H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
very careful to write would not instead of wouldnt and even am not instead of aint, offers a comprehensive and highly instructive panorama of popular speech habits. To him the forms of the subjunctive mood have no existence, and will and shall are identical, and adjectives and adverbs are indistinguishable, and the objective case is merely a variorum form of the nominative. His past tense is, more often than not, the orthodox present tense. All fine distinctions are obliterated in his speech. He uses invariably the word that is simplest, the grammatical form that is handiest. And so he moves toward the philological millennium dreamed of by George T. Lanigan, when the singular verb shall lie down with the plural noun, and a little conjunction shall lead them.
Lardner, as I say, is a very accurate observer. More, despite the grotesqueness of the fables that he uses as skeletons for his reports, he is a man of sound philological knowledge, and approaches his business quite seriously. As yet the academic critics have failed to discover him, but soon or late such things as The Bushers Honeymoon are bound to find a secure place in the new literature of the United States. His influence, indeed, is already considerable, and one sees it plainly in such things as Sinclair Lewis Main Street.22 Much of the dialogue in Main Street is in vulgar American, and Mr. Lewis reports it very accurately. Other writers of fiction turn to the same gorgeous and glowing speech, among them Caroline Lockhart.23 It even penetrates to more or less serious writing. For example, in a recent treatise on angling by an eminent American authority I find such sentences as You gotta give him credit for being on the job and For an accommodating cuss we gotta tip the kelly to the wall-eyed pike.24 Finally, there are the experiments in verse by John V. A. Weaver25still a bit uncertain, but perhaps showing the way to a new American poetry tomorrow.