fellow) say, “Oh, yeth! But you thee, I bein’ tho vewy fond of ’untin’ and thootin’ I cahnt be thtoppin’ in London in the autumn.” And yet I ’ll be bound that little chap thought great scorn of the American way of speaking English. I observed, by the way, that impediments or rather incapacities, of speech are much commoner in England than they are with us. A lisping man here is a very rare bird ; but in England, especially among the upper classes, he is not uncommon. As an affectation the fashion is not very new. Chaucer’s wanton and merry friar lisped “ to make his Englissch swete upon his tunge.” There is the same comparative commonness there and uncommonness here of men who have trouble with r, and who say, like my little friend, “ vewy.” It was amusing to hear a captain in the Guards talk about his “ wedgment.”

Of pronunciations which were evidently deliberate variations from the standard, I observed, in addition to those which I have already mentioned, knowledge, which I heard only from the lips of educated men, first from a barrister of unusual scholarship and accomplishments ; — oppo-zite, which I heard not infrequently from speakers of all classes, and which I first heard in this country from an English clergyman who was visiting at our house, and who used to produce a pocket Greek Testament at morning prayers and follow in it my father’s reading, somewhat, as I discovered, to his amusement; — tor-togs (tortoise), in which the last syllable was pronounced just like the plural of tog: but this, though not a low-class pronunciation, was uncommon, the general pronunciation of the syllable in question being, not as the dictionaries give it, either Us or tus, but an abbreviation of toise which is quite inexpressible by letters. The half, walk, and talk, in Chester I have already mentioned. Those from whom I heard it, were neither rustic nor uneducated speakers.

One of the most characteristic and striking speeches that I heard was from a young gentleman, an author and the son of an author and editor of some distinction (neither of them is now living), who in the course of talk about Lord Beaconsfield, then Mr. Disraeli, exclaimed, “ Wot’n igstrawnry man ! ” I could make no mistake about it, for he repeated the remark soon after, — Wot ’n igstrawnry man ! ”

Of quite a different sort was the noteworthy pronunciation of a little fellow who officiated as “ buttons ” at a house in Essex where I was visiting, and who said to me, as he came into my room one morning, I’ve took your dress trousis to the tiler’s, sir.” Now if he had taken my hat to the tiler’s, it would not have been very surprising. But in fact, of course, he had taken my trousers to the tailor’s ; and his pronunciation of the title of that functionary was a to me charming survival of the old sound of die word. For English i is ah-ee, and tiler is simply ta-ee-ler (with the a broad), that is, the French tailleur, in which form our modern name for the older sempster came into the language. And by the way, whatever uncertainty there may be about other words of like termination, there is no doubt that this is an English form of the French tailleur; and yet neither Johnson himself, nor the most bigoted of Johnsonian etymological spellers, has insisted upon spelling the word tailour. The Doctor and his followers have remained content with tailor, although, unlike honor and favor, it has no Latin original.

Of words new to me I met with only one. (I of course am leaving out of consideration the dialect and the folk phrases of remote rural districts. And indeed, of that I had little opportunity to hear anything. In the counties in which I took my rural walks I found no dialectic peculiarities worthy of remark, either in vocabulary or in pronunciation.) This word was singlet, which came up to me printed on my first washing bill in Liverpool. I had never seen it before ; but its suggestion of doublet of course instantly showed me that it must mean an under-vest, as it did, —a merino under-shirt. I never heard it spoken or met with it in any other part of England; nor is it in any English dictionary. It is a Lancashire word. And yet of course it is not dialectical, as being Romanic it could not be. It reminded me that in one of Ford’s tragedies a woman passing from one chamber to another in the night speaks of herself as going “ thus singly,” meaning plainly, and as the context shows, not that she went alone, but that she was covered with a single garment.

Of familiar words used in a somewhat peculiar sense I found a few.

Ever is used in composition thus : “ “Whoever is it ? ” Whatever can it be? ” This usage is mostly confined to ladies, and is not regarded as good English.

Tiresome is used for disagreeable. “ Those tiresome Brighton people.”“ Do be quiet: why will you be so tiresome ? ” “ That cross, ill-natured, tiresome woman.”

Mind, as a verb, has its function stretched to an extreme which is sometimes laughable. There is not only “ Would you mind handing me the milkjug ? ” for “ Would you take the trouble,” etc., but “ I don’t mind that,” meaning, don’t find it unpleasant. I heard a lady, a peeress, say to a very swellish fellow who had just taken honors at Oxford, “ A— is a very good fellow, — so pleasant; don’t you think so ? ” “ Ah — yes,” was the slow reply, “ I — don’t — mind him.” This brought to my recollection that in one of Charles Reade’s novels a young swell proposes in this fashion: “ Would yon mind our getting married? I shouldn’t.”

Nasty. This word, of unpleasant suggestions, is used much more commonly in England than it is in the United States. An ill-natured speech is called “a nasty speech,” a stormy day “a nasty day; ” and I even heard an English lady call an awkward step “ a nasty step.” Therefore, when Lady A— said here at dinner, where she sat at her host’s right hand, speaking to her husband, who sat at the hostess’ right hand, and who thought it proper not to touch his soup, “ Do take some, A—: it’s not at all nasty,” she did not mean to be so rude, that is, quite so rude, as she seemed to those who sat with her.

Jug is universally misused for pitcher. I did not hear the latter word once in any part of the country, or from speakers in any class of life, while I was in England, but always the “ water-jug,” “ the milk jug.” The misuse is of very recent origin, and the word itself is comparatively new. According to all evidence of English literature and lexicography, a jug is a coarse vessel with swelling sides, usually made of stone-ware or brown clay, —a thing that never would be brought upon a nicely served table. A pitcher, on the contrary, may be large or small, gracefully shaped, and of porcelain, of china, of crystal, of silver, or of gold. The word jug is unknown to our earlier literature, and is not found in the Bible, although pitcher and bottle occur there frequently ; and pitcher has been known for centuries as the equivalent of ollula, urna, amphora.

Merchant is widely misused. You shall not find a grog seller who does not call himself a spirit merchant, or a man in a little black den of coals who does not call himself a coal merchant. The word is misused in this way among us of late years, but not quite to such an extent. Still, however, there is in England a standard and a tribunal before which such bad usage has no force. I heard of a man who had been in trade, and in a large way ; but his affairs had gone to utter ruin, and left him old, poor, and helpless, lie was respected and personally liked, and there was an effort to get him into an asylum founded for “ decayed merchants.” The trustees, although they had the kindest feeling toward him, and wished to give him help, decided that they could not admit him because he was not a merchant. He had never been engaged in foreign trade,— bad never owned or even chartered a ship.

Tidy is strangely used to mean good of its kind, pretty. The misuse, however, does not, according to my observation, rise above the lower middle class. Among them a tidy girl means a pretty girl, and particularly a girl with a good figure. Indeed, I have often heard tidy applied to a young woman of whose person and clothing tidiness, according to the true meaning of the word, could surely not be predicated; for the untidiness of the lower-class Englishwoman, unless she becomes a chamber-maid or a bar-maid, passes man’s understanding. Tidy is also used for pretty in a metaphorical sense, as thus, by a distinguished novelist. “ The alcohol we consume every day would be a tidy sale for a small public house.”

Do is made a word of all work. Women do their back hair, and do everything that they arrange. “ I have got these flowers to do,” meaning to arrange in a vase. " Tom,” said a lady at luncheon, “would you mind changing seats? I can’t do this beef,” meaning that she could not carve and serve it. On my way from Birmingham to London a lady got out of the carriage at a small station. She was one of the women who take responsibility heavily ; for she faithfully tried to shut the door of the carriage, and after struggling with it a moment she broke out, “ Oh, dear ! you must call some one. I can’t do this door.”

Immediately and directly are strangely used for “ when ” or “ as soon as.” This usage is not regarded as the best, and has not the sanction of the best writers : but in every-day speech it prevails widely, and is even found in the books of writers of repute. The following passages, from the pages of a novelist of distinction, furnish examples of this queer and widely prevalent misapprehension and misapplication. “ Directly he entered the room, Mrs. D—formally introduced him.” “ Immediately N—’s arrival was heard of, Mrs. W—hastened up to town.” “ ‘ Are you ill ? ’ said G— directly she saw him.”

“ Different to ” for “different from ” is in general vogue, except among the most careful speakers. Although it is in almost universal use in England, it is not defensible, and is not English. It is however no novelty. Baker, in his Remarks on the English Language, 1770, justly censures it, as well as “ different than,” which is also in common use. “ Different to ” has however the support of Addison.

Awfully. I cannot say that the misuse of this word in England struck me as peculiar, for it is misused in the same monstrous way here. But there I was amazed by the high quarters in which I heard it maltreated. We all know what awful means in Shakespeare, in the Bible, the Prayer Book, in Addison, and in Macaulay ; but when I heard a Cambridge don, who was engaged in earnest scientific talk with another, say, “ That’s an awfully good experiment,” and when I heard the president of the Philological Society say to a lady who sat next me, in the most matter-of-course, unconscious way, “Oh, yes, she’s an awfully nice girl,” I came to the conclusion that, whatever it may have once meant in the speech of England, awfully means “ very ” in the language of Philistia.

My horror of horrors, however, was the hearing at Oxford — at Oxford of all places, and at the Oxford Union! — a member of the university speak of “ events which are daily transpiring under our very eyes.” After that I gave up observing, or even caring about, the misuse of English in England. What was it to me that they had not escaped the loathsome contamination of which I saw evidence in the sign “ Wine Office and Sample Room ” at 95 Regent Street Quadrant!

I was surprised, indeed, to meet with that disgusting Americanism, of New York origin, in London ; but I was none the less amused at the fastidious shudder with which a lady in a first-class railway carriage said to her daughter, who had declared that something or other was “ not worth a row of pins,” “ My dear, I do wish that you would not use that low American slang.” American slang ! O lady Philistina, how I longed to quote to you the passage from the sad scene in Richard II., in which the queen, apprehensive of her coming woes, says, —

“But stay, here come the gardeners:
Let us step into the shadow of these trees.
My wretchedness unto a row of pins
They ’ll talk of state.”

Indeed, what simile would better fit a woman’s mouth ? This passage, by the way, is of interest as showing that pins were put up in the same way three hundred years ago as now.

I must pass over not a few minor points in regard to the English of England which I hoped to touch upon, and close this chapter of my English experience with a story of a little talk I had with a man on the Surrey side of London bridge. I was passing a hatter’s shop, and seeing the man himself, as I supposed, at the door, and thinking that he looked like the sort of man I should like to talk to, I stopped, and, entering, asked the price of a hat. “ Seven and six, sir, that style. Them, nine shillin. But if you ’d like to ’ave sumthink werry helegant, ’ere’s our tiptop harticle at. ten and six.” I thought it right to tell him at once that I did not intend buying, but that I was attracted by his hats and wished to know the price. He was perfectly civil and good-natured, as I always found London shopmen, whether l bought or not; nor did I ever encounter among them either servility or browbeating. He answered, with a rueful little h’m and smile, “ Hi thought so. Hi see your ’at was too new for you to want a bother. Would you be so good as to let me look hat it, sir ?” I handed it to him. “ H’m ! Lincoln and Bennett! Hi thought so. Hall you swell gents goes to them, ’cos they 've got a big name, an’ so they gits big prices. But there ’s bother people knows ’ow to make a ’at as well as Lincoln and Bennett. Look a’ that ’un,” handing me one of our tiptop harticles. Then, with a burst of enthusiasm, “ Would you be so good as to put on that ’at, sir?” I complied. “ There ! Hi do think that sets you hoff, helegaut. Hanythink nobbier Hi never see.” As the hat was decidedly too small for me, to say nothing more, I did not agree with him, and set it down in silence. “ That ’at sir, ’s a harticle Hi’m proud of, an’ I ’ll set it agen hanythink that hever come hout of Lincoln and Bennett’s shop.” “ I beg pardon,” I said, " but you call at an article; I thought it was a preposition.” The temptation was irresistible, but I did not know what might come of my yielding to it, and I prepared for a quick retreat. But I was safe in the density of his mental faculties. “ Proposition, sir?” said he after a moment. “ I ’ave n’t ’eard hany; but I shall be ’appy to ’ave one.” To tell the truth, I felt a little ashamed of myself. The man’s ignorance was not his fault. Putting my own preposition on my head, I bade him good-day ; and as I turned the corner — it was the next one — I saw him looking after me with the bewildered air of one vainly struggling at apprehension.

Richard Grant White.

  1. I cannot refrain from saying that I never passed such a censure upon any Englishman’s speech before his face. Apart from general considerations, it would have ill become one who had met only with kindness and consideration there, from strangers as well as from friends, from high and low alike. I have, however, known of such personal criticisms having been made by those who perhaps were suffering under provocation which I did not receive.
  2. This venerable and most estimable clergyman always read prayers and preached in black silk gloves, as indeed my own grandfather did; for it was the fashion then among clergymen of the Episcopal church who were at all particular about clerical costume. The forefinger and thumb of the right-hand glove were slit open to enable the wearer to turn the leaves of Prayer Book and Bible. A fine line-engraved portrait of Dr. Milnor in the pulpit, and thus decorated, hung in our parlor at home, and is still in my possession.