H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 58
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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 58
 
crazy-quilt, mud-scow, stamping-ground and a hundred and one other such compounds were in daily use before the Revolution. After that great upheaval the new money of the confederation brought in a number of new words. In 1782 Gouverneur Morris proposed to the Continental Congress that the coins of the republic be called, in ascending order, unit, penny-bill, dollar and crown. Later Morris invented the word cent, substituting it for the English penny. 23 In 1785 Jefferson proposed mill, cent, dime, dollar and eagle, and this nomenclature was adopted.
  Various nautical terms peculiar to America, or taken into English from American sources, came in during the eighteenth century, among them, schooner, cat-boat and pungy, not to recall batteau and canoe. According to a recent historian of the American merchant marine, 24 the first schooner ever seen was launched at Gloucester, Mass., in 1713. The word, it appears, was originally spelled scooner. To scoon was a verb borrowed by the New Englanders from some Scotch dialect, and meant to skim or skip across the water like a flat stone. As the first schooner left the ways and glided out into Gloucester harbor, an enraptured spectator shouted: “Oh, see how she scoons!” “A scooner let her be!” replied Captain Andrew Robinson, her builder—and all boats of her peculiar and novel fore-and-aft rig took the name thereafter. The Dutch mariners borrowed the term and changed the spelling, and this change was soon accepted in America. 25 The Scotch root came from the Norse skunna, to hasten, and there are analogues in Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon and Old High German. The origin of cat-boat and pungy I have been unable to determine. Perhaps the latter is related in some way to pung, a one-horse sled or wagon. Pung was once widely used in the United States, but of late it has sunk to the estate of a New England provincialism. Longfellow used it, and in 1857 a writer in the Knickerbocker Magazine reported that pungs filled Broadway, in New York, after a snow-storm.
  Most of these new words, of course, produced derivatives, for example, to shingle, to shuck (i. e., corn), to trail and to caucus.
Note 23.  Theodore Roosevelt: Gouverneur Morris; Boston, 1888, p. 104. [back]
Note 24.  William Brown Meloney: The Heritage of Tyre; New York, 1916, p. 15. [back]
Note 25.  The Germans have adopted the word, spelling it variously schooner, schoner and schuner. [back]

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