Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Two countries separated by a boorish candidate

H. L. Mencken was certainly no Anglophile. So it's no coincidence that he disliked the puritainism they bequeathed to America, which ranked high on the list of “uplift” or “improvement” schemes he so thoroughly despised. And so it is with his magnum opus The American Language, in which the Sage of Baltimore celebrates the robust and evergreen American English against its British counterpart, captive of the dead hand of tradition, prescriptive grammarians, and schoolmarmism.

The first several chapters document with some glee the alarm (or alarum) with which most British and some American eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars and philologists viewed the steadily-lengthening list of differences in vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and idiom between the King's English and whatever-it-was being spoken those uppity former colonists. This item by Adam Seybert in the Edinburgh Review of 1820 captures much of the attitude in the UK of its time:
In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? or what old ones have they analyzed? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? What have they done in mathematics? Who drinks out of American glasses? or eats from American plates? or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets? Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave, whom his fellow-creatures may buy, and sell and torture.
Well, as far as the institution of slavery was concerned, lord knows we had that one coming.

But as I read that passage a couple of days ago, amused by its condescension, its political and cultural chauvinism, its smug historical cluelessness, I still found myself thinking: Why does this feel so familiar? Where have I heard this before?

Then I remembered:
England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions.

Excerpt from Mitt Romney, No Apology:
The Case for American Greatness” (2010)

Oh, yes. That's where. Now our cousins across the ocean know how it feels to be dissed (Americanism, absorbed from hip-hop in the 1980s) by a foreign nitwit (Americanism, absorbed from German in the 1920s).

Hey, Great Britain: Payback's a bitch, isn't it? (Pretty sure that's an Americanism too.)


Yastreblyansky said...

Don't be ridiculous--Romney was merely confused because England's trees are too big.

Nothstine said...

Heh. Of course, Mencken's objection was etymological, while yours is dendrological.

Still, any argument that hinges on Romney being confused has to be given some credence.