[To “Voices from 19th-Century America”]

Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett (1848)

John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886) was well educated in history and literature before he and a partner opened a bookstore that became popular with scholars and literary figures. Bartlett also helped to found the American Ethnological Society. A stint as boundary commissioner wasn’t as successful as his many years as Rhode Island’s Secretary of State or his work as an historian and compiler of the Dictionary of Americanisms. (Bartlett also published The Child’s Friend from December 1857 to October 1858.)

The Dictionary of Americanisms went through at least four editions between 1848 and 1877. As a record of the “colloquial language of the United States,” it’s a fascinating look at the words that actually came out of the mouths of early 19th-century Americans. It’s also a window into U. S. history, with tiny essays on early political parties (the Democratic party, for example, was known as the “Loco-foco” after an incident of the kind which won’t surprise observers of the political process), economics (how bears and bulls went to Wall Street), and culture (both strong drink and the Millerites); its collection of quotes offers later readers examples from a wide variety of early-19th-century works (everything from Congressional speeches to Sam Slick in England). And where else are you going to find discussions of words like “sanctimoniouslyfied” and “absquatulate”? or of phrases like “acknowledge the corn” and “red dog money”? Margaret, which provides quotes for several words, also is available at this site.

My copy is of the first edition.

The text is also available as an ebook.

Special thanks to Sandra Sinrud, for proofreading help.


| Dictionary of Americanisms |

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