Page images





THE first edition of this Dictionary was published in

New York in 1848.
Aware of its many

It met with a quick sale, and soon passed out of print. imperfections, I began my preparations for a new edition before it had fully left the press. From that time to the day the last sheets of this edition left my hands for the printer, now ten years, I have been more or less occupied in its preparation. Nearly three years of this period I spent in the interior of the country, in the service of the United States as Commissioner on the Mexican Boundary; but even there, I failed not to note the peculiarities of the familiar language of the frontier, and carefully recorded the words and phrases I met with for future use. This experience enabled me to collect the singular words occurring in prairie and frontier life as well as those common to Texas, New Mexico, and California. Most of these have come from the Spanish, and are now fairly engrafted on our language.

The other alterations and improvements made in this edition, consist in the addition of a very large number of words and phrases peculiar to the United States; so that it now contains probably twice as many as the first edition. The examples or illustrations from authors, showing the use of words, have also been greatly multiplied. This seemed desirable, as examples convey a far more correct idea of their meaning and use than a simple definition. The histories of words and their definitions have also been corrected and improved.

• In the additions to this work, I have to acknowledge valuable contribu(iii)

tions from several friends, who took an interest in the subject. To the Rev. WM. S. MURPHY, President of the University of Missouri, I am indebted for many words and phrases peculiar to the West. To Mr. JOHN GILMARY SHEA for New York words; to Dr. A. L. ELWYN of Philadelphia, for the use of a manuscript vocabulary of Americanisms collected by him; to Mr. JAMES MITCHELL, of Nantucket, for words in use in that island; to Professor GEO. C. SCHAEFFER of Washington, for many terms of natural history, words relating to the arts, and Westernisms; and to Dr. FRANCIS LIEBER, of Columbia College, New York, for many sound remarks, of which I have availed myself in the pages of the work.

Large additions have been made to the common terms of plants, trees, and fruits of the United States, as well as of those which enter into our commerce. These, being familiar words of our language, seem as worthy of being noted and explained as others. For valuable contributions to this class of words I am indebted to Dr. EDWARD FOREMAN, of Washington; while Mr. ALEX. J. CotheAL, a merchant of New York, and well known in the field of Oriental literature, has kindly furnished me the common names of the trees, fruits, nuts, etc. which enter into our commerce.

In preparing the first edition of this work, I was at a loss what to include in the collection of words; and, preferring to err on the side of copiousness, admitted many words common to the colloquial language of England and this country, which have now been rejected to make way for pure Americanisms. Of the words so rejected there are nearly eight hundred; the following are examples: above-board, Adam's ale, to advocate, afeard, afore, afterclaps, bamboozle, to bark one's shins, bobtail, bogtrotter, bolt-upright, boozy, bo-peep, to bore, born days, bran new, brown study, by-the-by, to hold a candle, to catch a Tartar, caterwaul, catspaw, to chalk out, chink, chouse, chuffy, circumbendibus, clap-trap, clincher, clout, cool, cosey, cowlick, crambo, criss-cross, cross-grained, crotchety, crowsfeet, curmudgeon, curry favor, to cut one's acquaintance, cut and run, cut a dash, dabster, dead alive, dawdle, demijohn, duds, Dick's hatband, dilly-dally, dog cheap, down in the mouth, driving at, dumpy, elbow grease, to feather one's nest, etc., etc.

A good many such words have nevertheless been retained, on the principle that a word now used only in some out-of-the-way locality in England, but quite general here, may be regarded as a peculiarity of the English

language as spoken in America, i. e. an Americanism; but as it is often impossible to know with exactness to what extent a word is used in England, it is likely that many of these should properly have been omitted.

Many words common to the colloquial language both of England and America have been allowed to remain because they have not yet been honored with a place in the current standard Dictionaries. Of these there are many which in the glossaries are ascribed to "various dialects," and which should be inserted in any general Dictionary of the English language which aims at completeness. Were such a work as the new English Dictionary projected by the Philological Society of London already in existence, the insertion of a large number of words of this class could have been dispensed with.

From what has been said it will be seen that the present edition, while it does not wholly reject words of English origin, claims to be more strictly American than the first. At the same time, the first edition will still have a value of its own, as showing more fully how much of the colloquial language of England is retained in use in this country.

Due attention has been given to some valuable criticisms on the first edition, in a paper by the late Dr. Felix Flügel, entitled "Die englische Philologie in Nordamerika," which appeared in Gersdorf's Repertorium for 1852; also, to criticisms which appeared in the "Western Continent " newspaper of Philadelphia, and the "Literary World" of New York, soon after the publication of the volume. Some excellent illustrations have been obtained from a paper on "Canadian English," by the Rev. A. Constable Geikie, read before the Canadian Institute 28th of March, 1857, and printed in its Journal.

The first edition was translated into the Dutch language under the title of "Woordenboek van Americanismen, etc. Bewerkt door M. Keijzer. Gorinchem, 1854," leaving out the quotations which illustrate the use of words. It was hoped that this work would furnish assistance in settling the etymology and meaning of some of the old Dutch words still used in New York; but it has proved of little use.

At the close of the book will be found a small collection of American similes and proverbs, together with the abbreviations of the names of States, etc., which were inserted in the body of the first edition.



To my friend, Mr. WILLIAM W. TURNER, of Washington, I take pleasure in again making my acknowledgments for the valuable aid furnished me in the present as well as in the former edition, not only for the contribution of numerous words and illustrations, but for his correction and supervision of the whole work.

PROVIDENCE, R. I., March, 1859.

J. R. B.



IN venturing to lay before the public a Vocabulary of the colloquial language of the United States, some explanation may be necessary for the broad ground I have been led to occupy.

I began to make a list of such words as appeared to be, or at least such as had generally been called, Americanisms, or peculiar to the United States, and, at the same time, made reference to the several authors in whose writings they appeared; not knowing whether, in reality, they were of native growth, or whether they had been introduced from England. When this list had expanded so as to embrace a large number of the words used in familiar conversation, both among the educated as well as among the uneducated and rustic classes, the next object was to examine the dialects and provincialisms of those parts of England from which the early settlers of New England and our other colonies emigrated.

The provincialisms of New England are more familiar to our ears than those of any other section of the United States, as they are not confined within the limits of those States, but have extended to New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan; which States have been, to a great extent, settled by emigrants from New England.

On comparing these familiar words with the provincial and colloquial language of the northern counties of England, a most striking resemblance appeared not only in the words commonly regarded as peculiar to New England, but in the dialectical pronunciation of certain words, and in the general tone and accent. In fact it may be said, without exaggeration, that nine tenths of the colloquial peculiarities of New England are derived


« PreviousContinue »