11 September 2008

a measure of wordliness

Erin McKean a the Boston Globe applicates good thinkery in sunderizing the conceptification of english as a static language. what has caused our language to be so widely adopted is precisely its malleability in the face of a changing world. my History of the English Language prof taught me (and i actually accepted the idea!) that no native speaker of a language speaks incorrectly; they merely speak a different version ('dialect' being a judgmental word).

i used to scoff at those who dove or even those who couldn't appreciate the correctness of the oxford comma, but i learned that the evolution of the language is far more important than my being correct (which is still very important). heck, even well-edited magazines these days are splitting infinitives. so i agree with Ms. McKean:
[T]hose same writers [who preface their use of non-standard words] are giving up one of their inalienable rights as English speakers: the right to create new words as they see fit. Part of the joy and pleasure of English is its boundless creativity: I can describe a new machine as bicyclish, I can say that I'm vitamining myself to stave off a cold, I can complain that someone is the smilingest person I've ever seen, and I can decide, out of the blue, that fetch is now the word I want to use to mean "cool." By the same token, readers and listeners can decide to adopt or ignore any of these uses or forms.
my only caveat: 'fetch' is not to be used.

(HT: mikeh)

6 comments:

  1. Wondering what happens if I decide not to adopt your new words (maybe I don't understand them, or they are too new fangled). It seems that would necessarily cause communication to break down.

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  2. you don't need to adopt it in order to understand it. because you never use the word 'mauve' doesn't mean the color doesn't exist.

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  3. As long as we agree that it is never correct to form a plural with an apostrophe I can get behind this.

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  4. As long as you don't start using '4' instead of 'for', and 'u' instead of 'you', I think we can still be friends.

    WTFOMGBBQ is still acceptable, however.

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