Americanisms, 1823

Tue Aug 29 23:29:07 UTC 2000

        In 1823, the New-York Gazette and General Advertiser copied  "A
Provincial Dictionary for the convenience of Emigrants" from the
Mississippi Intelligencer.  This glossary was reprinted in American
Dialect Notes. vol. 4, pp. 46-48, as taken from the National
Intelligencer of May 1, 1823.  It is in two sections: Western Dialect
(31 words, many merely variant pronunciations, like barr, crap and
drap, for bear, crop and drop, but also fanent, opposite; pater, to
amble along; carry, to lead a quadruped; and coppen, the enclosure
within which milch-cows are kept) and Yankee Dialect (19 words,
including spatter, a comparative word, "as thick as spatter".)

        A week later, the NYGGA printed an very interesting letter signed
"Philologus" in response to this glossary.  He cites 11 of the words,
with the definitions, and indicates that all are to be found in
either Bailey's or Johnson's dictionaries.  In short, they are not
Americanisms, but English provincialisms.  He further observes
"'Fanent, opposite' . . . is used . . . only by emigrants from the
North of Ireland."  This agrees with the note in DARE (under
fornent).  Suspecting that this glossary had been compiled by one of
those tiresome Englishmen who come over here hunting for instances of
American barbarity to send to the folks back home and confirm them in
their prejudices, Philologus gives a list of words "made use of in
[England], which are probably little known here.  These I extract
from the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in London for the
benefit of his majesty's subjects in general."  He chooses 28 words,
including fubsey, plump, (which Greg Downing, at least, will remember
as part of Stephen Dedalus's vocabulary) gob, the mouth, and glum,
sullen.  Presumably the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is not the
original mid-18th century edition by Francis Grose, but is Pierce
Egan's version of 1823; if so, Philologus had obtained a copy very
promptly.  If other copies were available in the U. S., then the
authenticity, as a demonstration of American familiarity with English
slang, of the essay from the mid 1820s in corinthian slang I've
posted here some time back, would be questionable.

        The "Provincial Dictionary" was in the New-York Gazette and General
Advertiser, May 10, 1823; the letter from Philologus was in NYGGA,
May 16, 1823, p. 2, cols. 2-3.


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