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)


  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.

  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.

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

  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.