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11 Comments

  • Stan:
    The problem goes far beyond language; It’s a human nature issue. Effectively, people don”t like change, even when it might be beneficial.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Marc and Stan. Isn’t it funny how today’s language is always deemed to be a mutilated form of the “proper” language that was spoken and written when these complainers were in their 20s and 30s? It’s never 20 years before that or 20 years after that, it’s always right around when their life was in its prime. Coincidence? I think not.

    I always thought that there must be something very comforting about resisting change or believing in the One Right Way. Why else would people bother?

  • Marc: Very true. And they’re often not mad about difference and diversity, either.

    Joe: Yes, I think it comes from a mixture of several understandable feelings and needs, e.g., in-group security, nostalgia, apprehension of the future. As I said on Twitter yesterday, I look forward to the day when we can say, “Declinism ain’t what it used to be.”

  • Stan: I really like the way you’ve extended the ‘ahead of’ discussion. An attachment to ‘original’ meanings may also be behind the objections to verbing and nouning – “‘Impact’ is a noun”, the pedants mutter, when told how something will impact on their lives. And “‘disconnect’ is a verb!”, as they hear of ‘a big disconnect’ between farmers and consumers. I’d say that your ‘etymological fallacy’ also embraces a ‘word-class fallacy’ – only the ‘original’ word-class is legitimate, and we don’t want a new use that seems to “infringe on the grammatical space of another word or phrase” either (to parallel the way you’ve put it).

    Incidentally it would be good to explore further the violence of attitudes to language change – all that abhorrence and detestation, and as you say, the mutilation, the butchering, the slaughter, the daily toll of murders and assassinations…

  • Gill: “Word-class fallacy” is a good phrase for a common phenomenon. There’s a website, for example, dedicated to insisting that login is not a verb (and that workout, lockout, backup and many others aren’t either). “It’s simply not,” goes the argument. I wrote a post about the impact of impact last year that touches on some of these points. The rage it inspires is amazing, and the language of violence you refer to is fascinating.

  • Resistance to language change is a type of cultural inertia. Particle physicists have explained physical inertia with the field created by the Higgs boson. Perhaps there is something analogous to the field created by the Higgs boson in culture and language which resists change.

  • Monroe: I think cultural inertia is often a factor, yes – or a kind of neophobia. It can take several generations for a new discovery in a certain field to become part of the orthodoxy; then again, sometimes the resistance never materialises, and sometimes it lasts in perpetuity.