H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
that he coined it. Many new verbs were made by the simple process of prefixing the preposition to common nouns, e. g., to clerk, to dicker, to dump, to negative, to blow (i. e., to bluster or boast), to cord (i. e., wood), to stump, to room and to shin. Others were produced by phonological changes in verbs of the orthodox vocabulary, e. g., to cavort from to curvet, and to snoop from to snook. Others arose as metaphors, e. g., to whitewash (figuratively) and to squat (on unoccupied land). Others were made by hitching suffixes to nouns, or by groping for roots, e. g., to deputize, to locate, to legislate, to infract, to compromit and to happify. Yet others seem to have been produced by onomatopia, e. g., to fizzle, or to have arisen by some other such spontaneous process, so far unintelligible, e. g., to tote. With them came an endless series of verb-phrases, e. g., to draw a bead, to face the music, to darken ones doors, to take to the woods, to fly off the handle, to go on the war-path and to saw woodall obvious products of pioneer life. Many coinages of the pre-Revolutionary era later disappeared. Jefferson used to ambition, but it dropped out nevertheless. So did conflagrative, though a president of Yale gave it his imprimatur. So did to compromit (i. e., to compromise), to homologize and to happify.28 Fierce battles raged round some of these words, and they were all violently derided in England. Even so useful a verb as to locate, now in quite respectable usage, was denounced in the third volume of the North American Review, and other purists of the times tried to put down to legislate.
The young and tender adjectives had quite as hard a row to hoe, particularly lengthy. The British Critic attacked it in November, 1793, and it also had enemies at home, but John Adams had used it in his diary in 1759 and the authority of Jefferson and Hamilton was behind it, and so it survived. Years later James Russell Lowell spoke of it as the excellent adjective,29 and boasted that American had given it to English. Dutiable also met with opposition, and moreover it had a rival, customable; but Marshall wrote it into his historic decisions, and thus it took root. The same
Note 28. Thorntons last example of the use of to compromit is dated 1842; of to happify, 1857, and of to ambition, 1861. To happify seems to have died in 1811. [back]
Note 29. Pref. to the Biglow Papers, 2nd series, 1866. [back]