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and accent. In fact, it may be said, without exaggeration, that nine tenths of the colloquial peculiarities of New England are derived directly from Great Britain; and that they are now provincial in those parts from which the early colonists emigrated, or are to be found in the writings of well accredited authors of the period when that emigration took place. Consequently, it is obvious, that we have the best authority for the use of the words referred to.
It may be insisted, therefore, that the idiom of New England is as pure English, taken as a whole, as was spoken in England at the period when these colonies were settled. In making this assertion, I do not take as a standard the nasal twang, the drawling enunciation, or those perversions of language which the ignorant and uneducated adopt. Nor would I acknowledge the abuse of many of our most useful words. For these perversions I make no other defence or apology, but that they occur in all countries, and in every language.
Having found the case to be as stated, I had next to decide between a vocabulary of words of purely American origin, or one in which should be embraced all those words usually called provincial or vulgar-all the words, whatever be their origin, which are used in familiar conversation, and but seldom employed in composition—all the perversions of language, and abuses of words into which people, in certain sections of the country, have fallen, and some of those remarkable and ludicrous forms of speech which have been adopted in the Western States. The latter plan seemed the most satisfactory, and this I determined to adopt.
With so broad a ground, many words must necessarily be embraced, which are to be found in the dictionaries of Drs. Johnson and Webster, with the remark that they are low, or vulgar, or only to be heard in familiar conversation. Another class, not in the dictionaries referred to, is contained in the provincial glossaries of England. A third class, entirely distinct from the preceding, consists of slang words which are not noticed by lexicographers, yet are so much employed as to deserve a place in a glossary.
Such is the plan which I have thought most advisable to adopt, and which I hope will give satisfaction. In carrying out this plan, I have endeavored to give the most accurate definitions, citing the authorities in all cases where I have been enabled to find any. Except as regards words of purely American origin, (e. g. those derived from the Indian languages and from the Dutch,) I have generally kept aloof from etymologies and etymological discussions. These the reader will find in abundance-such as they are in the works of Johnson, Todd, Webster, and others.
Words of a provincial character, and such as have become obsolete in composition, are often of doubtsul signification. Illustrations, from well known authors, wherein such words are employed, are of service in arriving at their true meaning. These have been employed in the present glossary, and serve the double purpose of illustration, and of rendering the book more readable than if confined to a dry collection of definitions. This mode of showing the sense in which words have been employed by authors, was first practised on a comprehensive scale by Dr. Johnson, whose labors are thereby greatly enhanced in value to the philologist; and has since been carried out more completely in Mr. Richardson's dictionary.
The class of words which are purely American in their origin and use, I have also attempted to illustrate, by extracts from American authors, whose writings relate to that class of people among which these words are chiefly found. These books contain descriptions of country life, scenes in the backwoods, popular tales, &c., in which the colloquial or familiar language of particular States predominates. The humorous writings of Judge Haliburton of Nova Scotia, give a tolerably correct though exaggerated specimen of the provincialisms of New England. The letters of Major Downing are of the same character, and portray the dialect of New England with less exaggeration. There are no books in which the Western words and phrases are so fully exhibited; though all the works which aim to illustrate Western life, contain more or less of the idioms peculiar to the people. Judge Hall, Mrs. Kirkland (Mary Clavers), the author of the New Purchase, Charles F. Hoffman, and various tourists, have displayed in their several works the peculiarities of the people of the West, and occasionally their language. Mr. Crockett, however, himself a native of that region, associating from infancy with its woodsmen, hunters, and farmers, whose language is full of quaint words and figures of speech, has unintentionally made us better acquainted with the colloquial language of the West than any other author.
I am also indebted to a series of books published by Messrs. Cary and Hart, called the “ Library of Humorous American Works,” which consist of a series of tales and adventures in the
” Sonth-west and West by Wm. T. Porter, editor of the New York Spirit of the Times; John S. Robb and J. M. Field, Esquires, of St. Louis, Missouri; the editor of the New Orleans Picayune, and some anonymous writers. In these several works, the drolleries and quaint sayings of the West are admirably incorporated into tales of the settlers, their manners and customs, vivid descriptions of Western scenery, political and dramatic scenes, etc. We have no books which present so graphic an account of Western life, related in the exaggerated and metaphorical language peculiar to the people of that region.
In Southern provincialisms I find myself most deficient, haying seen no books except Major Jones's “ Courtship” and “Sketches,” “Georgia Scenes,” and “Sherwood's Gazetteer of Georgia,” in which however a considerable number of local words are to be found.
The newspapers have afforded me many illustrations of the use of words, which I have not failed to make use of. These illustrations, it will be seen, are chiefly from the New York papers, viz, the Commercial Advertiser, the Tribune, and the Herald, for the simple reason that I have been in the practice of reading them daily. When I met with a word or phrase peculiarly American, or one which was employed in a sense differing from the use of the same in England, it was at once noticed and secured. All our newspapers contain more or less colloquial words; in fact, there seems no other way of expressing certain ideas connected with passing events of every day life, with the requisite force and piquancy. In the English newspapers
the same thing is observable, and certain of them contain more of the class denominated slang words than our own. The Whig papers throughout the United States employ certain political terms in advocating the principles of their party, and in denouncing those of their opponents. The Democratic papers pursue a similar course.
The advocates and opponents of Abolition, Fourierism, etc., invent and employ many words peculiar to themselves. So with the religious sects ; each new-fangled notion brings into existence some addition to our language, though that addition is not always an improvement,
The value of this glossary would have been greatly enhanced, if, as is usual in the compilation of similar works, I had been able to avail myself of the assistance of persons residing in various parts of our country. No collection of words, professing to contain the colloquial language of the entire country, can approach any degree of completeness or correctness, without the aid of many hands and heads. None but a native of New England, educated on her soil, and who has mingled with all classes of society, has the requisite familiarity with the words and phrases peculiar to her people. So with the Western and Southern provincialisms. One born and brought up where they are spoken, who has heard and used them when a boy, and grown up in their midst, can portray them in their true sense. The aid of such persons it was impossible to procure, and the words bere brought together have been, with very few exceptions, collected by myself. The deficiencies and imperfections are such, therefore, as could not be avoided under the circumstances.
The words of Dutch origin, most if not all of which are used or understood in the city of New York and those portions of its vicinity colonized by natives of Holland, were furnished by Mr. Alexander J. Cotheal, a gentlemen born and educated in New York, whose learning in other branches of philological science is well known to many. A few other words have been given me from time to time by other friends, who knew that I was making this collection. To all of these I am happy to express my acknowledgments.
When the work had advanced far towards completion, and one half had been put in type, the occurrence of some terms, common in political language, the exact meaning of which was not clear, led me to apply to my friend John Inman, Esq., editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, for aid. He readily complied with my request, and kindly furnished the definitions of several terms of daily occurrence in the political language of the day. I regret that I did not have his valuable aid in defining and illustrating the use of words and phrases which occur in the early part of this glossary. The contributions of Mr. Inman are acknowledged where they appear.
To my friend Mr. Wm. W. Turner, I am under great obligations for aid rendered me in preparing this work for the press. Mr. Turner's extensive acquaintance with the European and Oriental languages, together with an unusual sagacity in philological criticism, have peculiarly fitted him to give aid in the preparation of a work like this. I have, therefore, submitted the whole to his supervision, and adopted his views in all my conclusions. At his suggestion, I have struck out many etymologies taken from standard dictionaries, which it was evident were wholly erroneous.
In noticing the words embraced in this glossary, the reader will probably think that many have been admitted which ought not to have a place in a Dictionary of American Provincialisms. From what has already been said, it will be seen that it is very difficult to draw the line between what should be admitted and what excluded; and I have thought it better to err on the side of copiousness, than by too rigid a system of selection to run into the opposite extreme.
A careful perusal of nearly all the English glossaries, has enabled me to select what appeared most desirable to embrace, and what to avoid, in an American book of a similar kind. Cant words, except such as are in general use, the terms used at gaming houses, purely technical words, and those only known to certain trades, obscene and blasphemous words, have been discarded.
For a better understanding of the subject, as well as to show the importance of collecting and preserving the colloquial