Several readers have pointed out that Matthew Engel, the author of last week's odd BBC News peeve about Americanisms (discussed here and here), fired a couple of earlier salvos last year in the Daily Mail. The first one was "Say no to the get-go! Americanisms swamping English, so wake up and smell the coffee", Daily Mail 5/29/2010:
In 1832, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was fulminating about the 'vile and barbarous' new adjective that had just arrived in London. The word was 'talented'. It sounds innocuous enough to our ears, as do 'reliable', 'influential' and 'lengthy', which all inspired loathing when they first crossed the Atlantic.
As usual, this is somewhat less than half true. Coleridge did complain about talented, and he did dislike Americanisms. But his specific complaint about talented was grammatical rather than geographical. His grammatical reasoning on this point was so deeply confused that the Oxford English Dictionary specifically rebuked him for it. And talented did not originate in America.
Here's what Coleridge wrote:
I regret to see that vile and barbarous vocable talented, stealing out of the newspapers into the leading reviews and most respectable publications of the day. Why not shillenged, farthinged, tenpenced, &c.? The formation of a participle passive from a noun, is a license that nothing but a very peculiar felicity can excuse. If mere convenience is to justify such attempts upon the idiom, yo cannot stop till the language becomes, in the proper sense of the word, corrupt. Most of these pieces of slang come from America.*
* See "eventuate," in Mr. Washington Irving's "Tour on the Prairies,", passim. — Ed.
The OED's entry for -ed, suffix2 explains that
Old English -ede = Old Saxon -ôdi (not represented elsewhere in Germanic, though Old Norse had adjs. similarly < ns., with ppl. form and i- umlaut, as eygðr eyed, hynrdr horned):—Germanic type -ôđjo-, is appended to ns. in order to form adjs. connoting the possession or the presence of the attribute or thing expressed by the n. The function of the suffix is thus identical with that of the Latin ppl. suffix -tus as used in caudātus tailed, aurītus eared, etc.; and it is possible that the Germanic -ôđjo– may originally have been < -ôđo- (see -ed suffix1), the suffix of pa. pples. of vbs. in –ôjan formed upon ns. In modern English, and even in Middle English, the form affords no means of distinguishing between the genuine examples of this suffix and those ppl. adjs. in -ed suffix1 which are ultimately < ns. through unrecorded vbs. Examples that have come down from Old English are ringed:—Old English hringede, hooked:—Old English hócede, etc.
And let's split off for special consideration the conclusion of this explanation:
The suffix is now added without restriction to any n. from which it is desired to form an adj. with the sense ‘possessing, provided with, characterized by’ (something); e.g. in toothed, booted, wooded, moneyed, cultured, diseased, jaundiced, etc., and in parasynthetic derivatives, as dark-eyed, seven-hilled, leather-aproned, etc. In bigoted, crabbed, dogged, the suffix has a vaguer meaning.
And for extra-special attention, the last sentence:
(Groundless objections have been made to the use of such words by writers ignorant of the history of the language: see quot.)
The quoted "groundless objection" is of course from Mr. Coleridge.
As for talented, I pointed out in my earlier post that the earliest citations that the OED was able to find are from impeccably British authors:
1827 E. Bulwer-Lytton Falkland i. 16, I smiled at the kindness of the fathers who, hearing I was talented‥looked to my support.
1828 R. Southey Let. in Corr. R. Southey with C. Bowles (1881) 134 Unprincipled people, too many of them talented and clever and most agreeable.
1829 J. F. W. Herschel Ess. (1857) 515 Those numerous and talented individuals throughout the continent, and in England.
1830 W. Taylor Historic Surv. German Poetry III. 406 His eye, though indicating a talented mind, was restless and unsteady.
The fifth citation is to Coleridge's rant.
While we're reviewing Coleridge's errors, we should note that he was also apparently confused about which noun talented comes from. If there are relevant uses of talented is the sense of "endowed with the coins known as 'talents'", neither the OED nor I have been able to find them. Nor have I been able to find any evidence that Bulwer-Lytton, Southey, etc. were inspired by American models, directly or indirectly.
Ironically, the same work by Coleridge contains many instances of the OED's -ed, suffix2, as in the sequence "maggot-pated, hare-brained, muddle-pated, muddle-headed, Jackanapes".
Anyhow, Mr. Engel was as confused about why Coleridge disliked the word talented as Coleridge was about the justification for his animus. And a week later, having provoked the expected flood of peeving from his readers, Mr. Engel followed up with "Britain declares war on words that snuck into our skedule…", 6/6/2010:
Mark Easton is the BBC home affairs editor. He spent some of his childhood in Winchester, apparently, not Wisconsin. And his job seems unlikely to offer extensive travel opportunities to the United States.
Yet the other night he referred to ‘specialty shops’ (note the missing i) on the Ten O’Clock News. The rest of his report must have been drowned out by the screaming and spluttering of thousands of Mail on Sunday readers, who share my horror at the way British English is being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of mindless Americanisms. […]
‘Speciality’ (with the i) is a lovely word, full of rolling syllables. His version is the kind of usage that comes out of the mid-Atlantic and needs to be dropped back there, from a great height.
Mr. Engel's screaming and spluttering depends on a peculiar attachment to one side of a distinction that is not very clear on either side of the Atlantic. The OED has long entries for both speciality and specialty, which it treats as separate lemmas, not as alternative spellings of the same word. However, both come from the same historical source, and the range of senses seems to overlap substantially.
Thus we have specialty n 8.a. "A special line of work or business; a special manufacture or product (characteristic of a certain firm, place, etc.); an article specially dealt in or stocked", with mostly British citations:
1873 C. G. Leland Egyptian Sketch-bk. 246 His specialty was inlaid-work of mother-of-pearl and ebony in little diamonds, squares, and triangles.
1883 Eng. Illustr. Mag. Nov. 89/1 The brass work of Birmingham has long been one of its specialties.
1891 Daily News 16 Feb. 2/7 The better classes of fancy tweeds, choice serges, and specialties.
This is cross-referenced to speciality n 5.c. "A thing or article specially characteristic of, produced or manufactured by, a particular place, business firm, etc."
The only indication of a geographical differentiation is given in specialty n 9. N. Amer., cross referenced to speciality n. 6,7 "A thing or article of a special kind, as distinguished from what is usual or common".
Whatever the mysterious distinction at issue here, the version without the extra 'i' seems to have been in regular use in Blighty for some time, with Shakespeare, Carlyle, and Coleridge somehow managing to get along without those "rolling syllables":
1609 Shakespeare Troilus & Cressida i. iii. 77 The specialtie of rule hath beene neglected.
1831 T. Carlyle Sartor Resartus ii. viii, Amid these specialties, let us not forget the great generality.
a1834 S. T. Coleridge Lit. Remains (1838) III. 21 Judgment, solid sense, invention in specialties,‥in these we can shew giants.
Have these items (whether different words or different spellings) been differentially adopted in the US vs. the UK? It seems that this is true to an extent:
Was that 78% to 22% preference in the BNC (collected in the early 1990s) enough to drown out the BBC's home affairs editor with the screaming and spluttering of outraged listeners in 2010? We report, you decide.