Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

At 2 P.M., two long, cold hours after starting, Everett concluded his speech to thunderous applause—motivated, one is bound to suspect, more by the joy of realizing it was over than by any message derived from the content—and

At first, the letters were arrayed in alphabetical order, an arrangement hinted at on modern keyboards by the sequences F-G-H, J-K-L and O-P, but the fact that no two other letters are alphabetical, that the most popular letters are not only banished to the periphery but given mostly to the left hand while the right is left with a sprinkling of secondary letters, punctuation marks and little-used symbols, are vivid reminders of the extent to which Sholes had to abandon common sense and order just to make the damn thing work. There is a certain piquant irony in the thought that every time you stab ineptly at the letter a with the little finger of your left hand, you are commemorating the engineering inadequacies of a nineteenth-century inventor.

Because of social strictures against even the mildest swearing, America developed a particularly rich crop of euphemistic expletives - darn, durn, goldurn, goshdad, goshdang, goshawful, blast, consarn, confound, by Jove, by jingo, great guns, by the great horn spoon (a nonce term first cited in the Biglow Papers), jo-fired, jumping Jehoshaphat, and others almost without number - but even this cautious epithets could land people in trouble as late as the 1940s.

Between December 1606 and February 1625, Virginia received 7,289 immigrants and buried 6,040 of them. Most barely had time to settle in. All but 500 of the 3,500 immigrants who arrived in the three years 1619–1621 were dead by the end of the period. To go to Virginia was effectively to commit suicide.

By the 1920s if you wanted to work behind a lunch counter you needed to know that 'Noah's boy' was a slice of ham (since Ham was one of Noah’s sons) and that 'burn one' or 'grease spot' designated a hamburger. 'He'll take a chance' or 'clean the kitchen' meant an order of hash, 'Adam and Eve on a raft' was two poached eggs on toast, 'cats' eyes' was tapioca pudding, 'bird seed' was cereal, 'whistleberries' were baked beans, and 'dough well done with cow to cover' was the somewhat labored way of calling for an order of toast and butter. Food that had been waiting too long was said to be 'growing a beard'. Many of these shorthand terms have since entered the mainstream, notably BLT for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, 'over easy' and 'sunny side up' in respect of eggs, and 'hold' as in 'hold the mayo'.

Considerable thought was given in early Congresses to the possibility of renaming the country. From the start, many people recognized that United States of America was unsatisfactory. For one thing, it allowed of no convenient adjectival form. A citizen would have to be either a United Statesian or some other such clumsy locution, or an American, thereby arrogating to ourselves a title that belonged equally to the inhabitants of some three dozen other nations on two continents. Several alternatives to America were actively considered -Columbia, Appalachia, Alleghania, Freedonia or Fredonia (whose denizens would be called Freeds or Fredes)- but none mustered sufficient support to displace the existing name.

Eenie, meenie, minie, mo” is based on a counting system that predates the Roman occupation of Britain, that may even be pre-Celtic.

Eenie, meenie, minie, mo” is based on a counting system that predates the Roman occupation of Britain, that may even be pre-Celtic. If so, it is a rare surviving link with the very distant past. It not only gives us a fragmentary image of how children were being amused at the time Stonehenge was built, but tells us something about how their elders counted and thought and ordered their speech.

From that original colony sprang seven names that still feature on the landscape: Roanoke (which has the distinction of being the first Indian word borrowed by English settlers), Cape Fear, Cape Hatteras, the Chowan and Neuse Rivers, Chesapeake, and Virginia. (Previously, Virginia had been called Windgancon, meaning "what gay clothes you wear" - apparently what the locals had replied when an early reconnoitering party had asked the place's name.)

he also engaged in many charitable works, notably the building of one of the world’s largest orphanages for boys (and boys alone; orphan girls would have to look elsewhere)

It would be possible to sail from Scandinavia to Canada without once crossing more than 250 miles of open sea.

Just a month after the completion of the Declaration of Independence, at a time when he delegates might have been expected to occupy themselves with more pressing concerns -like how they were going to win the war and escape hanging- Congress quite extraordinarily found time to debate business for a motto for the new nation. (Their choice, E Pluribus Unum, "One from Many", was taken from, of all places, a recipe for salad in an early poem by Virgil.)

Lagniappe, usually attributed to the French of New Orleans, in fact originated among the Kechuan Indians of Peru as yapa. The Spanish adopted it as ñapa. The French then took it from the Spanish and we from the French.

Nor, strictly speaking, is it correct to call them Puritans. They were Separatists, so called because they had left the Church of England. Puritans were those who remained in the Anglican Church but wished to purify it.

The endearingly hopeless Martin Frobisher explored the Arctic region of Canada, found what he thought was gold, and carried fifteen hundred tons of it home on a dangerously overloaded boat only to be informed that it was worthless iron pyrites. Undaunted, Frobisher returned to Canada, found another source of gold, carted thirteen hundred tons of it back, and was informed, with presumed weariness on the part of the royal assayer, that it was the same stuff. After that, we hear no more of Martin Frobisher.

The inhabitants of England in the age of Chaucer commonly used an expression, to be in hide and hair, meaning to be lost or beyond discovery. But then it disappears from the written record for four hundred years before resurfacing, suddenly and unexpectedly, in America in 1857 as neither hide nor hair. It is dearly unlikely that the phrase went into a linguistic coma for four centuries. So who was quietly preserving it for four hundred years, and why did it so abruptly return to prominence in the sixth decade of the nineteenth century in a country two thousand miles away?

The New York Times, with what was threatening to become a customary lack of prescience, forecast that it would never be a serious competitor for radio because “people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”34

The one word that Newfoundland has given the world is penguin. No one has any idea what inspired it.

They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possible way: by dying in droves. Six