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What do you know about the words you use. Do you really know the American language and the words that make it up. Today we present the first program in a new series on the American language by Mitford Matthews. Mr. Matthews is editor in chief of the Dictionary of American isms published by the University of Chicago Press and is a lecturer in linguistics at the University of Chicago. Today's program is on Americans as makers of words. Mr. Matthews. It seems to me there is abundant evidence for the proposition that as a rule people are more interested in that which is Long Ago and Far Away. Land they are in the heart is immediately at hand and of everyday occurrence. The poor we have with us are way less and seldom notice than. To just distance lends and chant to the view and robes the mountain in its Azure here. There's an old story about a remarkable man who lived at the
bottom of the sea. And spent his entire life exploring around on the ocean floor. Accumulating an immense amount of information about the underwater world that stretched in all directions from his door. The greatest discovery he was destined to make was one he chanced upon quite by accident just before it there. When he was almost an unfit for exploring far away he discovered what. I often think of this ancient investigator when I contemplate the quiet meagre attention we Americans have paid to that element in the English language. Which has had its origin right here in this country during the past three centuries or so. It happened by mere chance. And not by a superior inside of an account on my part. That much of my life has been spent in trying to discover as much as possible about the contributions to the English language that were originated in the United States. This kind of investigation never fails to
arouse the ready interest of my friends. When I speak of it to them. They know that students investigate all kinds of language problems. But to find anyone interested in words and meanings of words that first came into use right here among us. Yes too much for them to take without expression lation survey is common. One fellow scholar. Over 80 years old. Are positively shocked. When I told her that I was doing what I could. To find out hot words and hot senses of words have been added to the English language in this country. She had once told me that there had not been in a word snow made in this country. That all our words are made in distant parts. Probably in England and sent over for our use as they're needed. I asked her how long she'd been living in Illinois and she said she was
born in this state. When I told of that Illinois is a word that entered the English language in this country she was somewhat out of class and challenge my statement but compromised by saying she'd never thought of it in the US that way. But when I asked her how long she lived in Chicago. She readily admitted that she knew Chicago is of Indian origin. That means skunk in the endin language and that there might be some other place in my hands we've derived from the Indians but she insisted that with this minor exception all the rest of our language had been fashioned brawl. After I had spent nearly a quarter of a century of bringing together words we have added to the language over here. And distinctively American meanings we who fixed others. I had the good fortune to beat my college English teacher a fine gentleman of the SCU a Ph.D. from Harvard
class of 1891. When I told him I had his kind invitation the nature of my work. He leaned slightly on his cane as if the impact of this novel way of spending time a day on him quite a joke and in a somewhat hesitating brought us told me that although he had spent his life as a student of the English language teaching the subject for more than 50 years it had never once occurred to him that there in it words that have been my right here at home. Experiences such as these have power after time brought back to my mind the story I mentioned of the old man at the bottom of the sea. Whose greatest discovery water. Was made by accident when he was much too old to exploit it or investigated for he had to pass it on to others as the greatest find of his long life. How long will this failure on the part of students and scholars. To realize that there
is any considerable number of words that have had their our agenda in this country. There goes an attitude of mind that is difficult indeed to understand. A large number of highly intelligent people are the term. I want make to think contemptuous of anything and everything in our language which had its origin among us. This attitude was especially strong in the days of Noah Webster. When that Mao distinguished new ng the schoolmaster entered upon his long and useful career as a lexicographer. Certain of his friends advised him to go to school for the regulation of there's a delay. And when his first dictionary came out in 18 six. The critics rose up in wrath when they found that he had included in it among other things some words such as Caucus the model as an immigrant made in the United States. They suggested
that the wretched performance should be called Noah's Ark. In allusion to the strange monstrous things it can think. That attitude of 150 years ago has not changed radically at present. Many intelligent people are of the opinion that the only contributions made in this country to the English language are contemptible and I'm worthless. And that anyone who business himself with identifying and collecting them is in reality working on a dictionary of slime. I have been amazed at the basket with which this attitude possesses the minds of even the most intelligent of my friends. In the spring of 1951 the University of Chicago Press. Brought out into large handsome volumes A Dictionary of American isms that had been produced under my editorship. The book got a remarkable amount of advertising. In many quarters being hailed as the best dictionary of
slang that as yet appeared not many people bothered to look on the inside of the work to see what it really has in it. They did not need to do so. The title A Dictionary of American isms told them all they needed to know. It was clearly a dictionary of slang and a good one too. Its size was prove black. And the price $50 confirmed the impression that it was by far the best of its kind. Sometimes at public gatherings I better do as the master of Americans line or when for him when they meet me on the street either congratulate me on having got that book on flying through the press at last or not knowing it has already appeared. Inquire when it may be expected. Of course I'm not speechless. I speak out in my own defense as volubly as possible. And as well as I k. I pointed out
that I have more special interest in this line that it's an attractive field for many but that my interest is in the direction of finding out all I can about those words and word meanings that during the past three hundred years have been passing into legitimate and well recognized use in the language all of us employed. But I have lost serious doubts as to whether I have up to this moment ever brought a single solitary individual from darkness to light on this subject of the respectability of the great majority of those expressions that have appeared first in the English language used in this country. The dictionary to which I have made reference. Have now been reviewed in various parts of the world reviewers have appeared in England Sweden Holland Germany and even an alibi a pariah East and Indochina not in a single one of these foreign reveres that have come to my attention. Has there been the
slightest failure on the part of the reviewer to mistake this Dictionary of American isms for a dictionary of sly. But many an American revere has been sorely gree to find that there is absent from that good American slang that he has been used to all his life. Among the words that many of the reviewers look for and lamented the omission are the following. Beezer. Cookie pusher. Fiddle fruited floozy geek goof. Had a call one day. Ho yes. Hot Rod. Jane. Jive loops have their sweat plastered bra Sandridge rug cutter. Souped up still sweet patootie. In order to not be a mission of such no one elevating elements is the US.
The reviewer had to pass unnoticed and unappreciated. Thousands of such respectable terms as a penned Assayas automobile campus call a congressional delicatessen Demar LA drugstore telephone telegraph for McGrath Victrola Santa Claus radio Christmas tree typewriter sewing machine Kodak. They were not able to see these words because they can discover anything American about them. There are respectable turn ups in no wise contemptible or noteworthy such terms do not fit into the pattern of thinking these knights of the pan are accustomed to follow and they consider the manner. The matter of the contributions made in this country to the enrichment of the English language. In contemplating the zeal of my friends for feasting on the Hearst SKS and Afros of language under the
mistaken impression that this is all that's been produced in this country I am reminded of a story about a poor cutter boy I your quote from the Hill. Who has all his life been accustomed to the DOT in which salt risin bread and molasses played a prominent role. By chance this brawl I was once invited to dine with the LB's man who scale of living with some hard data which the hero boy had been accustomed to the table with grace to the table cloth and supplied with well-prepared seized both food meat potatoes vegetables and everything that a well-balanced meal should have there however was a manpower absence of salt rising bread. So the yolk inspiring in silence and disgust when he returned to his native environment his friends were anxious for a report on the meal he had taken are at the rich man's table. The report that Yoko gay was devastating. I didn't get enough of the fit to
eat didn't get most all bread. While hearty say to all their opinions to get beyond this lament. He was adamant and with great pertinacity always came back to his original probably that the dinner had been a flat failure. He didn't get most all. Those intellectuals and hurrying grabbers. Who think compared to a slim lot of men contributed to the English language in this country. I commend these two story that of the old man at the bottom of the sea and the young hillbilly at the LBS man's table. You have heard Mitford Matthew talk all Americans as makers of words. This is the first programme in the series the American language. Mr. Mathews is editor of the Dictionary of American isms and lecturer in linguistics at the University of Chicago. This program is produced in the University of Chicago radio office by Thomas de parish.
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American language
Americans as makers of words
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The first program in this series talks about "Americans as Makers of Words."
Series Description
A series of talks by Mitford Mathews, editor of the Dictionary of Americanisms and lecturer in linguistics at the University of Chicago.
Broadcast Date
English language--United States--Etymology.
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Producer: Parrish, Thomas (Thomas D.)
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Mathews, Mitford M. (Mitford McLeod), 1891-1985
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 54-8-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:13:49
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Chicago: “American language; Americans as makers of words,” 1954-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 5, 2023,
MLA: “American language; Americans as makers of words.” 1954-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 5, 2023. <>.
APA: American language; Americans as makers of words. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from