Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The American Language” as Want to Read:
Blank 133x176
The American Language
H.L. Mencken
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The American Language

4.20  ·  Rating Details  ·  322 Ratings  ·  29 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The American Language, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The American Language

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,454)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 25, 2013 Curtis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in language
Shelves: nonfiction, language
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 i
Sep 15, 2008 dana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other
Fourth Edition corrected, enlarged, and rewritten.

Massive study of American--English with the overlay of new words, pronunciations, spellings, and usages, in the chaotic wild of the New World. Mencken's classic is so old (the shock hits when you realize that the 60s he is referring to are the 1860s!) that the world was still relatively much newer then, so much of what Mencken writes seems archaic now.

It is interesting to read many of the same arguments that we consider modern in Mencken's classi
Abhishek Chatterjee
An interesting "philological" (Mencken's word of choice, but I suppose "linguistic" would be more apposite today) study of American English. This work reveals just as much through Mencken's actual scholarship, which was considerable, as it does through the datedness of the work (which was written in 1919). For instance, Mencken remarks that the tendency to add an s after words ending in -ward (forward/forwards, toward/towards, etc.) is an American development, but it's clear to anyone who cares ...more
Feb 13, 2011 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nose in a book (Kate)
This is a difficult book to categorise. It’s part reference book, part textbook, part history, part sociology. Mencken combines his own knowledge of etymology and philology with a huge array of sources in order to cover the rather large question of how the American language evolved into its then-current state.

He begins by comparing British English (which he calls plain “English” throughout) and American English (which he calls “American”) in terms of words and phrases. What I liked was that he s
William Schram
A fascinating study of the history and spread of Americanisms and American influenced English. Initially, many native English people were quite against the so-called vulgarisms of early Americans, but after a time, they came into wide acceptance and use even by purists. Mostly this happened after "talkies" came over to England.

It includes a study of regional dialects and other things as well. A wonderful scholarly work.

Anyone interested in language should read this. The only real issue with it i
East Bay 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
Nov 15, 2011 Bob rated it liked it  ·  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
Aug 21, 2014 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Elise R
It was definitely dense, but I'm glad I read it! It's a really interesting look into Americanisms and both their promotion and the struggle against them. It's of course outdated and I found myself disagreeing with some of what Mencken says, but overall very interesting. I'd recommend this for anyone interested in language.
Dec 20, 2010 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Apr 29, 2014 Austin Gisriel rated it really liked it
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
May 16, 2008 Leonard Pierce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
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.
Jun 23, 2009 Orin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, language
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  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.
Sep 27, 2008 J. D. rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2012 Mark Singer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hlmencken, english
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
Dec 19, 2009 Spencer Morris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 07, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Jan 07, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Indispensable, and like everything Mencken, hugely entertaining.

They don't make auto-didacts like HLM these days.
Jan 22, 2011 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2009 Pats rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
isn't obvious?

the best section is cant and argot.
Joshua Nuckols
Apr 02, 2014 Joshua Nuckols rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wordsmithing
A lot of interesting stuff about words.
Mar 02, 2014 Naftoli rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics, 2013
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 48 49 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Selected Essays
  • The Contours of American History
  • Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War
  • An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy Vol. 1
  • The Taming Of Chance (Ideas in Context)
  • The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vols 1-2
  • A Preface to Morals
  • The Promise of American Life
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society
  • The Strange Death of Liberal England
  • The Proper Study of Mankind
  • Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
  • The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
  • Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910
  • Melbourne
  • Samuel Johnson
  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution
  • The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community
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 about H.L. Mencken...

Share This Book