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Kids these days are not destroying English

Every time I see a thread of “don’t you hate it when people mispronounce/misspell/misuse word X,” I feel the need to weigh in with this, as That Person Who Majored in Linguistics:
“Kids these days” are not, in fact, destroying the English language, and in fact fears of kids these days destroying the language go back all the way to early written records in the ancient world. No language has ever fallen apart and gone extinct from being regularly used, I promise you. Quite the contrary; popular usage only makes a language stronger and more innovative.

Could most people stand to learn a little more about etymology, and read over their written documents more carefully before calling them done and sending them? Sure, absolutely. Again, however, this has always been the case. It’s just that in the past, lots more people couldn’t read or write AT ALL, so we have fewer records of the people who would’ve had “worse” language usage. And with the internet, we now have far, far more examples of language usage every day–every second–than we ever did before. The amateur writer, the professional, and the in between. This is, for linguistics, a WONDERFUL thing, because it’s far easier to track usage than ever before.

And though the grammar Nazis hate hearing it, common usage is what decides a word’s meaning. Not some sacred language council at a university, not the lexicographers who compose the dictionary’s editions, not The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Lexicographers track usage, and tally it up, and faithfully record it, AS IT’S USED, not as it “should” be used, and that is that.

Language is strong. Language changes. It always has. It’s fine. Don’t panic.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 23rd, 2017 02:44 pm (UTC)
Ugh, grammar nazis. My philosophy as an editor has always been about trying to ease comprehension where needed, not enforcing a bunch of arbitrary rules. Language is about intuition and nuance, not hard and fast rules. And certainly nothing stays the same for long!
Oct. 23rd, 2017 11:03 pm (UTC)
Yes! When writing and editing, I do have to adhere to certain standards for consistency and clarity, though I fight editors on other points occasionally. (I found it amusing when one of my linguistics profs corrected a split infinitive in my thesis. They know perfectly well that there's nothing wrong with a split infinitive!)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )