Re: 'Stereotype' thread - evolved.

Subject: Re: 'Stereotype' thread - evolved.
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 08 Nov 2000 12:40:54 -0800

Jane Bergen wrote:
> Whoa, folks. There is a decided difference between adding new words to our
> lexicon and throwing out the existing grammatical rules, and dictionaries
> merely "report" language, they don't dictate it or approve it.

Changes in grammatical rules are part of the evolution of language,
too. To give a simple example: in my lifetime, the third person
subjunctive has been changing from "were" to "was" ("If he were/was
to go down to the woods today..."). A change like this, which
doesn't affect clarity, doesn't really matter. The only changes that
I resist - at least to the extent of not using them - are those that
make communication obscurer.

As for dictionaries, it's true that they report. But the decision to
include a word in a major dictionary, such as the Oxford, is usually
seen as a sign that the word is acceptable.

> Since when are "staunch grammarians...even more dispised (sic) or
> ignored"?

I suspect that the reference is to people who insist on the formal
rules of English and nothing else. These people are almost always
ignored, if only for the reason that their standards are usually
about thirty years behind the current vernacular. Also, the amateur
ones - have a rules-based approach that betrays little understanding
of the issues.

> It's still unacceptable to use a
> singular noun with a plural verb ("Everyone eat their lunch." instead of
> "Everyone eats his or her lunch" or "All of them eat their lunches.")...
> Just because we write it, doesn't make it so....

Unacceptable by whom? The official grammarians? :-)

This is a battle that they have been fighting for centuries, yet
people still use "their" and "they" for the third person singular
when they speak. In fact, if you go back to Old English, the
singular and plural third person sounded very much alike
(he,heo/hie, and his, hiere/ hiera). And,now of course, "they/them"
is preferred for non-sexist language.

Since so many people use "they" for singular, we may as well accept
that "they" is used for both singular and plural. Such usage is
hardly unusual, especially in a weakly declined language like modern

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
604.421.7189 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"A polite conformity with the notions of fools is a necessary
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