Category Archives: Vocabulary

Item of the Day: A Grammatial Institute of the English Language (1796)

Full Title: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Comprising an Easy, Concise and Systematic Method of Education. Designed for the Use of English Schools in America. In Three Parts. Part Second: Containing a Plain and Comprehensive Grammar, Grounded on the true Principles and Idioms of the Language. By Noah Webster, Jun. Esquire . . . Albany: Printed by Charles R. & George Webster, and sold at their Bookstore, in the Whites House, corner of State and Pearl-Streets, 1796.

APPENDIX.

VERB.

We say, what ails him? but seldom he ails a fever, or other disease.

Owing and wanting are used in a passive sense. What is wanting? A debt is owing to me, are established phrases.

We say a man is well read in law, he was offered so much for a thing, where the subject and object seem to have changed places; for the meaning is, law is well read, so much was offered, &c. This inversion may be allowed, where it is not attended with obscurity.

On the use of auxiliary verbs, Dr. Priestly, has this criticism. “By studying conciseness, we are apt to drop the auxiliary, to have, though the sense relate to past time. I found him better than I expected to find him. In this case analogy seems to require that we say, I expected to have found him: that is, to have found him there.” This is a great error, and for the reason which he immediately assigns, that is, “the time past is sufficiently indicated by the former part of the sentence.” The truth is, the time is ascertained by the first verb, I expected, which carries the mind back to the time; then to use another verb in the past, is to carry the mind back to a time preceding the existence of my expectations. He gives an example from Hume, which he says is certainly faulty. “These prosecutions of William seem to be the most iniquitous,” &c. It is faulty, not because both verbs are not in time past, but because neither of them is past time; seem to have been, or seemed to be, would not have been correct; but seemed to have been, would not have been grammatical. His remarks on this point seem to have been made with less accuracy of judgment, than we observe in most of his writing. . . .

The use of mistaken is equally singular. When applied to persons it is synonimous [sic] with wrong or erroneous. This is almost, or quite universally understood to be its meaning; and this common understanding constitutes its true signification, which no man has a right to dispute or attempt to change. But when applied to things, it is always used in a passive sense, equivalent to misunderstood. I am mistaken, you are mistaken, mean, I am wrong, you are wrong; but the nature of a thing is mistaken, means its nature is misunderstood. . . .

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1790's, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States, Vocabulary

Word of the Week: Critick

From BAILEY:

A CRI’TICK [critique, F. critice, It. and Sp. criticus, L. of χριτιχος, Gr.] one skilled in criticism, a profound scholar, a nice censurer.

From JOHNSON:

CRI’TICK. n. s. [χριτιχος]

1. A man skilled in the art of judging of literature; a man able to distinguish the faults and beauties of writing.

This settles truer ideas in men’s minds of several things, wherof we read the names in ancient authors, than all the large and laborious arguments of criticks.             Locke.

Now learn what morals ciriticks ought to show,/ For ’tis but half a judge’s talk to show.            Pope. 

2. An examiner; a judge.

But you with pleasure own your errours past,/ and make each day a critick on the last.            Pope.

3. A snarler; a carper; a caviller.

Criticks I saw, that other names deface,/ And fix their own with labour in their place.                 Pope.

Where an author has many beauties consistent with virtue, piety, and truth, let not little criticks exalt themselves, and shower down their ill nature.                   Watts.   

4. A censurer; a man apt to find fault.

My chief design, next to seeing you is to be a severe critick on you and your neighbor.              Swift.

From WEBSTER:

CRIT’IC, n. [Gr. χριτιχος, from χριτης, a judge or discerner, from the root of χρινω, to judge, to separate, to distinguish.  See Crime.]

1. A person skilled in judging of the merit of literary works; one who is able to discern and distinguish the beauties and faults of writing.  In a more general sense, a person skilled in judging with propriety any combination of objects, or of any work of art; and particularly of what are denominated the Fine Arts.  A critic is one who, from experience, knowledge, habit or taste, can perceive the difference between propriety and impropriety, in objects or works presented to his view; between the natural and the unnatural; the high and the low, or lofty and mean; the congrous and incongruous; the correct and incorrect, according to the established rules of the art. 

2. An examiner; a judge.

And make each day a critic on the last.          Pope.

3. One who judges with severity; one who censures or finds fault.

                                                         Pope.    Watts.    Swift.

Full Titles: 

Dictionarium Britannicum: or a more compleat universal etymological English dictionary than any extant. By Nathan Bailey. Second Edition. London, T. Cox, 1736.

A Dictionary of the English Language:  In Which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers.  To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar.  By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.  In Two Volumes.–Vol. I.  The Sixth Edition.  London:  Printed for J. F. and C. Rivinton, L. David, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newberry.  1785.

An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. The origin, affinities and primary signification of English words, as far as they have been ascertained.  II. The genuine orthography and pronunciation of words, according to general usage, or to just principles of analogy.  III. Accurate and discriminating definitions, with numerous authorities and illustrations,  To which are prefixed, An Introductory Dissertation of the Origin, History and Conection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe, and a Concise Grammar of the English Language.  By Noah Webster, LL. D.  In Two Volumes.  Vol. I.  New York:  Published by S. Converse.  Printed by Hezekiah Howe-New Haven.  1828. 

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Filed under Criticism, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Vocabulary

Item of the Day: A Vocabulary (1816)

Full Title: A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States of America. To which is prefixed An Essay on the Present State of the English Language in the United States. By John Pickering. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Williard and Metcalf, 1816.

ESSAY

The preservation of the English language in its purity throughout the United States is an object deserving the attention of every American, who is a friend of the literature and science of his country. It is in a particular manner entitled to the consideration of the Academy; for, though subjects, which are usually ranked under the head of Physical Science, were doubtless chiefly in view with the founders of the Academy, yet, our language also, which is to be the instrument of communicating to the public the speculations and discoveries of our countrymen, seems necessarily “to fall within the design of the insitution;” because, unless the language is well settled, and can be read with ease by all to whom it is addresssed, our authors will write and publish, certainly under many disadvantages, though perhaps not altogether in vain.

It is true, indeed, that our countrymen may speak and write in a dialect of English, which will be understood in the United States; but if they are ambitious of having their words read by Englishmen as well as by Americans, they must write the language that Englishmen can read with pleasure. And if for some time to come it should not be the lot of many Americans to publish works, which will be read out of their own country, yet all, who have the least tincture of learning, will continue to feel an ardent desire to acquaint themselves with English authors. Let us then for a moment imagine the time to have arrived, when Americans shall no longer be able to understand the works of Milton, Pope, Swift, Addison, and other English authors, justly styled classic, without the aid of a translation into a language, that is to be called at some future day the American tongue! By such a change, it is true, our loss would not be so great in works purely scientific, as in those which are usually termed works of taste; for the obvious reason, that the design of the former is merely to communicate information, without regard to elegance of language or the force and beauty of the sentiments. But the excellencies of works of taste cannot be felt even in the best translations;–a truth, which, without resorting to the example of the matchless ancients, will be acknowledged by every man, who is acquainted with the admirable works extant in various living languages. Nor is this the only view in which a radical change of language would be an evil. To say nothing of the facilities afforded by a common language in the ordinary intercourse of business, it should not be forgotten, that our religion and our laws are studied in the language of the nation, from which we are descended; and, with the loss of the language, we should finally suffer the loss of those peculiar advantages, which we now derive from the investigations of the jurists and divines of that country.

But, it is often asked among us, do not the people of this country now speak and write the English language with purity? A brief consideration of the subject will furnish a satisfactory answer to this question; it will also enable us to correct the erroneous opinions entertained by some Americans on this point, and at the same time to defend our countrymen against the charge made by some English writers, of a design to effect an entire change in the language.

As the inquiry before us is a simple question of fact, it is to be determined, like every other quiestion of this nature, by proper evidence. What evidence then have we, that the English language is not spoken and written in America, with the same degree of purity that is to be found in the writers and orators of England?

 In the first place, although it is agreed, that there is greater uniformity of the dialect throughout the United States (in consequence of the frequent removals of people from one part of the country to another) than is to be found throughout England; yet none of our countrymen, not even those who are the most zealous in supporting what they imagine to be the honour of the American character, will contend, that we have not in some instances departed from the standard of the language. We have formed some new words; and to some old ones, that are still used in England, we have affixed with new significations: while others, which have long been obsolete in England, are still retained in common use with us. If then, in addition to these acknowledgments of our own countrymen, we allow any weight of the opinions of the Englishmen, (who must be content judges in this case,) it cannot be denied, that we  have in several instances deviated from the standard of the language, as spoken and written in England at the present day. By this, however, I do not mean, that so great a deviation has taken place, as to have rendered any considerable part of our language unintelligible to Englishmen; but merely, that so many corruptions have crept into our Enlgish, as to have become the subject of much animadversion and regret with the learned of Great Britain. And as we are hardly aware of the opinion entertained by them of the extent of these corruptions, it may be useful, if it should not be very flattering to our pride, to hear their remarks on this subject in their own words. We shall find that these corruptions censured, not be mere pretenders to learning, but (so far as the fact is to be ascertained from English publications,) by all the scholars of that country, who take an interest in American literature. In proof of this, I request the attention of the Academy to the follwoing extracts from several of the British Reviews; some of which are the most distinguished of the present day, and all of which together may be considered as expressing the general opinion of the literary men of Great Britain, who have attended to this subject. That all the remarks are just, to the extent in which they will naturally be understood, few of our countrymen will be willing to admit. . . .

 

 

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Vocabulary