Posted by: Democratic Thinker | June 29, 2013

Weekly Story: The Little Gentleman on Language

Weekly Story

One of the Professor’s fellow guests at the breakfast table remarks on language and spelling.

The Little Gentleman: On Language.


LANGUAGE!—the blood of the soul, Sir! into which our thoughts run and out of which they grow! We know what a word is worth here in Boston. Young Sam Adams got up on the stage at Commencement, out at Cambridge there, with his gown on, the Governor and Council looking on in the name of his Majesty, King George the Second, and the girls looking down out of the galleries, and taught people how to spell a word that wasn’t in the Colonial dictionaries, R-e, re, s-i-s, sis, t-a-n-c-e, tance, Resistance? That was in ‘43, and it was a good many years before the Boston boys began spelling it with their muskets;— but when they did begin, they spelt it so loud that the old bedridden women in the English almshouses heard every syllable! Yes, yes, yes,—it was a good while before those other two Boston boys got the class so far along that it could spell those two hard words, Independence and Union. I tell you what, Sir, there are a thousand lives, aye, sometimes a million, go to get a new word into a language that is worth speaking. We know what language means too well here in Boston to play tricks with it. We never make a new word till we have made a new thing or a new thought, Sir!

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, ‘The Professor at the Breakfast-Table’ (1859).