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meaning that we express by the words check or prevent, — a meaning preserved nowadays only in the somewhat rare idiom 6 without let or hindrance." Obviously, neither of Hamlet's words is of any particular use to a man who wishes to convey an idea to another in the year of grace 1891.

I chose these simple and very palpable examples of words that answer no purpose nowadays because they show very clearly the two grounds, and the only two, on which we are safe in declaring a word unfit for use. To English-speaking people miching may once have meant something; at present, to most English-speaking people it certainly means nothing whatever; to most English-speaking people, I incline to think, mallecho has never meant anything at all. In other words, neither miching nor mallecho is at this moment in the English language. Let, on the other hand, is undoubtedly in the language; but at this moment it means not what Hamlet meant by it, but precisely the

To use the technical terms of Rhetoric, miching and mallecho, words not in the language, are now Barbarisms; let, a word in the language, but a word to which good use gives a different meaning from that for which it is employed, is now an Impropriety. All offences against good use in our choice of words are either Barbarisms or Improprieties. It is worth while, then, to devote a few minutes to each class.

For just here come a great part of the questions about style which puzzle unpractised writers and add


discomfort to a chair of Rhetoric. Is this word or that admissible ? they ask us, day after day. Is it a Barbarism, we ask ourselves, or an Impropriety? If neither, then it is admissible.

Comparatively speaking, Barbarisms are not very common. Obsolete words, such as Hamlet's miching mallecho, are obsolete just because, for one reason or another, people have stopped using them. For this very reason, people who write nowadays do not know them by sight and sound; and there is little danger of falling into any sin from temptation to which circumstances free you. Foreign words, on the other hand, are more insidious. To many minds haut-ton says something far more significant than fashion, -something which I found expressed in Portugal, some years ago, by a mysterious phrase which the Portuguese pronounced ig-leaf, a perfect rhyme with fig-leaf; they spelled it, I discovered later, high-life, and believed it very choice English. The truth is that novelty of expression frequently masks commonplace. A little learning is very dangerous to vocabulary ; but a very little good sense will minimize the danger.

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“ And when that he wel drunken had the win,

Then would he speken no word but Latin;'

but when the ecclesiastic was sober, he could discourse in very rational English.

Brand-new words, like foreign ones, are insidious for much the same reason: they conceal for a moment the triteness of the idea they stand for. Slang

changes a good deal faster than the manners and customs of mankind. Stale stories existed long before chestnuts, and have already survived them a year or two. Now, there is, I conceive, just one excuse for a brand-new word; namely, a brand-new idea. When telephones were invented we needed a vocabulary to fit the facts, and straightway introduced one. When Ericsson gave us a new kind of war-ship, the accident of its name gave us the new term monitor, which has lasted. Copperhead was a good word five and twenty years ago; so was Mugwump when certain of our fellow-citizens refused to vote for Mr. Blaine ; but as politics have changed, Copperheads and Mugwumps are becoming, save to historical scholars, terms as mysterious as to young people nowadays is the term waterfall, which was applied to those bunches of hair that dangled at the necks of pretty girls in President Lincoln's time. But Whig and Tory lived for a century and more ; so perhaps will Republican and Democrat. And curls and skirts and wigs are perennial; but periwigs are no more. Perhaps no phase of barbarism is more palpable and more provoking than the pedantic trick of spelling old names in new ways: why we say Alsace and Bavaria and Mark Antony, why we do not say Homeros and Roma and Brute, I do not know; but I know that we do not. And I know that there are few more unidiomatic absurdities than those of the gentlemen who insist on spelling Alfred Aelfred, and Virgil with an e, and otherwise on impairing that irrational, spontaneous variety which people who love English know to be one of its most subtile charms. The worst of the mischief is that they cannot do it without knowing it. Neither, as a general rule, can any prudent person, who knows a language well enough to talk it fluently, be guilty of a serious Barbarism.

A curious proof of this was an experience I had a iittle while ago. Touching this subject in some lectures at college, I took up a package of undergraduate themes, some sixty in number, and looked through them for examples of Barbarism. In half an hour or so I found only three ; and none of them was flagrant. I then looked through the same package for examples of Impropriety ; in less time I had found something near a hundred. “Harvard,” for example, wrote one youth, who wished to be superlatively loyal,“ is the

66 peer of all American colleges," which means of course only that Harvard is as good a college as any other.

Improprieties, then, — the misuse of words which are actually in the language, — are by far the commonest and most insidious offences against good use in words. It is convenient to study anything in a somewhat exaggerated form. Crude Impropriety is a perennial form of humor; it is what makes us laugh at the speeches of Mrs. Quickly, of Dogberry, of Mrs. Malaprop; at the spelling of Hosea Biglow or of Josh Billings. And two speeches of Dogberry's will perhaps afford as good examples as we need. When one of his prisoners calls him an ass, he exclaims, Dost thou not suspect my place ?” and a little later, in regret that the contempt of court is unrecorded, “O that he were here to write me down an ass!By asking why Dogberry falls into these two errors, we may discover the chief reasons why anybody ever falls into Impropriety. The reasons for the two are distinct: when he says, “ Dost thou not suspect my place ?” — ,

. meaning respect — he deliberately uses a bigger word than he can understand; when he says, “O that I had been writ down an ass !he has lost his head, and so in excitement utters a phrase which in cooler moments he would understand to mean something very different from what he intends. One or the other of these reasons I have found to underlie nearly all the Improprieties I have come across.

In point of fact, the charm of novelty and mystery which surrounds any unfamiliar phrase is profoundly fascinating. I have always sympathized with the man in one of George Eliot's novels who finds much comfort in repeating to himself the words,“ Sihon, King of the Amorites, for His mercy endureth forever. And Og, King of Bashan, for His mercy endureth forever.” So too with the converted African, in some less notable fiction, who found in an old Book of Common Prayer no words quite so pregnant with spiritual meaning as “ Augusta, Princess-Dowager of Wales.” Even reasonably educated people, I am afraid, are not proof against the charms of the unfamiliar. Not long ago I found in the work of an admirably but modernly trained American an elaborate figure about

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