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The American Language
 
by
H.L. Mencken
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The American Language

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  232 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956), was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, and acerbic critic of American life and culture. Mencken, known as the "Sage of Baltimore", is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the 20th century. He became a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899, then...more
Paperback, Abridged, 777 pages
Published March 12th 1977 by Knopf (first published 1919)
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Nicholas Pell
This is the only history of the American language I've ever read and I can't imagine that there's a better one.

You either like Mencken or you don't, but one thing no one fact is beyond disagreement: Mencken was arguably the most well-read man of his era, if not all time. It's fitting that a man with no more than an 8th grade formal education compiled what this epic tome on the history of the American language.

And it is the AMERICAN language, the well-worn quip about "two people divided by a co...more
Curtis
Aug 25, 2013 Curtis rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in language
Shelves: language, nonfiction
I've wanted to read this for awhile, and eventually decided to pick it up during my recent Dresden Files sprint, to cleanse the palate between Harry Dresden's various lengthy and often amusing beat-downs. It took me awhile to finish, but honestly not as long as I thought it would, which is perhaps a testament to Mencken's ability to compellingly weave a tale about something as simultaneously ordinary and urbane as the everyday language in which we speak.

The main body of the book can be split in...more
dana
No, not a dry read at all! Despite the 1930's publication, it's fascinating to read the opinions of the transformation of the English language on American soil...and its effects on the global populate via 2008. I loved the original derivation of words, especially growing up "Pennsylvania Dutch". The best part was sounding out the words with their regional dialect.

Did you know that "yes, siree!" came from the Irish CCD "Yes, certainly"?

I read this after hearing David Milch describe the writing on...more
Matthieutc
This book was an eye-opener for me. It was fascinating to read about the evolution of the English language from the Revolutionary War to the 1930s. The author is old-school witty and clearly cares a lot about communication and language.

Since reading this book, I've been trying to add some words to my vocabulary. Words like exluncticate, absquatulate, go-ahead-ativeness...

This is a fun book.
J
Mencken’s The American Language is a fascinating look at the ever changing nature of language. His premise is that the English spoken by the English differs significantly enough from that spoken by United States residents and that they are, in fact, two very different languages spoken by two very different cultures.

This book's 1921 publication date underlines the changing nature of language. Many, many words given as examples here are no longer used in this country 90 years after the publication...more
Bob
Nov 15, 2011 Bob rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bob by: Herb Sloan
Shelves: classics
I'm treating this like one of those books of quotations you receive for Christmas -- read a little dab here and another there -- really what other way could you read it? What makes it fascinating is that his analysis was done about 75 years ago, so the language has changed a great deal since then -- often in the directions he predicts, but frequently not.
This is the 4th ed. (1936): it originally appeared just after the war and was revised in 1921 and again in 1923. In 1945 he published a "sup...more
Don
I can't imagine a more thorough study of English as we Americans speak it, but it is sadly very out of date (1919). I'd like to see a much more recent study. He compares American and British English very well, however. And, except for its outdatedness, is very interesting.
Mike
If you are interested in linguistics or etymology then this book and its sequels are must reads. The author of this 700 page book is amazing (Supplement 1 is also 700 pages). However, I could not get past page 253. I looked for this book because Richard Rodriguez, the author, thought that this was a great history book and it is. I even bought it together with Supplement 1. However it is really slow, too slow. Sort of like reading logarithmic tables. But it will stay in my library just in case.
Eric Chevlen
I had thought that Mencken was simply a humorous curmudgeon, but this book reveals that he was in fact a scholar with the heart of a lexicographer. Ultimately, however, the book could not hold my interest beyond about a third of it. It began to read like a laundry list of differences between the English and American languages. I could recommend this book for dilatory browsing, but not for a cover-to-cover page-turner.
Dayla
I really enjoyed reading H.L. Mencken. I might not agree with what he has to say, but I recognize that he was a man of his time. However, Mencken did say things in such an interesting way. I am about to launch into Mencken's book "In Defense of Women." As his misogynistic chatter would indicate, he probably isn't going to be in support of feminist goals. But, he will say it in such an interesting way.
Austin Gisriel
A fascinating study of the English and American languages. Mencken's philosophy of language and its teaching was quite eye-opening, especially for a former English teacher, but this is NOT for the faint of heart. You must have a real interest in the structure of language to even attempt this. It's a textbook, really; one that feels as if I began reading in 1978.
Leonard Pierce
This is simply an essential book for anyone who wants to know how and why the American version of English developed the way it did. Mencken did a tremendous amount of scholarship here, but he doesn't lose his irascible sense of humor and cynicism. Note to "Deadwood" fans: the creators relied heavily on this work when crafting their characters' speech patterns.
Orin
A rollicking romp through the business of the English language. I admit that I skimmed through the chapters on speech and proper names out of sheer laziness on my part. The last chapter should be read by all. There are many excellent observations: "rubberneck is almost a complete treatise on American psychology" (p. 92). Footnote 2 on page 559.
Bryan (Beej) Jones
I expected much more out of this book than what I got. While regretfully I am not a student of other languages, I nonetheless have a deep appreciation for the nuances of the English langauge and its byproduct - the American lanaguage. Mencken research is exemplary, but, in the end, the book read too much like a dictionary.
Katie Knight
So far this is great, though I can't take a lot in one sitting. But if you want to hear how snippy Brits got over American usage (esp. Charles Dickens when it comes to the word "fix"), by all means take a look.
Ke Huang
This book may not be strictly academic, but it lists numerous facts of the American English. This book also may seem dated, but it was still interesting to read it as to understand the language of the 1930s.
J. D.
A classic treatment by a classic author. This book will reward repeated visits by anyone interested in the development and history of English, especially as use in the U.S.
Mark Singer
The autodidact Mencken wrote this well-researched and idiosyncratic account on how the American English language evolved separately from its roots in Britain.
Spencer Morris
I don't know if I've read anything with a clearer understanding of the language of the U.S. as informative and enjoyable to read.
David
Aug 07, 2009 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Teaching Co taped lecture series on English
Shelves: read-lang-lit
A great book and fun read. Cranky opinions appear at random in between long passages with fascinating scholarship.
David
Indispensable, and like everything Mencken, hugely entertaining.

They don't make auto-didacts like HLM these days.
Scott
It's hard not to give 5 stars to this book, which I can't believe I haven't read until now.
Heather Moore
So far, interesting. He is actually defending our language. historical
Pats
isn't obvious?

the best section is cant and argot.
Joshua Nuckols
A lot of interesting stuff about words.
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7805
Henry Louis "H.L." Mencken became one of the most influential and prolific journalists in America in the 1920s and '30s, writing about all the shams and con artists in the world. He attacked chiropractors and the Ku Klux Klan, politicians and other journalists. Most of all, he attacked Puritan morality. He called Puritanism, "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."
At the height o...more
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