The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.
Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of Baltimore. In 1902, Mencken remarked on the "queer words which go into the making of 'United States.'" The book was preceded by several columns in The Evening Sun. Mencken eventually asked "Why doesn't some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language... English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land?" It would appear that he answered his own question.
In the tradition of Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary, Mencken wanted to defend "Americanisms" against a steady stream of English critics, who usually isolated Americanisms as borderline barbarous perversions of the mother tongue. Mencken assaulted the prescriptive grammar of these critics and American "schoolmarms", arguing, like Samuel Johnson in the preface to his dictionary, that language evolves independently of textbooks.
The book discusses the beginnings of "American" variations from "English", the spread of these variations, American names and slang over the course of its 374 pages. According to Mencken, American English was more colorful, vivid, and creative than its British counterpart.
About H.L. Mencken
Henry L. Mencken was born in Baltimore in 1880 and died there in 1956. He began his long career as a journalist, critic, and philologist on the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899. In 1906 he joined the staff of the Baltimore Sun, thus beginning an association which lasted until a few years before his death. He was co-editor of the Smart Set with George Jean Nathan from 1908 to 1923, and with Nathan he founded The American Mercury, of which he was sole editor from 1925 to 1933. He was the author of many books, most notably The American Language, Prejudices, Happy Days, Newspaper Days, Heathen Days, and Minority Report.
Charles A. Fecher was born in Baltimore in 1917 and lives there still. He is the author of The Philosophy of Jacques Maritain and Mencken: A Study of His Thought. He has written articles and reviews for a large number of publications, including The Critic, The Catholic World, The Sign, and the Baltimore Sun.