I received some time since your Dissertations on the English Language. The book was not accompanied by any letter or message, informing me to whom I am obliged for it, but I suppose it is to yourself. It is an excellent work and will be greatly useful in turning the thoughts of our countrymen to correct writing. Please to accept my thanks for the great honor you have done me in its dedication. I ought to have made this acknowledgment sooner, but much indisposition prevented me.
I cannot but applaud your zeal for preserving the purity of our language, both in its expressions and pronunciation, and in correcting the popular errors several of our states are continually falling into with respect to both. Give me leave to mention some of them, though possibly they may have already occurred to you. I wish, however, in some future publication of yours, you would set a discountenancing mark upon them. The first I remember is the word “improved.” When I left New England in the year 1723, this word had never been used among us, as far as I know, but in the sense of ameliorated or made better, except once in a very old book of Dr. Mather’s, entitled Remarkable Providences. As that eminent man wrote a very obscure hand, I remember that when I read that word in his book, used instead of the word “imployed,” I conjectured it was an error of the printer, who had mistaken a too short “l” in the writing for an “r,” and a “y” with too short a tail for a “v”; whereby “imployed” was converted into “improved.”
But when I returned to Boston, in 1733, I found this change had obtained favor and was then become common, for I met with it often in perusing the newspapers, where it frequently made an appearance rather ridiculous. Such, for instance, as the advertisement of a country house to be sold, which had been many years improved as a tavern; and, in the character of a deceased country gentleman, that he had been for more than thirty years improved as a justice of the peace. This use of the word “improved” is peculiar to New England, and not to be met with among any other speakers of English, either on this or the other side of the water.
During my late absence in France, I find that several other new words have been introduced into our parliamentary language; for example, I find a verb formed from the substantive “notice”: “I should not have noticed this, were it not that the gentleman,” etc. Also another verb from the substantive “advocate”: “The gentleman who advocates or has advocated that motion,” etc. Another from the substantive “progress,” the most awkward and abominable of the three: “The committee, having progressed, resolved to adjourn.” The word “opposed,” though not a new word, I find used in a new manner, as, “The gentlemen who are opposed to this measure, to which I have also myself always been opposed.” If you should happen to be of my opinion with respect to these innovations, you will use your authority in reprobating them.
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