I’ve been browsing through Mencken’s American Language and this caught my eye.
More than once, during the preceding chapters, we encountered Americanisms that had gone over into English, and English locutions that had begun to get a foothold in the United States. Such exchanges are made frequently and often very quickly, and though the guardians of English, as we saw in Chapter I, Section 3, still attack every new Americanism vigorously, even when, as in the case of scientist, it is obviously sound, or, as in the case of joy-ride, it is irresistibly picturesque, they are often routed by public pressure, and have to submit in the end with the best grace possible.
A quick check with OED confirmed my vague remembrance that the term was introduced in 1834 by an Englishman, William Whewell, in Quarterly Review. From OED:
1834 W. Whewell in Q. Rev. 51 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers… Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
(BTW I love OED’s dry comment on this - It is possible that the ‘ingenious gentleman’ referred to in quot. 1834 is Whewell himself.)
So what does Mencken mean by the above? Was the word adopted in the US more quickly than in England? Or was he simply mistaken? (And this isn’t to knock Mencken if such be the case, I venerate the guy.)