Characteristic features of American English



Chapter I. Characteristic features of American English

1.1 Historical background of American English

1.2. Dialects of American English

1.3. British English vs American English

1.4. Differences in American and English Vocabulary

1.5. Differences in American and English Pronunciation

1.6. Differences in American and English Spelling

Chapter II .Origin of American English words and their cultural background

2.1. Glimpses of origin of American words

2.2. Animals

2.3 Plants

2.4. Banknotes and coins

2.5. Mail

2.6. Indians

2.7. Car

2.8. American English Idioms





American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), also known as United States English or U.S. English, is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two thirds of native speakers of English live in the United States. (4)

The variety of English spoken in the USA has received the name of American English. The term variant or variety appears most appropriate for several reasons. American English cannot be called a dialect although it is a regional variety, because it has a literary normalized form called Standard American, whereas by definition given above a dialect has no literary form. Neither is it a separate language, as some American authors, like H. L. Mencken, claimed, because it has neither grammar nor vocabulary of its own. From the lexical point of view one shall have to deal only with a heterogeneous set of Americanisms. (1)

 An Americanism may be defined as a word or a set expression peculiar to the English language as spoken in the USA. E.g. cookie 'a biscuit'; with boards or shingles laid on; ' frame-up ' a staged or preconcerted law case ; guess 'think'; store 'shop'. (4)

Topicality of the paper:

A general and comprehensive description of the American variant is given in Professor Shweitzer's monograph. An important aspect of his treatment is the distinction made between Americanisms belonging to the literary norm and those existing in low colloquial and slang. The difference between the American and British literary norm is not systematic. (6)          Current Americanisms penetrate into Standard English. Cinema and TV are probably the most important channels for the passage of Americanisms into the language of Britain and other languages as well: the Germans adopted the word teenager and the French speak of automatisation. The influence of American publicity is also a vehicle of Americanisms. This is how the British term wireless is replaced by the American radio. The jargon of American film-advertising makes its way into British usage; i.e. of all time (in "the greatest film of all time"). The phrase is now firmly established as standard vocabulary and applied to subjects other than films. The personal visits of writers and scholars to the USA and all forms of other personal contacts bring back Americanisms. (5)

Cooperation between the USA and the other countries increases from day to day. American English integrates in every side of our life. USA presents us its culture through movies, music, advertisement, business. All this aspects are reflected in the language.  Language is the mirror of the culture. American English has its own special peculiarities, which distinguish it from other variants of English language. It has its own historical, cultural background which is of certain interest for linguists and speakers of English in the whole world. (4)

The aim of this research is to study the origin of American English vocabulary. And it is supported with the following objectives:

1. To study the historical background   of American English.

2. To define the dialects of American English.

3. To describe the difference between British English and American English.

4. To pick out 500 American English words from different sides of life and define main spheres of functioning of American English words.

5. To define the etymology of certain words.

6. To define the sources of borrowings in American English.

7. To make up a short dictionary of American English Words.

The hypothesis of this paper is following:

American English was formed in general under the influence of environment and with the help of   borrowings.

Though  the topic about peculiarities of American English were widely discussed among researchers, in this paper we want to emphasize especially the origin of American  words, to investigate borrowings in American Language and to observe the way American English was formed in the sphere of vocabulary.

Problems of the work paper:

1. To define the specific spheres of vocabulary where American English developed in its own way.

2. To investigate the etymology of the American English words from the specific spheres.

In this paper we used such methods as:

1. Descriptive method.

2. Comparative-historical method.

3. Contrastive method.

The scientific novelty of the paper:

We investigated certain spheres of American English vocabulary, picked out words connected with this spheres. We analyzed the etymology of these words. Also we studied the way borrowings penetrated into American English, investigated the sources of this borrowings. In our work paper we especially emphasized the origin of American English words and their cultural background.

The theoretical value of this work is following:

The given work can be used for the lectures on Lexicology, especially connected with the etymology of American English words.

The practical value of the given work is following:

The etymological dictionary can be used for the seminars and lectures on Lexicology and the History of American English variety.

The structure of my work is following:

The Theoretical part includes:

1. The historical background of American English where its described the appearance of American language, the history of the terms American and Americanism and other interesting facts about American English.

2. The description of dialects of American English. Especially the main dialects are described. There are three overall, major ones: the New England, the Southern, and the General American (sometimes erroneously called the Midwest or West­ern dialect).

3. The description of differences between British English and American English. The most obvi­ous and representative differences between British English and American English include three major ones:

1. Differences in American and English Vocabulary.

2. Differences in American and English Pronunciation.

3. Differences in American and English Spelling.

The Practical part includes:

1. Selected American English words were divided into definite groups with the common theme. Words were investigated in their origin and etymology. There we have presented the appearance of peculiarities in American English and the dates of recording of definite words.

2. Borrowings in American English. We have described the ways borrowings penetrated into American English. Three main borrowing recourses are touched: French borrowings, Spanish borrowings and Italian borrowings.

Also this work paper includes a short etymological dictionary of American English words and phrases with the dates of their recording.

Theoretical part

Chapter I. Characteristic features of American English

1.1 Historical background

american english word

Since America originally meant the continent, American was originally used (1578) to mean a native of it, an Indian. Many British writers, including essayist Joseph Addison, used American to mean Indian well into the 18th century, calling the colonists not Americans but transplanted Englishmen. Beginning in 1697, however, Cotton Mather popularized the word Ameri­can to mean an English colonist in America. The language was called American by 1780; a citizen of the United States was called an American by 1782; and Thomas Jefferson used Americanism to mean United States patriotism in 1797.The name the United States of America is said to have been created by Tom Paine; it was first used officially in the Declaration of Independence, whose subtitle is "The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America". (9. p.6 )

This distinction between colonies and states confused many people and throughout the Revolutionary War many called the new country the United Colonies. In 1776, too, the name the United States of America was already shortened to the United States (in the proceedings of the Continental Congress) and even to the shorter the States. George Washington wrote the abbreviation U.S. in 1791, and the abbreviation U.S.A. was recorded in 1795. Even though the United States of America appeared in the Dec­laration of Independence, the new government used the official title the United States of North America until 1778, when the "North" was dropped from the name by act of the Continental Congress.

When this new nation took its first census in 1790 there were four million Americans, 90% of them descendants of English colonists. Thus there was no question that English was the mother tongue and native language of the United States. By 1720, however, some English colonists in America had already begun to notice that their language differed seriously from that spoken back home in England. Almost without being aware of it, they had:

(1) coined some new words for themselves;

(2) borrowed other words from the Indians, Dutch, French, and Spanish;

(3) been using English dialect words in their general speech;

(4) continued to use some English words that had now be come obsolete in England;

(5) evolved some peculiar uses, pronunciation, grammar, and syntax.

Many of the coinages and borrowings were for plants, animals, landscapes, living conditions, institutions, and attitudes which were seldom if ever encountered in England, so the English had no words for them. The widespread use of English dialect words was also natural: most of the Puritans came from England's southern and southeastern counties and spoke the East Anglia dialect, most of the Quakers spoke the midland dialect, and after 1720 many new colonists were Scots-Irish, speak­ing the Ulster dialect. The continuing use of words that had be­come obsolete in England, and of unusual usage, pronunciation, grammar, and syntax, was also natural for colonists isolated from the niceties of current English speech and English education. Thus, naturally, a hundred years after the Pilgrims landed, English as spoken in America differed from that spoken in England. (9. p.7 )

In 1756, a year after he published his Dictionary of the English Language, "Doctor" Samuel Johnson was the first to refer to an American dialect. In 1780, soon after the American Revolution began, the word American was first used to refer to our language; in 1802 the term the American Language was first recorded, in the U.S. Congress; and in 1806 Noah Webster coined the more precise term American English.

Was American English good or bad? By 1735 the English began calling it "barbarous" and its native words barbarisms. When the anti-American Dr. Johnson used the term American dialect he meant it as an insult. Such English sneering at the language con­tinued unabated for a hundred years after the Revolutionary War. The English found merely colorful or quaint such American terms as ground hog and lightning rod and such borrowings as oppossum, tomahawk, and wampum (from the Indians), boss (Dutch), levee (French), and ranch (Spanish). They laughed at and condemned as unnecessary or illiterate hundreds of American terms and usages, such as:

Examples: allow, guess, reckon, meaning “to think”, which had all become obsolete in England.

bluff, used in the South since 1687, instead of tte British river "bank." This has the dis­tinction of being the first word attacked as being a "barbarous" American term.

bureau, meaning “chest” of drawers, which was obsolete in England.

card, meaning a “person who likes to joke”, an American use since 1835.

clever, meaning “sharp witted”, an East Anglia dialect use com­mon to all Americans.

fall, obsolete in England where "autumn" was now the pre­ferred word.

fork, which the British ate with but which also drive or paddle on, using it since 1645 to mean the “branch of a road or river”. (9. p.8)

It wasn't only American words that the English disliked, but American pro­nunciation and grammar as well. They jeered when Americans said "missionary" instead of "mission'ry," "shew" for "show," and "whare" and "bhar" for "where" and "bear." In 1822 visitor Charles Dickens said that outside of New York and Boston all Americans had a nasal drawl and used "doubtful" grammar. In 1832 Mrs. Trollop said that during her visit in America she seldom heard a correctly pronounced sentence. And in 1839 visitor Captain Frederick Marryat said it was remarkable how debased the English language had become in such a short time in America.

On the other hand, during and after the Revolutionary War Americans became proud of American language. It was a badge of independence. In 1778 the Continental Congress recommended that when the French minister visited "all replies or answers" to him should be made "in the language of the United States" (not only as opposed to French but also as opposed to English English). Ameri­cans were bound to continue to develop their own brand of English. What the English called barbarisms Americans proudly called American­isms. John Witherspoon coined this word in 1781, in a series of papers he wrote for rhe Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, and defined it as any word or usage peculiar to English as used in America.

Later, of course, Americans were to add more Indian and Spanish words to their language, borrow words and intonations from such immigrant groups as the Germans and Italians, and —like the English themselves —continue to coin new words and change the meanings of old ones, develop their own dialects and pronunciations, and evolve more of their own gram­matical and syntactical uses and misuses. Since World War II, however, best-selling books, movies, TV shows, popular songs, and jet-propelled tourists have spread American English to England and English English to the U.S. Modern politics, pop culture, jet planes, and electronics seem to be bringing the two "languages" closer together again. (9. p.9)

1.2 Dialects of American English

Early Americans had more sharply differentiated dialects than they do today. The Puritans in New England spoke the English East Anglia dialect, the Quakers in Pennsylvania spoke the English midland dialect, the Scotch-Irish in the Blue Ridge Mountains spoke the Ulster dialect, etc.—and they and their speech patterns were separated by wilderness, bad roads, and lack of communications. Then geographical and social mo­bility began to homogenize the language, with people from all regions moving to all others, people from all walks of life mixing and mingling. Better roads and wagons, trains, cars, moving vans, high-speed printing presses, the telegraph, the typewriter and teletype, telephones, record players, duplicating machines, radios, movies, and TV mixed and melded American speech into a more and more uniform language. In addition, our dialects were smoothed out by generations of teachers and by two crucial series of elementary school books: the various editions of Noah Webster's The American Spelling Book, "the Blue-Backed Speller" that sold over 80 million copies and from which generations of Americans from the 1780s to the 1880s learned to spell and pro­nounce the same words in the same way, and Professor William Holmes McGuffey's six series of Eclectic Readers, which sold over 122 million copies between 1836 and the 1920s, giving gener­ations of Americans a shared vocabulary and literature. Thus American mobility,   educational   systems,   and improved means of transportation and communications have given Americans an increasingly more standardized vocabulary and pronunciation. When we hear America talking today we usually hear only a touch of a regional "accent"; American dialects are fading away. (9. p.119 )

Depending on how precise one need be, one can say that Amer­ica has from three to a dozen dialects. There are three overall, major ones: the New England, the Southern, and the General American (sometimes erroneously called the Midwest or West­ern dialect). Here are brief descriptions of three major regional dialects: (9. p.120 )

New England dialect is spoken from rhe Connecticut River north and eastward through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. New England was nor mis­named: between 1620 and 1640, 200 ships brought 15,000 En­glish colonists to the region, two-thirds of them from East Anglia, the Puritan stronghold. Those colonists from East Anglia, and other parts of southern and southeastern England, gave New England its distinct dialect, first called the New England dialect in 1788. It is still closer to English English than any other dialect of American English. Some of its char­acteristics are:

(1) pronouncing the in  such  words  as ask, brass, can't, class, fast, grass, half, last, and path somewhat like the broad a in father, and lengthening the a sound in such words as bar, dark, far, farm, and heart to a sound somewhat be tween the sound the rest of us pronounce in hat and father (this last a sound is also found in eastern Virginia and elsewhere in the tidewater region). Thus we tease Bostonians for saying "ahnt" (aunt) and "vahz" (vase).

(2) pronouncing the o in such words as box, hot, not, pot, and top with the lips rounded, forming an open o sound. The rest of us tend to pronounce this o more as the broad a sound of father.

(3) omitting, slighting, or shortening some r sounds, thus car, dear, and door sound like "cah," "deah," and "doah" to the rest of us. The broad a sound and the slighted r cause the rest of us to hear "pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd" (park the car in Harvard yard).

Southern dialect could be divided into separate dialects for the upper and lower South or into several smaller dialects, such as   the Virginia Tidewater, South Carolina Low Country, local dialects with Charleston and New Orleans as focal points, etc. In general, however, Southern dialect is used south and east of a line drawn along the northern boundary of Maryland and Virginia and the southern boundary of West Virginia, the southern part of Missouri and down through southeastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas. It is characterized by:

(1) the Southern drawl: a slower enunciation than used in the rest of the country, combined with a slow breaking, gliding, or diphthongization of stressed vowels. Thus to the rest of us the Southern class sounds like "clae-is"; yes like  "yea-is"  or   "yea-yis"; fine, I, ride, and time like "fi-ahn," "I-ah," "ri-ahd," anduti-ahm" (these all being long i sounds).

(2) some of this slow dwelling on the vowel sounds weakens the following final consonants, especially d's, Vs, r's, and t's,   giving  southerners   such  pronunciations  as fin(d), he(l)p, se(l)f, flo(or), mo(re), po(or), yo(ur), bes(t), kep(t).  (3) using such terms as the stereotyped Southern honey-chil(d) and you all as well as bucket (for pail), heap (for very), raise (for rear, children), reckon (think, judge), right (for very), snap bean (string bean), spigot (for faucet) and tote (for carry). (9. p.121 )

General American dialect is spoken in 4/5ths of the nation's area and by 2/3rds of the population, but is still a dialect. It is not called General American because that is what Americans should speak but because it just happens to be the dialect heard in the general regions outside of New England and the South. It is heard in the area which starts as a wedge between New England and the South, in western Connecticut, New York State, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, then broadens out to include West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, northern Missouri, northwestern Oklahoma and west Texas, and finally encompasses the entire western half of the country. It actually includes at least four dialects: the North Central, the New York City Metropolitan Area dialect (including parts of Connecticut and New Jersey), the Middle Atlantic, and the Midlands dialect (Philadelphia to the Rockies and the Potomac to New Mexico, sometimes con­sidered as separate Northern Midland and Southern Midland dialects). All these have more in common with each other than with the New England and Southern dialects, so can be grouped together as General American. It is characterized by:

(1) using the short flat a in such words as ask, brass, can't, class, dance, fast, grass, half, last, and path.

(2) sounding the unrounded o in such words as box, hot, lot, not, pot, and top almost as the broad a in father.

(3) the retention of a strong r sound in all positions, as caR, haKd, etc. (9. p.122 )

Americans are still moving and communicating from one part of the country to another. As easterners and midwesterners continue to move to the Sun Belt (1950s) the local Florida and Texas speech patterns will be diluted; as people continue to leave large cities for small ones and for rural areas, pockets of local dialects will tend to weaken or disappear. Perhaps some­day in the future regional dialects will be no more. Then we may have only two dialects, that of educated, urban Americans and that of rural and poor Americans. Such dialects already exist, heard mainly in grammar and usage. (9. p.123 )

1.3. English vs American

· American English (AmE) is the form of English used in the United States. It includes all English dialects used within the United States of America.

· British English (BrE) is the form of English used in the United Kingdom. It includes all English dialects used within the United Kingdom. (3 )

This subject could, and does, fill many volumes, but the most obvi­ous and representative differences between English English and American English include:

(10. p.202 )

1.4. Differences in American and English Vocabulary

It's easy to point out the differences between the American and the English vocabulary: the differences seem quaint and there are comparatively so few that Americans can easily spot them. Many of the differences are merely a matter of preference: Americans prefer railroad and store while the English prefer the synonyms railway and shop, but all four words are used in both England and America. In addition, Americans know or can easily guess what braces, fishmonger's, or pram means, just as the English know or can figure out what innerspring mattress, jump rope, and ice water mean. Finally, many of the words that once separated American English from English English no longer do: American cocktail (1806), skyscraper (1833), and supermarket (1920s) are now heard around the world, and the English increasingly use radio, run (in a stocking), and Santa Claus instead of wireless, ladder, and Father Christmas. The following list gives some of the most interesting and typical differences between the American and English vocabulary, differ­ences that may especially interest tourists and those who enjoy both American and English books and movies.



apartment; apartment house, apartment building ; block of flats (to an Englishman an apartment means a room). Our high-rise apartment (building) is the English tower block (of flats).

barbershopbarber's shop. The English frequently use the possessive -V or -s' where we do not, as in dolts house, ladies' room, and shop.

can openertin opener, candysweets(10. p.203 )

There are, of course, hundreds of more terms that differ in American English and British English. American use of prepositions sometimes also differs: Americans live on a street, the English live in it; Americans chat with people, the English chat to them; Americans speak of an increase in something, the English of an increase on it; Americans get snowed in, they get snowed up; Americans say something is different/row something else, the English say it is different to it.

(10. p.210 )

1.5. Differences in American and English Pronunciation

The major difference in American and English pronunciation is in intonation and voice timbre. Americans speak with less variety of tone than the English. American voice timbre seems harsh or tinny to the English, their's gurgling or throaty to Americans. English conclusion: Americans speak shrilly, monotonously, and like a schoolboy reciting. American conclu­sion: the English speak too low, theatrically, and swallow their syllables. (2)

 The more precise differences include:

Americans pronounce the a in such words as ask, brass, can't, dance, fast, grass, half, last, and path as a short, fiat (a);the English pronounce it more as the broad (a:)in father. American shorter, flatter (a)is just a continuation of the way first colonists from Southern England pronounced it; the English dropped this pronunciation in the 18th century and began to use the broad (a:)(this same change took place in parts of New England and the South, giving some Americans the pronuncia­tion of aunt as "ahnt" and vase as "vahz"). (10. p.210)

On the other hand, most Americans sound the short ( o ) in such words as box, hot, lot, not, pot, and top almost as the broad (a: ) in father, while the English (and some New Englanders) give it a more open sound, with the lips rounded.

And some are just unique pronunciations of individual words. Such miscellaneous differences in pronunciations include:

ate, Americans say "eight"—"et" is an accepted English pronunciation.

been, Americans say "bin"—the English say "bean."

clerks- "dark."

either, neither, most Americans say, "e-ther, ne-ther"—"I-ther, ni-

ther" is the English pronunciation.

issue, Americans say "ish-you"—the English say "is-sue."

leisure, most Americans say "le-sure"—the English say "laysure."

lieutenant, Americans say "lew-tenant"—the English say "lef-tenant."

nephew, Americans say "nef-hew"—the English say "nev-hew."

schedule, Americans say "sked-ule"—the English say "shed-ule." (10. p.211 )

1.6. Differences in American and English Spelling

When the colonists came to America, spelling was not a prob­lem—if a man could write at all he was lucky. English spelling was not yet rule-ridden: i and y, as well as u and v, were often used interchangeably. Not until 135 years after the Pilgrims landed did English spelling have a guide in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. This monumental work froze much of English spelling and, among other things, decreed that such words as critick, loglck, musick, andpublick end in a final k and such words as colour, honour, etc., end in -our. (10. p.212 )

England, including its colonies, began to follow Johnson's spell­ing; but, in 1758, three years after Johnson's dictionary was published, Noah Webster was born, in Hartford, Connecticut, and 21 years after Johnson's dictionary the American Revolution began—two events that were to help separate English English and American English. After graduating in law from Yale, Webster couldn't make a living doing legal work, so he became a teacher. He then found English schoolbooks hard to obtain, and unsatisfac­tory, so he compiled his own three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language, including an elementary spelling book (in 1783), a grammar (in 1784) and a reader (in 1785). Part I became the fantastically successful The American Spelling Book, which went through edition after edition and sold 80 million copies in its first hundred years, 1783-1883. It was one of the most influential books ever published in America: from the time America became a nation, past the Civil War, and almost into the Gay 90s, genera­tions of Americans learned to spell and pronounce from it, spelling and pronouncing each syllable in every word over and over again under stern teachers. It was known to millions as Webster's Speller, the Blue-Backed Spelling Book (1853) and the Blue-Backed Speller. (10. p.213 )

Americans are more scrupulous about clearly articulating certain unaccented syllables, especially -ary, -ery, and -ory, and certain ds, gs, hs, Ps, rs (following vowels) and t's than the English. Thus the English say melanchy, monastery, necessary, preparatory, secretary, etc, when Americans fully articulate the final syllables. Also, except in parts of New England and the South, Americans articulate the first l in fulfill, the h in forehead, the r in lord and there, and the final t in trait, rather than pronounce them as the English do: fu'fill, for 'rid, laud, theh, and trai. (10. p.214)

The English are also more conservative in using fewer abbrevia­tions and more capital letters and commas than Americans do. They capitalize such words as the Bar, the Church, the Government, the Press, and Society. By doing away with such capital letters, Americans are closer to the fashion of the 18th century, when the months, the days of the week, and the names of religions were often not capitalized. (10. p.215 )

Written forms of American English are fairly well standardized across the United States. An unofficial standard for spoken American English has developed because of mass media and of geographic and social mobility. This standard is generally called a General American or Standard Midwestern accent and dialect, and it can typically be heard from network newscasters, although local newscasters tend toward more provincial forms of speech. Despite this unofficial standard, regional variations of American English have not only persisted, but have actually intensified, according to William Labov. (1 )

Regional dialects in the United States typically reflect the elements of the language of the main immigrant groups in any particular region of the country, especially in terms of pronunciation and vernacular vocabulary. (5 )

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world. For instance, the English-speaking members of the Commonwealth often closely follow British English forms while many new American English forms quickly become familiar outside of the United States. (4 )

Practical part.

Chapter II.  Origin of American English words and their cultural background

2. 1. Glimpses of origin of American words

2.2. Animals

Foreigners are charmed with the vivid descriptive names Americans have given their native animals. American settlers com­bine descriptive words to give  many vivid names for the mam­mals, reptiles, fish, birds, and insects—and Americans have continued to name animals by descriptive combinations ever since. (9. p.180 )


bald eagle, 1688, because its white neck and head make it look bald.

This bird was considered our national symbol before its picture

was placed on the Great Seal of the United States in 1785; since

then it has also been called the American eagle, 1798, and the

United States eagle, 1 847. Baltimore oriole,  1771, originally called the Baltimore bird, 1669,because its black and orange colors were those on the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore.

bullfrog, 1698, because it makes a roaring noise like a bull. canvas back, 1782, from the color of its back. (9. p.181 )

catbird, 1709, because its call resembles the mewing of a cat. Like many words on this list it was originally spelled with a hyphen, cat-bird.

catfish, 1612, the name first recorded by John Smith in Virginia, because of the fish's facial resemblance to a cat, especially its whiskers.

grizzly bear, 1791, because some of the animals have a grizzly or gray color; in fact it's sometimes called the white bear, silver-tipped bear, etc. Shortened to grizzly by the early 1800s.

lightning bug, 1778. The English had called this beetle a glow worm since the 16th century and a firefly since 1658. (9. p.182 )

There some words denoting the famous American animal which enriches the American English very much. (9. p.66 )

 Buffalo (Portuguese and Spanish bufalo from Greek boufdos, “wild ox”) is, of course, a misnomer, a word Europeans had used for the smaller, weaker Indian and African ox. American buffalo is really the American bison (1796), but De Soto didn't know that when he first called it bufalo in 1544. The word appears in many American com­binations, including:

buffalo beef, 1722, buffalo meat.

buffalo robe, 1723, also called buffalo rug, 1805. This Indian item

was first described by Marquette and Joliet in 1681; it served

many Indians and whites as robe, coat, blanket, and sleepingbag. buffalo-headed duck, 1731, now known as the bufflehead (1858), a

small, widely distributed duck with a large, squarish head. buffalo road, 1750; buffalo trace, 1823; buffalo trail, 1834. These are

all paths or trails worn by buffalo herds.

Buffalo Bill, William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), who had been a pony express rider and cavalry scout before earning this nickname as a buffalo hunter supplying large quantities of meat to Union Pacific Railroad construction crews in 1867-68. The name Buffalo Bill was given him by Ned Buntline (pen name of Edward Zane Carroll Judson, 1821 -86), a writer of adventure fiction and one of the first dime novelists. Cody himself gave us the term Wild West Show, opening Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Omaha, May 37, 1883. (9. p.67 )

         Such terms as in the buff(\n the skin, naked), the brownish yellow color called buff, and to buff (to polish as with an animal skin) do not come from our word buffalo but entered English in the 16th century via buffle, the French word for that Asiatic and African ox. (9. p.68 )

2.3. Plants

Americans have given many of their native trees, grasses, flowers, and shrubs descriptive names, often by combining two old words. Thus they have:

bluegrass, 1751, being any of several American grasses of the for genus and having a bluish cast, earlier called Dutch grass (1671). Kentucky bluegrass, 1849, a type of bluegrass, Poa pratem valuable as pasturage and hay; Bluegrass region, Bluegrass country the Blue Grass, a region in Kentucky, 1860s; the Bluegrass Stof Kentucky, 1886. (9. p.62 )

butternut, 1741, or white walnut (1743), called butternut from the oiliness of the nut. By 1810 butternut also meant the brownish dye obtained from the tree's bark, its color, and fabric dyed with it. During the Civil War Butternut (1862) meant a Confederate soldier, from the butternut dye used on some homemade uni­forms. buttonwood, 1674, because of its buttonlike burrs. This name was given the tree in New England; Southerners called it sycameri (1709), thinking it was that familiar English tree.

honey locust, 1743, because the pealike pods have a sweet taste.

Johnny-jump-up, 1842, from its quick growth. Also called JoktM jumper, Johnny jump up and kiss me, 1859; johnny jump, 1894. The English call this the viola tricolor or heartsease (we use these names for any of the various American violets and wild pansies).

live oak, 1610,because, being an evergreen oak, it is "alive" all year.

poison ivy, 1784, earlier poison weed. It got its name because, as Captain John Smith wrote in 1624, "The Poysoned weed is much in shape like our English ivy." Colonists, who had never seen or heard of it until they landed in America, had to learn to recognize and avoid it, and care for its effects, by trial and error. It was particularly rampant in Virginia, all the more troublesome because it could be mistaken by uninitiates for the local climbing vine the Virginia creeper (1670s).

poison oak, 1743, so called because its lobelike leaves resemblethose of an oak tree. This plant also was troublesome in early Virginia where it seems to have gotten its name.

The early settlers and frontiersmen also borrowed many plant names from the Indians, French, and Spanish. Other plants and trees are named after people, as the Douglas fir (1884, for the Scot­tish botanist David Douglas who discovered it while collecting and exploring in the Northwest in 1825) and the poinsettia (named in 1836 for Joel Poinsett, who collected and sent back many rare plants, including this one, while serving as the first U.S. minister to (Mexico in 1825-29). Other native American plants were mis­named, merely because the settlers who first saw them thought they were identical to those back home in England when they weren't. Thus our beech, hemlock, laurel, and walnut are not the same as the English trees of the same names and our bay trees and bay bushes also differ from the English ones. (9. p.63 )

2.4. Banknotes and coins

The word dollar comes from the German  t(h)aler,   a  word  the

Germans got from shortening Joachinistaler, a silver coin first minted in Joachimstal, Bohemia, in 1519 (Joachimstaler itself liter­ally means "of the Saint Joachim valley," t(h)akr meaning "of the valley"). This original t(h)aler became such a common European coin that t(h)aler or da(h)ler soon became the general name for any large silver coin in various German states and the name of the basic coins of Denmark and Sweden, with the word being spelled dollar in England by 1581.

The first dollar widely circulated in America was a Dutch coin bearing the likeness of a lion. Brought here by the original Dutch settlers around 1620, it was a favorite of European merchants and sailors and continued to be brought to America and to circulate widely long after the English took over the Dutch lands in 1664 and turned the Dutch colony of New Netherland (so named by the Dutch in 1621) into New York and New Jersey. We called this Dutch dollar a lion dollar or lion by 1725. This Dutch dollar was not the only dollar the colonists had. The Spanish peso was also in wide use in all the American colonies and called a Spanish dollar from at least 1684. By the early 1750s any peso, whether from Spain or Spanish America, was called a Spanish dollar, Spanish mill(ed) dollar, or simply a dollar.(10. p.181 )

With English money in short supply and colonial money uncer­tain, the most prized and trusted money was often gold and silver coins from Spain, France, Holland, Mexico, Portugal, Brazil— from just about every European country, possession, island, and even mission (the Spanish Jesuits in Tuban, Arizona, minted coins as early as 1707). Such gold and silver coins were brought to America by its original Dutch, French, Spanish, and German settlers and continued to come in through merchants, sailors, and pirates from the entire Western world. Besides British guineas, pounds, shillings, and pence, Dutch and Spanish dollars, and colonial bills and coins, early Americans used and talked about such coins as the:

peso. The Spanish peso (literally weight, from Latinpensum, some­thing weighted) was worth eight Spanish reals (see below) and marked with a figure 8. We called this Spanish coin and its value peso, eight reals, piece of eight, and, of course, dollar.

picayune. This French coin (from French picaillon, a small copper coin) was widely circulated in Louisiana and Florida in the late 18th century and was still in wide use at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. By 1855 we used picayune to mean trifling, of small value.

pistole. The Spanish gold pistole (from Middle French pistolet, coin) was worth 2lh pesos. It also circulated freely in the colonies and was associated not only with Spain but with pirates, who seemed to prefer it for its gold content, size, and weight—and for use as an earring.

real or bit. The small silver Spanish real (Spanish for "royal," from Latin regal, regal) was worth one-eighth of a peso or 12!/z cents. By 1683 we also called it a bit (from Old English bite, bit, morsel), which was an English term for any small piece of money, as in "six-penny bit," though this monetary use of the word bit was reinforced in America by the Spanish word pieca, piece, bit, which sounded like "bika" to many colonists. (10. p.184 )

New United States currency was called federal money (1806), lawful money (1809), and specie dollars (1821) to distinguish it from the foreign coins still in circulation. (10. p.185 )

From 1865 until 1933 the U.S. issued not only gold coins but paper gold certificates (an 1863 term, the year Congress first autho­rized them) which certified that the U.S. Treasury had deposited gold for their redemption. In 1933, when the U.S. was taken off the gold standard, gold coins were removed from circulation, gold certificates were called in, and our coins and paper money were declared legal tender. From 1878 until 1963 the government also issued silver certificates, paper money backed by silver dollars. Today, about 90 percent of our paper money is in Federal Reserve Notes issued through the twelve Federal Reserve Banks or "bankers' banks" created by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to establish a unified banking system. (10. p.187 )

Some General Terms:

banknote, 1695 in England, originally as made out by a specific bank to a specific person. The shortened form, note, was first recorded in 1696.

bean, any coin, 1810. It came to mean specifically a $5 gold piece in 1859, then meant $1 by 1905.

bill meant a letter or a legal document in English by the 15th century (from Latin bulla, official seal, then a document bearing such a seal, which we still use in the term papal bull). By the late 16th century in England this "official document" meaning led to bill, which was used as a word for paper money.

cash, 1596 in England, when it also still meant money box, case (via French caisse, Italian cassa, cash box, merchant's case, from Latin capsa, box). Cash article, valuable or worth an amount of money, 1835; cash crop, 1868.

currency, 1699 as money in England, because it is the current, generally accepted medium of exchange (from Latin currential currere, to run).(10. p.192 )

Since 1969 all U.S. currency in denominations over one hun­dred dollars has been withdrawn from circulation as the bills have come in to Federal Reserve Banks. A thousand dollars has been called a thou since 1869, a grand since 1900 (which was sometimes shortened to G by 1920), and a big one by the 1950s. The $10,000 Federal Reserve Notes were the highest currency ever in general circulation and, although the last ones were printed in 1944, about four hundred are still in private hands. The $100,000 gold certifi­cates, with President Woodrow Wilson's likeness, were first issued in 1934 and were the highest denomination ever authorized in the world; however, they were never in general circulation, being for official transactions only (twelve of these are still in Federal Reserve Banks). Although U.S. currency has never come in larger denominations than this, it is, of course, possible to amass and talk about still larger amounts.

(10. p.202 )

2.5. Mail

The British still speak of the post and of posting a letter while Americans are more apt to talk about the mail and mailing a letter (post came into English via the 15th-century French poste, station, from Latin positum, positioned, placed; mail has been in English since the 13th century, from Old High German malha, satchel, bag). Our use of post and postal thus goes back to our British colonial days; mail came later, with mail carrier in 1790, mail boat in 1796, mail pouch, and the mail, the U.S. Mail in the 1840s, and mail bag in 1867. Here are the dates of the first American colonial use of some British postal terms:

postal system, 1639, in Massachusetts. This first system was simple: incoming overseas mail was to be left at the home of Richard Fairbanks in Boston and he transmitted it for a penny a letter.

postal service, 1672, when a monthly service was started between New York and Boston, over what in 1692 became the Boston Post Road (a road for transporting mail). By 1790 the U.S. had 20,000 miles of post roads.

post office, 1683, when the first American one was established in Philadelphia. It gave us our first colonial use of the word postmaster, being one Henry Waldy, whose main duty was to supply horses and riders.

postmaster general, 1694, when the British crown appointed Andrew Hamilton postmaster general of all the colonies, to establish intercolonial service. People were soon talking about his post riders and post walkers (poor roads made them faster than wagons or carriages). (10. p.533 )

These were the major British contributions to postal lan­guage. Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster of Philadel­phia in 1737 and served as "co-deputy postmaster general" of the colonies from 1753 to 1774, when he was dismissed by the crown for being too pro-American. He got even with the British by being appointed the first postmaster general of the American postal system by the Continental Congress in 1775. Now American mail terms slowly began to take over:

mail coach, late 1780s (a British term); mail stage, from 1792.

Post Office Department, Americans used this term from its begin­nings in 1782 until 1971, when it became the U.S. Postal Service, an independent agency.

U.S. Postmaster General, 1789, when President Washington ap­pointed Samuel Osgood as the first one, overseeing the nation's 75 post offices.

star route, 1820s, the route of a private contractor carrying mail for the post office where its own service didn't go (so called for the stars or asterisks printed next to such routes on the Post Office Department list).

post office box, 1833; general delivery, late 1830's.

Before 1847, U.S. postmasters printed their own postage stamps and supplied glue pots—the adhesive stamp wasn't in­vented until 1840, in England (the famous penny black being the first issue). Then on July 1, 1847, Congress authorized the first U.S. Postage stamps: a 5^ Franklin and a 10<£ Washington. Within fifteen years all Americans were simply calling them stamps and calling their value postage. At first, some Americans humorously called such an adhesive stamp a lick-and-stick. Postage still covered only the carrying of mail from post office to post office; there was not free home delivery.

overland mail, 1848, when the post office first started talking about a stagecoach mail service from Missouri to California, which overland stage service was begun in 1858.

registered mail', 1855, when the service began.

mail boy, 1862, to distribute and collect mail in offices, which were now growing rapidly in size and number.

In 1863, when many families were writing to and receiving letters from their men who were fighting the Civil War, there were two big innovations in the Union's mail service: (1) mail was divided into classes and postage was based on the class rather than the distance it was carried; (2) mail service now began to include free home delivery in cities. Before this everyone had to pick up and deposit his own mail at the post office (or in a primitive letter box) or pay a letter carrier (an 1825 term) a 2-cent fee for each letter he delivered or picked up. (10. p.534 )

Now Americans began to use the new terms:

first class (letters), second class (newspapers), third class (magazines and circulars), 1863. Fourth class (merchandise) wasn't added until 1879.

city delivery service, free city delivery, free delivery, 1863.

mailman soon became a common word after 1863, when he was employed and paid by the post office for free delivery. By the 1880s mailmen delivered as many as five times a day in commer­cial areas of New York and other major cities.

postal money order, 1864, originally created so Union soldiers could send money home safely during the Civil War.

postal card, post card, 1871, when the U.S. Post Office first issued a plain penny one, called a penny post card by 1873 (post cards had first been used by the Austrian post office in I860).

branch post office, 1871.

mail box, 1872, two years after it was patented. Since the late 1850s people had been calling primitive types letter boxes, street letter boxes, and street boxes, but these were usually the brightly painted receiving boxes for independent carriers and express agencies. The patented U.S. mailbox did a lot to give the U.S. Post Office Department control of the business. They were also often called letter drops in the 1890s.

After having been discussed for several years, free delivery was extended to rural areas in 1896. Free rural delivery brought newspapers, magazines, and mail-order catalogs to farm families, breaking their isolation and "urbanizing" the outlook of rural America.

Rural Free Delivery, RFD,   1892; used in discussions four years

before it went into effect. mail order business,  1875; mail order catalog,  1883; mail order house,1906. The mail order business mushroomed after RFD was

introduced; Sears Roebuck entered the mail order business in1895.

And last, but not least, people have been playing and giggling about the kissing game post office since 1851, just four years after they began "kissing" those new lick-and-stick adhesive stamps. (10. p.535 )

2.6.   Indians

The word Indian comes from the most celebrated mistake in history. When Columbus discovered the Western Hemisphere he thought he had reached the Indies of Asia; hence the Caribbean Islands were called the West Indies and their inhabitants Indi­ans. The word then spread to include all the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. (9. p.195 )

The Indian words Americans still use include: (1) thousands of place names; (2) scores of words about Indians used in our history and mythology; and (3) hundreds of names of plants, animals, and landscapes which have become part of American everyday speech. (9. p.196 )

The words Americans use in talking about Indians include some real Indian words plus others from our conceptions and misconcep­tions of Indians, words from American history and from American fiction:

brave (the French word for an Indian warrior), has had wide American use since 1819. Before then we usually used the term Indian warrior.

firewater, 1817 is the earliest recorded use of this "Indian talk" word for whiskey. It may be a translation of the Algonquian scoutiouabou, "fire water."

Honest Indian?, "is it true?" 1851; Honest Injun "on my honor," 1892, originally sarcastic use, because Indians were considered dishonest.

Indian country, 1664; Indian land, 1658; Indian territory, 1677; Indian Territory, 1828, the territory, now Oklahoma, set aside by the government for the Five Civilized Tribes.

Indian nation, a tribe, 1622. Tribe is a 13th century English word, used to refer to the tribes of Israel and to Roman tribes long before it was used to refer to aboriginal groups in Africa and the Americas. The earliest settlers usually spoke of an Indian nation rather than an Indian tribe.

paleface, 1822. James Fenimore Cooper put this term for White man into the mouths of his Indian characters. He probably in­vented it.

papoose (Algonquian for baby, child). Colonists were calling Indian babies this by 1633.

peace pipe, 1760; earlier it was called a pipe of peace, 1705. This long, decorated ceremonial pipe was first called a calumet, in 1678 (via Canadian French from French calumeau, reed, any plant with straw suitable for a pipe stem). Calumet is also a place name for a river, county, village, etc., in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, indicating places where such reeds grew.  (9. p.197 )

Indian words for plants, animals, and landscapes began to appear in American language as soon as the colonists landed and began to ask the Indians "What's that?" Most answers were in Algon­quian, the most widespread family of Indian languages, spoken by most Indians of the eastern half of the U.S. Since the Indians hadn't yet invented writing, and since each local tribe might have its own pronunciation of any given word, the colonists had a hard time trying to spell and pronounce Indian words. Often they shortened the Indian word or phrase (as quatas quash became "squash"), tried to pronounce the parts of the word like familiar English words (a process called folk etymology, mak­ing wejack or otchig into "woodchuck"), or took a whole Indian sentence or clause and made one word out of it. Virginia's Cap­tain John Smith introduced many such words into English, be­ginning with his written description of Virginia in 1608. If you had been in Jamestown, Plymouth, or on the Kentucky fron­tier, or had crossed the prairie in a covered wagon, you would have heard your fellow Americans using a good many Indian words. Today about 130 Algonquian words, mainly for plants and animals, are still in use, plus a sprinkling of words from other Indian language families. (9. p.201 )

The most frequently heard include:

bayou (via French from Choctaw bayuk, stream, creek), 1766

caribou (via Canadian French from Micmae khalibu or some­thing that sounded like maccaribpoo, "he who paws the snow"), 1610.

catalpa tree (Creek kutuhlpa, "winged head," referring to the flowers), 1730; shortened to catalpa, 1785.

hickory (Algonquian pawcohiccora, a dish of pounded hickory nuts and water), as pocketxhicory, pokahickory, 1618, modern spell­ing, 1670. Hickory nut, 1670. Hickory switch, 1734, for whip­ping children, later called a hickory stick. Hickory was used to mean firm, unyielding by 1800, giving us such nicknames as "Old Hickory" for Andrew Jackson and such terms as hickory cloth and hickory shirt in the 1840s, referring to a strong cotton fabric. By 1848 hickory also meant a hickory walking stick and by 1900 was used to mean a baseball bat.

hominy, 1629; pone, 1612; samp, 1643; succotash, 1751. Many of our "corn" words come from the Indians; these words are dis­cussed in detail at the entry Corn.

poke means several different plants to us because it is our final pronunciation of several different Indian words. Poke originally was a name for the tobacco plant (from Algonquian uppoivoc) which we spelled apooke in 1618. Other poke plants get their name from a Virginian Indian word puccoon, a plant they used for dyeing. Thus we have pokeroot by 1687; pokeweed, 1751; pokeberr,. By 1778 poke also meant the skunk cabbage. Poke greens was first recorded in 1848 and poke salad in 1880.

skunk (Algonquian skekakwa, squnck, "mammal who urinates" or sprays), 1588 by explorers, 1634 by colonists. It has also been called a polecat in America since the 1600s, after a related European animal. Skunk cabbage, 1751. Skunk was used to mean a contemptible person by 1840. To skunk, to defeat completely, keep an opponent from scoring, appeared in 1843.

squash (Narragansett asquatasquash, "eaten raw"), 1642. Winter squash, summer squash, 1750s; crook-neck squash, 1818, from its shape; Hubbard squash, late 1860s, from Mrs. Elizabeth Hub-bard of Massachusetts, who first cultivated it; zucchini squashy

toboggan (via Canadian French from Algonquian tabakun, drag, hand sled), 1829; tobogganing, as a sport, 1855; toboggan slide, a playground slide for children, 1890s; toboggan cap, a stock­ing cap, especially with ends to wrap around the neck as a muffler, 1902.

wapiti, the North American elk, named in 1806 by the American physician and naturalist Benjamin Barton (using the Shawnee word for the animal, literally meaning "white rump"). This word never replaced the less precise word elk, which had been used in America since 1635.

whiskey-jack (Cree wisketjan), the Canadian jay. This name was first recorded by John J. Audubon, in 1839.

woodchuck (Algonquian wejack, Chippewa otchig, Cree otchek, the fisher), 1674. This is a prime example of folk etymology, of pronouncing strange words to resemble familiar words or word elements; it has nothing to do with "wood" or "chuck" except in sound. (9. p.202 )

In addition to the above, most Americans know about 50 names for Indian tribes from Algonquin to Zuni, plus such Indian words or words associated with Indians as caucus (1773, probably from Algonqman caucauasu, counselor), mackinaw (1820s as a blanket, 1902 as a jacket, from Ojibway mitchimakinak, "great turtle," which became the name of the strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, an island on this strait, and a trading post where this heavy wool, plaid blanket, was common), pemmican (1791, Cree pimikkan from pimii, fat, grease), and podunk (Mohe-gan for "neck of land," used as a place name by Indians in Con­necticut and Massachusetts, as recorded in 1666, then used by Whites to mean a small or insignificant town or rural region by 1841). Such words as potato and tobacco are West Indies Indian words and tomato and chocolate are Aztec Indian words.(9. p.203)

2.7. Car

Americans thank Julius Caesar for the word car. He personally borrowed a Celtic word sounding something like "karra" to name his chari­ots, and from that and its Latinized carrus/carra, which came to mean wagon, cart, Americans get the English words chariot, carriage, and car. The colonists knew car only as a poetic word meaning chariot, as in the "Cars of the Gods." It wasn't until the 1820s and 30s that common people talked much about cars, by which they then meant railroad cars, horsecars and, by the 1860s, streetcars. Since about 1900, however, car has had one chief meaning to most Americans: an automobile.

The word automobile (Greek auto-, self + mobile, moving) ar­rived in the 1870s with the appearance of the steam automobile, also called a steamer (the British had called it a steam carriage since its beginnings in the 1830s). The Stanley Steamer, also known as the flying teapot, was manufactured from 1896 to 1925 by the Stanley twins, Francis and Freelan, and was the most talked-about auto­mobile of the late 1890s. Various electric automobiles, going 25-40 miles at 15 mph on a battery charge, were also widely talked about at the time, but the gasoline automobile, first successfully built in the U.S. by the Duryea brothers in 1893, had few supporters-most people remembered that the famous Electrobat had beaten a Duryea gasoline automobile in a much-discussed 1895 race. But be it driven by electricity, steam, or gasoline, automobile was the word generally used in the late 1890s, and was already shortened to auto. Some of the over 50 inventors-designers-manufacturers of auto­mobiles in 1898 were, however, using other terms, including

autopher, autovic, autobat, automotive, diamote, motorfly, self motor, and locomotive car. (9. p.75 )

The first definition of motor-car appeared in the 1890 edition of the Century Dictionary: "Motor-car ... a car which carries its own propelling mechanism, as an electric motor. . . ." Motor-car waj soon shortened to car and by 1910 car had replaced automobile a the more common word, though automobile, motorcar, and another early word for it, machine, were favored by some people well into the 1930s.

By 1900 the car was replacing the bicycle as a fad, and enthu­siasts willingly donned veils and the clothes-protecting driving smocks c