Thoreau's Journal: 16-Oct-1859

Talk about learning our letters and being literate! Why, the roots of letters are things. Natural objects and phenomena are the original symbols or types which express our thoughts and feelings, and yet American scholars, having little or no root in the soil, commonly strive with all their might to confine themselves to the imported symbols alone. All the true growth and experience, the living speech, they would fain reject as “Americanisms.” It is the old error, which the church, the state, the school ever commit, choosing darkness rather than light, holding fast to the old and to tradition. A more intimate knowledge, a deeper experience, will surely originate a word. When I really know that our river pursues a serpentine course to the Merrimack, shall I continue to describe it by referring to some other river no older than itself which is like it, and call it a meander? It is no more meandering than the Meander is musketaquidding. As well sing of the nightingale here as the Meander. What if there were a tariff on words, on language, for the encouragement of home manufacturers? Have we not the genius to coin our own? Let the schoolmaster distinguish the true from the counterfeit.

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