In his preface to the Vocabulary, Mr. Pickering says, – "I began the practice of occasionally noting Americanisms and expressions of doubtful authority, for my own use, during my residence in London ; which was from the close of the year 1799 to the autumn of 1801.” At the beginning of this period, he was twenty-three years old, and had already gained the well deserved reputation of a distinguished classical scholar. It was not until several years after his return from London, that he formed the plan of his Vocabulary. But the materials which he had preserved, bis extensive reading, and his habits of observation, together with bis critical accuracy and literary ardor, lead us to believe that his Vocabulary is as comprehensive, in respect to the words and phrases then supposed to be peculiar to the United States, as could be expected in a first attempt to collect them. The work was very useful, not only by enabling our writers and public speakers to correct errors of language already existing, but by exciting such attention to the subject as to prevent the accumulation of local peculiarities. These effects were very manifest. At the same time, it was gratifying to find, that the charges made against us, in regard to our abuses of the English language, were greatly exaggerated.

A period of one generation has passed since this Vocabulary was published, and we have now carefully examined it. The examination has led to some facts relating to the history of the English language during this period, which appear to us worthy of being recorded.

The whole number of new words, single and compounded, of American origin, contained in the Vocabulary, is about eighty ; certainly less than a hundred, including the cant and vulgar words, not used by good writers in grave discourse. Of these, a few are words contained in English dictionaries, but not used by British writers. Several are such as had been used by a single American writer ; namely, alienism, Americanize, anxietude, &c., which have not been adopted. Joel Barlow was probably the greatest offender of this kind. Another considerable portion consists of words analogically formed, which do not endanger the purity of language, and may be used or avoided according to the taste of the writer or speaker. Of this class are accountability, christianization, constitutional, noticeable, profanity, educational. Our political and religious institutions, and peculiar local customs

[ocr errors]

and usages, have given rise to a considerable number of such words. Of the remaining supposed new words, being, for the most part, old words revived, or verbs made from nouns without any change of form, - a process admitting, indeed, an indefinite addition to the English vocabulary, - the number censured as Americanisms is not large. The most remarkable fact concerning Mr. Pickering's Vocabulary is, that the very Americanisms which were most ridiculed, loathed, and scorned by British critics, at the time of its publication, and for several preceding years, have, with few exceptions, been adopted by them, and been fairly incorporated into the English language ; and this, too, after they had been so stigmatized and branded by these critics as vile intruders, that we, from very shame, had shunned them as unworthy of admission into good company:

The following verbs, for example, particularly those in Italics, would not have been viewed by à British critic five-and-thirty years ago, without a sneer : advocate, base and bottom (in the sense of found, as based or bottomed upon solid principles”), debark, derange, immigrate, progress, test. In the English Monthly Review, about that time, the following sentence is cited from “A Political Sketch of America,” intended to ridicule the style of our writers : — "Were it not for my destitution of leisure, which obliges me to hasten to the occlusion of these pages, as I progress, I should bottom my assertion on instances from authors of the first grade ; but were 1 to render my sketch lengthy, I should illy answer my purpose.” By such a foolish juxtaposition of words it is easy to ridicule the style of any author. of the seven words censured in this paltry attempt to be witty, only two deserve condemnation when properly associated with other words. Destitution is not a bad word, and it may as lawsully be used now as it was long since by Hooker and Taylor. We should prefer the Saxon want in most cases. Destitution, however, has a more restricted meaning, as it implies personal, absolute poverty. To time, or leisure, which is common to all persons, it is not properly applicable. Occlusion, which is a mere dictionary word, was retained by Johnson without being illustrated by any examples of its use.

We know not of any American authority for its use, except that of Thomas Jefferson, who, in the year 1802, spoke of “the occlusion of the port of New Orleans by the Spaniards.” We doubt whether any other respecta

16 *

ble writer in the United States used it afterwards without a sneer, from which the wisdom and dignity of the author could not secure him. Progress and bottom as verbs, grade, and lengthy, have gained full admission into the English vocabulary. Illy, the use of which is not unexampled in England, and was formerly common in the United States, is now universally discarded by good writers.

New words have been introduced more sparingly by American than by English writers and public speakers. While we are able to vindicate ourselves against the charge of corrupting the language to any considerable extent in this particular, we must plead guilty to the charge of perverting the true sense of several words, and of departing, in some instances, from established English idioms. But in these respects we have not proved incorrigible, and the charge can no longer be sustained against our best writers and public speakers, to an alarming degree. More parliamentary corruptions of speech, of recent origin, can be traced to British statesmen than to those of our country; such, for instance, as reliable, industrial, feature-as applied to the several details of a bill. And, in general, the well educated men of England have multiplied words borrowed from foreign terms, or regularly formed from radical words in their own language, to a much greater extent than men of the same class in the United States.*

* Our readers may like to have a sample of the neologisms recently introduced into our language by writers of good authority, or in periodical works of high repute, in England. Opening Mr. Worcester's dictionary at random, and turning over but few pages, we have found the following words which are given with the authorities annexed. Not one of them is to be found in Todd's edition of Johnson.

Guardianize, Quarterly Review; gullible, W. Scott; gustatory, Edinburgh Review; gutturality. Seward; gyral, Ed. Review; hagiocracy, Eclectic Review; hagiology, Chas. Butler; half-hearted, Southey; hallucinatory, Ed. Review; hang, [a steep declivity.] Loudon; harassment, Ec. Review; hardish. Scott; harlequinade, Ed. Review; heathendom, Ed. Review; heathery, Quar. Review; Hellenization, Athenæum; hemorrhagic, Monthly Review; heptarch, J. M. Good; heraldical, Gent. Magazine; heraldically, Quar Review; herder, [herdsman,] Monthly Review; hereditability, Sir E. Brydges; hero-errant, Quar. Review; heroicalness, Scott; heroicness, Montague; hesitative, Smart; hierocracy, Southey; hierolatry, Coleridge; Hispanicism, Ed. Review; honorific, For Quar. Review; horizontality, Philosophical Journal; horrify. Eclectic Review; dietist, Quar. Review; dilative, Coleridge; diplomate, West. Review.

The list might be indefinitely extended; but we have given enough to account for the tender anxiety with which our critical brethren across the water watch over the purity of the English language.

Still, we are willing to acknowledge all the faults that are proved against us, and all that can be detected of which we are not aware. We would much rather correct than defend what is wrong.

If we are in the habit of saying, we admire to do or have a thing, or go to a place; that we calculate to perform an act; that our neighbour conducts ill; if a clerk notifies persons to meet, instead of notifying a meeting to the persons; if the members of a school-committee, in a thinly peopled village, fix upon a spot for a school-house that will best convene the inhabitants; all we can say is, let us break off such habits of speaking, and use words in their true meaning. Faults like these are for the most part confined to the illiterate, or indulged in by those who, though better informed, adapt themselves, in their colloquial phraseology, to the people with whom they associate on terms of equality.

So far as we can judge of the present state of the English language in the United States, we can see no reason why a man of liberal education and competent abilities, who has applied himself diligently to the critical study of the English language, and is furnished with the proper helps for his work, may not challenge the confidence of the reading public by as fair a title as if he were born and educated in England. There is a common literature in the two countries. We can command all the standard works of English authors in the arts, sciences, and polite literature, and are able to appreciate, according to their value, all their philological labors.

Mr. Worcester's Universal Dictionary demands respectful examination, on account of his previous valuable labors in lexicography, and of its importance as a work more comprehensive in its vocabulary than any preceding English dictionary. And here it is due to the author, and to the public, that we should state, in a few words, the advantages under which he has prepared this elaborate work.

It is now about twenty years since his services were procured, on account of his well known diligence, fidelity, and exactness in literary labors, as the editor of a dictionary entitled “ Johnson's English Dictionary, as improved by Todd and abridged by Chalmers; with Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary combined ; to which is added Walker's Key to the Classical Pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture Proper Names.” The plan of this compilation was fixed before the work was begun. The dictionary was published in the year 1828.


Several slender attempts had been made, by different authors, to supply the deficiencies of Johnson's vocabulary, before the publication of Todd's first edition (1814), which contains above fourteen thousand words more than are found in Johnson's abridgment. From this edition of Todd the abridgment of Chalmers was made. But the second edition of Todd (February, 1827) was received here in season for the insertion of the additional words it contained — amounting to about a thousand — in Mr. Worcester's Appendix. This great increase of words, formed, at the time of Todd's labors, a far more extensive English vocabulary than any that had preceded it. Sull, it does not appear that the author prided himself so much upon the number of words he added, as upon the sources from which he derived them. He cited nearly eight hundred authors as authorities for the various words with which bis dictionary was enriched, and thus showed an extent of reading and research greatly to his praise. “I might have omitted,” he says, “some citations

" from modern writers. But the canons yet remain to be promulged, by which the extremes of opposite tastes are to be settled. The precise time at which antiquity is to be regarded as a rule is not yet determined. The standard one inclines to remove to the distance of a century and a half ; another may, with as good reason, fix it three centuries backwards; and another six.'In Mr. Todd's long catalogue of authorities, we trace a succession from Chaucer down to the contemporaries of the lexicographer. Much, however, he thought remained to be accomplished, not only in regard to the vocabulary, but in the selection of examples, in etymology, in definition, and in orthography, in order to make "a beautiful whole, a standard of pure and exact phraseology"; a work requiring, in his opinion, a division of labor among industrious and learned men.

Mr. Worcester inserted the words from Walker's dictionary which were not contained in Chalmers; and when he perceived defects in Chalmers, which it was important to supply, in respect to etymology, definitions, or critical remarks, he inserted from Johnson or Todd the necessary additional matter.

The most laborious and responsible of the editor's work was that of applying Walker's principles of pronunciation to the fifteen thousand words in Todd's dictionary, which are not found in Walker's. After acquaint



« VorigeDoorgaan »