Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States

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9780471228776: Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States
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A rediscovered classic of American slang–now with a Foreword by bestselling language maven Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English and The Miracle of Language

From abisselfa to yourn, John Russell Bartlett’s groundbreaking Dictionary of Americanisms celebrated the language of a budding nation, whose rebellious declaration of independence was most evident in its own evolving colloquialisms. Originally published in 1848, the Dictionary of Americanisms was the first lexicon to portray the entire tapestry of uniquely American expressions in one volume, from the New England coast to the Far West and everything in between. The result is a window into everyday life and culture in a rapidly growing United States, with entries representing every region, linguistic heritage, and field of interest:

  • New England: funkify, plaguy sight, kedge
  • The South: marooning, catawamptiously chawed up
  • New York: clockmutch, rullichies, soap-lock
  • The West: scrouger, prairie bitters, I dad!
  • Spanish: sangaree, chaparral, vamos
  • Native American languages: netop, sagamore, supawn
  • Politics: slang-whanging, Dough-Faces, to row up Salt river
  • Business: wild cat bank, corner, Peter Funk

Filled with amusing anecdotes, editorial asides, and some surprisingly modern slang, this facsimile of the book’s first edition is a great rediscovery for a new generation of readers and a fascinating snapshot of life in the early decades of the United States of America.

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From the Inside Flap:

"BLUE STOCKING. A ridiculous epithet applied here as well as in England to literary ladies, and borrowed from that gallant nation the French. Called also simply a blue. . . .

"OLYCOKE. (Dutch, olikoek, oil-cake.) A cake fried in lard. A favorite delicacy with the Dutch, and also with their descendants, in New York. There are various kinds, as dough-nuts, crullers, etc. . . .

"TO SEE THE ELEPHANT is a South-western phrase, and means, generally, to undergo any disappointment of high-raised expectations. . . . For instance, men who have volunteered for the Mexican war, expecting to reap lots of glory and enjoyment, but instead have found only sickness, fatigue, privations, and suffering, are currently said to have ‘seen the elephant.’"

In 1848, these definitions–along with several thousand others–made their appearance in a revolutionary new lexicon of American slang: John Russell Bartlett’s now-classic Dictionary of Americanisms. A Rhode Island bookseller, politician, ethnographer, and all-around Yankee Renaissance man, Bartlett spent ten years on his Dictionary, compiling New England colloquialisms (to shoot one’s grandmother), borrowings from Native American languages (samp), Southernisms (huckleberry above the persimmon), political and business terms (Barnburners, bull and bear), New York Dutch words (smear-case), and new additions from the expanding Western frontier (to bark off squirrels, ranchero). The result is a glimpse into everyday life and language from the early decades of the republic, a dozen years before the Civil War.

Published to rave reviews, Bartlett’s book went through four editions, becoming a standard reference work in nineteenth-century America. Now with a new Foreword by bestselling word guru Richard Lederer, this facsimile edition of the 1848 original presents this classic piece of Americana–long out of print–to a new generation of history buffs and language mavens alike.

As Richard Lederer puts it, "the story of language in America is the story of our Declaration of Linguistic Independence, the separating from its parent of that glorious, uproarious, tremendous, stupendous, end-over-endous adventure we call American English." The Dictionary of Americanisms is a highly readable testament to that independence, and Bartlett’s anecdotes, quotes, and idiosyncratic definitions make for irresistible browsing. (Take a look at his entries for acknowledge the corn, Loco-foco, and Brother Jonathan, or the list of exotic nineteenth-century cocktails under liquor.) For anyone interested in America’s history, culture, or language, John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms is a remarkable rediscovery of a forgotten classic.

About the Author:

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, JOHN RUSSELL BARTLETT (1805—1886) was a bookseller, politician, ethnographer, draftsman, and linguist. He helped found the American Ethnological Society and was part of a government team that surveyed America’s new Southwestern borders after the Mexican War. Between 1848 and 1877, he published four editions of the Dictionary of Americanisms.
RICHARD LEDERER (Foreword) is the author of more than 3,000 books and articles about language and humor, including his bestselling Anguished English series. Dr. Lederer’s syndicated column, "Looking at Language," appears in news-papers and magazines throughout the United States. He hosts a weekly show, A Way With Words, on San Diego Public Radio. He has been elected International Punster of the Year; has been profiled in magazines as diverse as the New Yorker, People, and the National Enquirer; and is the language columnist for the Toastmaster, Pages, and the old Farmer’s Almanac.

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