Ted Gioia has an Atlantic essay about an interesting topic, the transition from an Anglocentric world to one which imitated American usage and art. Gioia writes:
As late as 1919, when H.L. Mencken published his ambitious study The American Language, the very concept of a legitimate homegrown way of speaking was a radical notion, and brought with it, in the words of Jacques Barzun, an “air of defiance and heresy which some found provincial and even chauvinistic.”
Yet less than a decade after Mencken’s bold gesture, Yankee English was well on its way to conquering the world. In a peculiar role reversal, writers and artists in other countries would now feel compelled to learn from American role models.
Changes of this sort usually take place gradually, over a period of decades. But in this case, an extraordinary confluence of circumstances—cultural, technological, and attitudinal—raised Yankee diction into an art during a brief and tumultuous 15-month period in the late 1920s. We are still living with the fallout of those events.
His claim is that the period from October 1926 through December 1927 was crucial, and he adduces everybody from Louis Armstrong to Ernest Hemingway to Dashiell Hammett to Ira Gershwin to make his case. Here’s a quote from Hammett’s Red Harvest:
“What’s the rumpus?” I asked him.
He looked at me carefully before he replied, as if he wanted to be sure the information was going into safe hands. His eyes were gray as his clothes, but not so soft.
“Don Willsson’s gone to sit on the right hand of God, if God don’t mind looking at bullet holes.”
“Who shot him?” I asked.
The gray man scratched the back of his neck and said: “Somebody with a gun.”
I wanted information, not wit. I would have tried my luck with some other member of the crowd if the red tie hadn’t interested me. I said: “I’m a stranger in town. Hang the Punch and Judy on me. That’s what strangers are for.”
Gioia says “No one told stories in that crisp, uncluttered way before 1926. But soon, other ways of pushing a narrative forward would seem slow-paced and old-fashioned.” Obviously he’s overstating the importance of that brief period, even if the general point is inarguable; I’m curious to see what people have to say about it.