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7 Comments

  • “Grammar and spelling have not mutated – though variant forms and new styles are now more visible.”

    I think this is an important point. Many people complain about the decline of literacy with the advent of the internet and texting, but I see no reason to believe that standards are actually slipping. The truth is that most people are not great spellers, let alone great writers. In fact, I’d bet that people are writing a lot more than they used to. But ten or twenty years ago, most unedited writing was hidden from the public; technology has simply shown us how ubiquitous it really is.

  • Thanks, Jonathon. That’s how I look at it too: the internet isn’t responsible for poor standards of writing; it might well be improving them. But it does show how widespread bad spelling and non-standard forms are, and this gives doom-mongers something to point to and howl at.

  • I remember reading once that beat it ‘go away’ and bones ‘dice’ had remained slang from Chaucer’s day to our own, without ever being lost or becoming standard. (However, the OED traces the former only to 1906, and labels it “originally U.S.”; it fails to list the latter at all.)

  • John: I’m amazed that beat it can be traced back so far. I’d have guessed it emerged in modern English, perhaps from criminal cant. (The first time I remember noticing it was in the Michael Jackson song.) Presumably bones has been used for dice ever since bones were actually used for dice; maybe the term was too morbid to become standard – too close to the bone, you might say.