H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
the Americans use it. Along the east coast of South America the everyday speech of the people is full of Americanisms, and they enter very largely into the fashionable slang of the upper classes. Cocktail, dinner-dance, one-step, fox-trot, sweater, kimono, high-ball, ginger-ale and sundae are in constant use, and most of them are pronounced correctly, though sundae is transformed into soondÿ;e. Bombo (=boom) is used by all the politicians, and so are plataforma (=platform), mitin (=meeting), alarmista, big-stick, damphool and various forms of to bluff. The American auto has been naturalized, and so has ice-cream, but in the form of milkcream, pronounced milclee by the lower orders. The boss of a train down there is the conductor del tren; a commuter is a commutador; switch is used both in its American railroad sense and to indicate the electrical device; slip, dock and wharf (the last pronounced guÿ;fay) are in daily use; so is socket (electrical), though it is pronounced sokÿ;ytay; so are poker and many of the terms appertaining to the game. The South Americans use just in the American way, as in justamente a (or en) tiempo (=just in time). They are very fond of good-bye and go to hell. They have translated the verb phrase, to water stocks, into aguar las acciones. The American white elephant has become el elefanto blanco. In Cuba the watermelonpatilla or sandía, in Spanishis the mélon-de-agua. Just as FrenchCanadian has borrowed Americanisms that are loan-words from other immigrant tongues, e. g., bum and loafer from the German, so some of the South American dialects have borrowed rapidas (=rapids), and kimono, the first brought into American from the French and the second from the Japanese.19
Yiddish, even more than American, is a lady of easy virtue among the languages. Basically, a medieval High German, it has become so overladen with Hebrew, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian and even
Note 19. For most of these observations I am indebted to Dr. A. Z. López-Penha, the distinguished Colombian poet and critic. [back]