Friday, April 8, 2011

After my recent 'beg the question' post, I can't resist postingthis link to an article by Ben Yagoda about how long we should cling to a word or term's original meaning in the face of a  more popular misuse. I post it not only because the same kind of question has come up here--though not been begged--but because Yagoda mentions the 'begs the question' question himself.

So where are you on the prescriptivist/anything goes spectrum?


  1. One complicating factor is that mass media have probably meant that fashions on words change faster than they once might have done (which might be an irony if the rise of popular publications in the eighteenth century, on the other hand, led to standardization of English spelling.)

    One little-remarked instance of the acceptance of a usage once considered wrong: The adjectival due to as a substitute for the adverbial because of.

    Not that many years ago, someone cited this as an example of sloppiness and illiteracy. Now even my newspaper has deemed it acceptable.

    It is not so in stories that go through me, however.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. But where am I on the spectrum? At both ends. I have always said that members of my profession need to be liberal in their understanding of the rules but conservative in their application.

  3. Right. I don't know exactly where I stand on all this either. The 'begs the question' question stands at the heart of this for me, because, yeah, it's fine if everyone decides that something means something completely different than it originally meant, but what if one group of contemporary speakers thinks it means one thing and another subset thinks it means another--and both are wrong? How is that decided exactly, except to appeal to the original phrase?

    I like the metaphorical aspect of human language, so I don't really mind it morphing into something else, but I like to see how meanings accumulate other meanings. I'm not so fine with misunderstandings just taking over and completely undermining and negating the original meaning.